On Halloween this year, Warrior Cats fans got a trick instead of a treat. The newest guide, Warriors: The Ultimate Guide: Updated and Expanded Edition was released as a celebration of 20 years of Warriors, as well as an update to the original The Ultimate Guide published ten years ago in 2013. The promise of something better or new disappeared as fans flipped through pages of reused art and mistakes.
As someone who has been reading Warriors since middle school, and continued to catch up and follow the series, I was excited at the prospect of new character art and descriptions. Ten years ago, when the original Ultimate Guide was released, Warriors was only starting their fifth arc, Dawn of the Clans, and only published book six of sixteen of the Super Editions that are currently out. All this to say, since the last released guide, over twenty more Warriors books have been published, including main arcs, Super Editions, novellas, and graphic novels. That’s over twenty books of new characters, plotlines, and backstories. The fandom was heavily due for an updated guide.
Yet, early on, fans began to speculate that this guide was not going to deliver. To understand the complaints, particularly about the art, the history of canonical art has to be looked at. The previous artist employed for Warriors books, both in book covers and illustrations for field guides, was Wayne McLoughlin. He did all the art for every book in the series released before Moth Flight’s Vision in 2015. Unfortunately, that same year, McLoughlin passed away. As a result of this, the Warriors authors and team hired a new artist, Owen Richardson. Not only has Richardson been the artist of all newly released novels in the series, he was also hired to do a complete redesign of all previously released books to make the series artistically cohesive. His style is different from McLoughlin’s; instead of the soft blend of cartoon and realism that McLoughlin was master of, Richardson is fully realistic, almost to the point of looking blended with A.I. (artificial intelligence) art.
A lot of the book covers that Richardson has created look uncanny in their hyper-realism, as if the cats are trying too hard to look like cats. Past main arc covers by McLoughlin, with one cat as the focal point and a backdrop of landscape and silhouettes were traded in for covers by Richardson with one or multiple, focal point cat/s in light. Obviously, fans kept this in mind when looking forward to the updated guide, seeing as Wayne McLoughlin couldn’t rise from the dead to do the art for it. While I have a preference and bias for McLoughlin’s art, both for nostalgic reasons and artistic style preference, I know many other fans prefer his to Richardson’s style. So, even with these expectations, knowing that the art won’t live up to the originals, why was the guide a letdown?
For starters, over half of the images are reused from book covers. Of the 81 character images, 36 of them are reused from the main arc or Super Edition covers. That number rises to 37 when Raggedstar’s art is considered, which is a recolor and zoom-in of art from the Super Edition Graystripe’s Vow. Similarly, eight of the 81 images are just an expansion of art from novellas. Only 35 images of the character art are brand-new to Warriors fans, meaning less than 50% of the art in the promised “updated and expanded with all-new art” field guide is new.
Of the reused art, a majority of it doesn’t show the full character, or the harsh lighting in the image doesn’t reflect the character’s actual design. For example, Ivypool’s character art is a reuse of the cover for Fading Echoes from the Omen of the Stars arc. The red cast of lighting from the illustration means that Ivypool is barely recognizable, as you can’t see her real fur color or patterning. Not only are cover reuses a disgrace to the promise of new art, but some of the reuses aren’t even well done. For Alderheart’s character image, they reused the cover of The Apprentice’s Quest, the first book of A Vision of Shadows arc. However, whereas later reuses of the covers of this arc isolate the particular character, Alderheart’s image shows a cat in the background. Even their most famous character of the series, Firestar, is a cover reuse from the last book of Omen of the Stars.
Now, of the 35 images that are new, they aren’t total successes either. Take, for example, Dapple Pelt and Cloud Spots, one of seven images that have two cats included. While the art itself looks good, both cats are not accurate to their canonical descriptions from the books. For one, Dappled Pelt even says in her description that she is a “tortoiseshell she-cat,” where her image shows only an orange-and-white cat. A tortoiseshell cat is supposed to have orange and black in their fur, whereas a tortoiseshell and white cat would have white included. Based on full book descriptions, Dappled Pelt is supposed to look like a tortoiseshell and white cat. Her companion, Cloud Spots, is described in the books as a mostly black cat with white accents; in this character art, he looks gray and appears to have tabby markings on his forehead. This brings up a wider issue of the character art not matching book descriptions of the characters. While McLoughlin was no stranger to this issue either, Richardson seems to take a lot of creative liberty in his illustrations.
Also among the new images, is a reluctance, or perhaps a complete disregard, of any of the character’s disabilities in the series. Cats such as Cinderpelt (mangled leg), Brightheart (scarred face, including a missing eye and torn ear), Briarlight (paralyzed back legs), and Crookedstar (broken and crooked jaw), have art that hides their disability. Cinderpelt and Briarlight are both sitting with their legs not shown, Brighheart’s scars are minuscule, and Crookedstar’s uneven jaw is hidden under the shadow of his muzzle. The series is well known among fans to be ableist, but this art stretches it further.
The last, most blatant annoyance of this publication is how they fumbled a perfectly easy and cute feature for the characters. On each character page, there’s a banner with their Clan symbol, position, traits, mentors (if applicable), apprentices (if applicable), coat, eye color, and a quote. The banners are designed nicely, with the Clan’s color and cat ears at the bottom. However, in almost every single character’s banner, the coat and eye color are wrong. It appears, and this speculation is a popular opinion of the fandom, that the coat and eye colors were color-picked directly from a random spot in the art. Which means they are wildly inaccurate. Bluestar, a blue-gray cat, has a pelt color of white (and her eyes are green, which canonically she has blue eyes). Many gray-pelted cats have a coat color of brown: Yellowfang, Ashfur, Bristlefrost, Stormfur, etc. Plenty of cats even have the wrong eye color picked: Spottedleaf’s show brown when they’re yellow in the picture, Violetshine’s show green-brown when they’re yellow, and Rootspring’s eyes show purple when they’re blue.
This doesn’t even begin to mention the list of little mistakes they make throughout (like Leafstar being listed as Rock’s mentor; Rock being a cat who was alive and dead before even the cats of Dawn of the Clans, a prequel series, were alive). I could go on and on with many more examples of all of these inaccuracies; yet, it would be a disservice for me not to mention what Erin Hunter and Owen Richardson did well in this book.
Plenty of the character descriptions were updated with relevant information from more current books, highlighting plotlines that occurred over the past ten years and weren’t mentioned in the previous field guides. Cats like Brokenstar and Puddleshine, who have well-done new art and descriptions, can be praised. Even cats who have reused images, like Tigerstar and Tallstar, have well-written descriptions that make up for it. As I mentioned before, I also think the banners on the sides of their information are a good addition. I think the short stories at the end, where fans get to see Firestar and Graystripe in StarClan, were good to include–giving fans new content on beloved characters. The updated code, with the rules in order as decided in a recent arc, is also important for fans to see. Finally, the book cover is also a neat concept, showing multiple characters through a claw-scratch on the front.
If more fans were celebrating this release, I would feel guilty about spending paragraphs of this review tearing into the book. Yet, one look into the comment section of posts promoting this book on the official Warriors Instagram, @warriorcatshubofficial, shows how many of us are disappointed. Simply put, this Ultimate Guide is not worth it, and it’s the only Warriors book that I have regretted purchasing. For me, it barely gets one out of five stars.
If you are inclined to purchase this book, it can be found on Amazon by following this link.