The Prince of Cats by D. E. Olesen

To stay alive, Jawad must succeed where all others have failed: he must catch the Prince of Cats. More legend than man, the Prince is draped in rumours. He can steal the silver teeth from your mouth in the blink of a smile. He is a ghost to walls and vaults, he laughs at locks, and Jawad must capture him before powerful people lose their patience and send the young rogue to the scaffold.

Ever the opportunist, Jawad begins his hunt while carrying out his own schemes. He pits the factions of the city against each other, lining his own pockets in the process and using the Prince as a scapegoat. This is made easy as nobody knows when or where the Prince will strike, or even why.

As plots collide, Jawad finds himself pressured from all sides. Aristocrats, cutthroats, and the Prince himself is breathing down his neck. Unless Jawad wants a knife in his back or an appointment with the executioner, he must answer three questions: Who is the Prince of Cats, what is his true purpose, and how can he be stopped?

Before we start, I’m going to be up front and state that I beta-read this book. That means that I was one of the first to get my grubby paws on it, and that I was given free reign to point out all the bits I didn’t like so that the author could fix them before publication.

Thing is, there wasn’t much that I didn’t like. The Prince of Cats is a very accomplished book, and one that I imagine a lot of people will enjoy.

It’s not very long— just over 200 pages in paperback — and it’s not very complicated, though that isn’t to say that it isn’t complex. It’s a short and easy read that can slot between the tomes and series in your TBR, and I can imagine that it would work wonderfully as a palate cleanser if you’re the type of reader who loves to binge.

But I don’t mean to suggest that the Prince of Cats is something of an appetizer, since it can serve as a more than satisfying main course.

Olesen is known in certain circles as a bit of a history expert. In fact, he’s done a few featured pieces for the Inn on the subjects of realism in fantasy and writing beyond your own experiences. That knowledge and research shines through here, as he brings the Arabic-inspired city of Alcázar to life. There’s tonnes of little details — poetry on the doorways, common proverbs — and these are woven together masterfully to create a setting that feels less like a “place in a book” and more like a living, breathing, bonafide city. 

The main character, Jawad, is a delight. He’s cunning, he’s clever, and he’s a fountain of hilarious quips and barbed comments. Olesen writes his characters in a way that’s a little more “detached” than my usual tastes, but I found Jawad to be endearing despite that. He’s also a pretty good thief, although not too good, as he spends the opening of the book in prison after committing the most cardinal of sins: getting caught.

This touches on an aspect of Olesen’s writing that I really enjoyed. His characters can fail. They feel human. Jawad’s schemes can grow arms and legs to the point where he has trouble keeping up with it all. He’s still the metaphorical spider in a web of plots and lies, but, well… his web is in the back garden, there’s a hurricane, and he has to struggle really really hard to keep himself and his plans from being blown into oblivion. 

The interactions between the characters make for some of the best scenes in the book. If you’re a fan of bromances, then you’ll love the banter between Jawad and Salah — a warrior in the employ of a wealthy merchant. Their relationship is hands-down my favourite part of the story, and honestly I’d read as many “buddy-cop” adventures with these two as I could get my hands on.

Story-wise, the plot is fairly simple. The Prince of Cats is a near-mythical thief that preys on the local merchants, and Jawad is tasked with catching him. He’s coerced into working as a sort of “penetration tester”, ensuring the merchant’s warehouses are thief-proof while laying traps to catch the prince in the act. This lends a sort of mystery vibe to the novel, where the big question is obviously “who is the Prince of Cats?” The author does a very good job of giving the novel a life outside of this question though, such that I didn’t find that my enjoyment was dependent on the reveal.

Since reviews have started appearing for this, I’ve seen a lot of great comparisons. I’ve heard that it’s like Locke Lamora meets Aladdin, meets Arabian Nights, meets Assassin’s Creed meets… Well, you get the picture. This is an enjoyable and fun-as-hell read about a rooftop-running thief with a penchant for witty banter. If that sounds up your alley, then I’d pick this up as soon as you can.

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