Life, Love and War With Talking Cats – Mort(e) Review

morte coverTitle: Mort(e)
Author: Robert Repino
Published: January 20, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: ★★★★☆

Anthropomorphic cats team up with mutant ants to wage war against humans – how could I not pick up this book with such a strange description? Mort(e), penned by Robert Repino, was nothing short of a totally unique experience, despite a few qualms with the book’s overall execution and denouement.

It starts with a housecat. You can almost imagine your own beloved pet, wandering through the house, staunchly trying to protect you from strangers and babysitters. And suddenly, Sebastian, later called Mort(e), isn’t just a cat. He’s evolved speech and fingers. And the world has been launched into all out war, lead by mutated ants and their ancient Queen. Allied with newly evolved animals, the Queen is intent on destroying all humans because of their atrocities – murder, enslaving animals, cruelty, inequality, extremism.

From the start Sebastian is bent on finding his friend, a dog with whom he’d shared simpler times. He’s persuaded to join a guerrilla band of fighting cats, but keeps his purpose – finding the dog – at heart. It’s with this band, the Red Sphinx, that he changes his name and learns of the terrible virus the humans have unleashed on animals, which wreaks insanity and death upon any creature it touches – all the more reason to wipe out the humans.

The story takes a turn post-war: the humans have been eradicated, but the virus has returned with mysterious new symptoms. Mort(e) is faced with finding the truth about the disease, fighting the true enemy, or finding his friend. The plot thickens as he learns terrible truths about the fragile new society the animals have formed, and the fate of the world to come. What will he fight for – himself or the greater good? Whose greater good? It all becomes very existential.

Despite being overall very totalitarian and bleak, the book does make some interesting commentary on illogical cruelty and the damages of extremism. The book has a sort of passive feel – at times I felt as though it was almost neutral, so the information presented was just that – informational. This was wrong so we did this. It kind of kept it from feeling too inflammatory or preachy.

However, I really didn’t like the take on religion. Without going into too much detail (don’t want to be too spoilery), much of that aspect just felt a little contrived and flat, and too far-fetched even. I get the desire to state a point of view about religion, but it didn’t add up in a way that I understood what the book was trying to say about it (he believes it’s true? It’s false? It has merit? It has none?). The point of view started out so critical that it’s hard to assume that the story was anything other than a criticism of religion, yet after book’s conclusion, I couldn’t decide what truth we arrived at regarding logic versus emotions versus belief, particularly with the ant Queen. Maybe that was the intention? I’m still not sure.

The thing I loved about Mort(e) was it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before – Repino takes you on this bizarre adventure, punctuated with mystery, violence and the virtues of friendship and basic morality. The mentality of the characters is a little hard to slide into – this new world, one ruled by ants and animals, is highly logical and at times difficult to empathize with, although this could be interpreted as excellent writing on the part of Repino. After all, humans are portrayed as weak because of their need to love, believe and empathize, so it makes sense that a human reading the book wouldn’t totally accept the goals of a post-human society where beliefs are shunned.

I’ve read a few criticisms that Sebastian/Mort(e) is a poorly developed character because we never fully understand why he above all causes he simply searches for his friend, with whom he seems to have an extremely simplistic connection with. Again, I think this is part of the genius of Repino – the climax of the story (I’ll try not to spoil here) seems to highlight that that’s exactly the point: certain things like love and faith extend beyond rational understanding. I actually kind of liked that Sebastian had such a strong, simple connection with his friend, as opposed to a romantic, passionate one. It was almost – I hate to say it after reading this book – like the friendship you’d have with a beloved pet – simple, loyal, loving.

“Sebastian based his name on a word he had come across in one of the old libraries. A word meaning death. He had died. He had killed. And he would kill again. So the name fit. But it could also be a normal name, the name of a regular guy named Mort who was meant for a life surrounded by loved ones. That life was still out there, but it would have to wait. Hence the need to keep the letter e in parentheses. This could go either way. They could always go either way.”

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

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