For those Warrior Cats fans who have been following along, the newest installment of the eighth arc of Warriors, A Starless Clan: Thunder was released last month on November 7th. The fourth book of the arc continues to focus on the relationships between the main and side characters while advancing the plot, something that the previous two arcs lacked. It’s paced excellently, with alternating short chapters of our three protagonists, and brings with it a few major twists.
This novel, and the arc it is within, reminds me of the third arc of Warriors, Power of Three. It has a character-driven storyline, with playful moments between characters and a flow that never gets boring. Where the two previous arcs, The Broken Code and A Vision of Shadows, spent a lot of time in never-ending cross-and-inner Clan arguments (always circling the plot without solving it), Thunder continues this arc’s trend of having something new happen in each book.
Two of our protagonists, Frostpaw and Nightheart, are called to go on a journey for Frostpaw to discover how she can save RiverClan, and in turn, perhaps all of the Clans. Readers see growth from Frostpaw specifically, as she tackles and starts to heal from the trauma she’s gone through in the three previous books and the new revelations happening during Thunder. In Nightheart’s case, he also improves, slowly becoming less selfish. With them gone, we rely on Sunbeam to know what is going on with all the Clans (though most of her chapters stay almost singularly in ThunderClan, with a few Gatherings thrown in). At the end of book three, readers saw how Sunbeam left her birth Clan and joined ThunderClan to be with Nightheart; in this book, we see her go through the trials alone and find more of herself along the way.
Warrior Cat fans who loved arcs three and four should consider picking up A Starless Clan arc if they haven’t already and shouldn’t wait to dive into this fourth book. For a spoiler-riddled continuation of my review, please continue reading past the book cover.
Now, to get more in-depth, I want to look at each protagonist individually and their actions throughout.
One strange event stands out to me from this book, which occurs within the first few chapters. Frostpaw is alive and healed by the horseplace Twoleg, yet when she wakes, she finds a second “wound” stitched up. In the vague way the Warriors books work, it’s explained that Frostpaw was spayed while being treated for her life-threatening wound. I find myself wondering why. Most cats healed by Twolegs in the past books never mention getting fixed, so why now? Will it have a later plot relevance when she can’t have kits? Or is it a nod to the rise of spay and neuter programs for feral cats? Whatever the reasoning, it seems too out of place to mean nothing. I’m eager to see if this is something that’s ever mentioned again.
That aside, Frostpaw’s character development kicks off when she’s tasked to go on a journey by RiverClan’s founder, Riverstar. Usually, I’m not a fan of journeying books in Warriors. I find them (typically) only useful as a time filler or a way to put off main plots. This time, it’s different. They cut out a lot of the traveling, focusing instead on Frostpaw’s guiding visions and her destination: descendants of Riverstar’s original upbringing, the park cats. The only downside to this fun inclusion is fans would need to read Riverstar’s Home to get the full impact and meaning. But I digress.
With them, Frostpaw learns the ancient art of meditation, a skill that has faded away from the current RiverClan. In recent books, the Clans have lost most of what makes them unique. With this being the second time meditation is presented, I can only hope Frostpaw teaches it to the rest of RiverClan eventually, allowing the Clans to gain their uniqueness again. With meditation, she discovers our two major plot twists. It’s revealed the cat she loved and trusted, Spalshtail, is the murderer of the past deputy, Reedwhisker, and her attempted murderer. For me, this wasn’t much of a twist considering he’s heavily hinted at being the culprit from at least book two. But finally, with Frostpaw getting definitive proof, the plot can move forward. This later spirals into discovering that her mother, Curlfeather, killed in an earlier book, was the cat originally orchestrating these murders, using Splashtail as the aggressor. Her advice to Frostpaw, “trust no cat,” seems to include Curlfeather herself. It’s another twist that wasn’t too surprising, given Curlfeather’s warning and that she didn’t appear to be in StarClan. However, I was surprised to find that Curlfeather was the original mastermind, betrayed and killed by Spashtail soon after.
The betrayal of both Frostpaw’s mother and love, how they were manipulating her into becoming a medicine cat for their gain, is almost too much for her to bear. From as young as a kit, she’s been manipulated and molded, unknowingly a product of child abuse. With the park cats, her growth comes in connecting with her inner child, or inner kit. She plays, relaxes, and converses with the others. She learns what peace and warmth can look like. The park cats and Nightheart even repeatedly tell her none of what happened was her fault. I can imagine kids and adults alike reading this book and feeling it touch their own trauma and healing.
Now, I think Frostpaw is the star of this book, but it would be unfair not to spend some time on the other two protagonists as well. In my opinion, Nightheart is the least important of the cats in this arc. His entire focus is to outgrow his family legacy, related as he is to the great Firestar. In the earlier three books, he was impulsive, selfish, and misunderstood. He was constantly angry with his kin and not reflective of his faults or mistakes. In Thunder, we see Nightherat grow calmer, more reflective, and less selfish. He returns to his birth Clan and seems no longer angry at his kin. Instead, he admits (privately) that he didn’t run away to ShadowClan just because he loved Sunbeam, but because he was running from his family problems in ThunderClan too. While this plays into the selfishness problem I have with his character, I’m at least happy to see him realize the truth. Frankly, it’s a start.
His character is called into question again when he immediately leaves Sunbeam, his mate who followed him on his return to ThunderClan, to go on a quest with Frostpaw. He has good intentions, after seeing how injured young Frostpaw is, but the real pique to his interest is her baiting him with a “hero” status after completing the journey. I don’t doubt the sincerity of all the longing and moaning Nightheart does on the quest, missing Sunbeam, but I cannot ignore the fact that proving himself worthy to his Clan came above his love for her. This is especially apparent since Sunbeam made a huge sacrifice to come to his Clan, only to be without him during the transition period.
Last, but certainly not least, Sunbeam’s chapters provided interesting content between the Nightheart and Frostpaw chapters. It was a treat to see the contrast between how welcoming the cats of ThunderClan were versus how Nightheart was treated in ShadowClan in the previous book. Both Clans have their allies and enemies to any cat that changes Clans, but the contrast seems intentional with Sunbeam’s change. She is encouraged constantly by Nightheart’s kin, Sparkpelt, Finchlight, and Squirrelstar, as well as some other characters, like Bayshine, Myrtlebloom, Ivypool, Alderheart, and Lionblaze.
What I think went brilliantly with Sunbeam’s character is how they gave back some of her agency. At the end of book three, Shadow, I was surprised to see she decided to go after Nightheart and switch Clans for him. I spent the majority of Shadow not believing they loved each other, let alone enough for Sunbeam to leave her birth Clan. With Nightheart gone, she needed to decide whether she would stay in ThunderClan and go through their three trials or return to ShadowClan. She spends the book going back and forth with this uncertainty when no cat knows when Nightheart will return. While a majority of Sunbeam’s character has focused on her love life, it was refreshing to see her form friendships and get vital support she wasn’t getting in ShadowClan. She comes into her own in ThunderClan and asserts multiple times at the end that she wants to stay, regardless if Nightheart ever returns. In ThunderClan, she’s found her place.
To address the elephant in the room, and to close out my review, I would be remiss not to mention the change in ThunderClan leadership. After all her hardships and dedication, Squirrelflight finally becomes Squirrelstar when Bramblestar requests his extra lives be stripped and to become Brambleclaw again. It is a well-deserving shift, especially considering the fandom’s love for the feisty character. Then, another well-loved character becomes Squirrelstar’s deputy, Ivypool! Since Ivypool is my favorite character, I am more than pleased with this announcement. I found Squirrelstar’s promotion underwhelming since we did not get to see her leader’s ceremony, but I’m hopeful we might get to see it in a later book or short story.
I thoroughly devoured this Warriors novel. I’m looking forward to the fifth book’s release in April 2024 to see if this arc continues its upward trajectory. You can purchase Thunder on Amazon or other major retailers.