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Vintage Treasures: Cats Have No Lord and The Tangled Lands by Will Shetterly

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Cats Have No Lord-small The Tangled Lands-small

Covers by Janny Wurts and E. T. Steadman

Will Shetterly has a fine back-catalog of fantasy novels, most from the 80s and 90s. They include Witch Blood (1986), Elsewhere (1991), and his most famous book, Dogland (1997). With his wife Emma Bull he created and edited the popular Liavek shared universe anthologies.

He began his career as a novelist with the wonderfully-titled Cats Have No Lord, released back in April 1985. It came in sixth in the annual Locus Poll for Best First Novel (losing out to Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Swanwick, and Carl Sagan, but ahead of Geoff Ryman, Judith Tarr, Sheila Finch, and Dan Simmons — no shame placing 6th in a year like that!) Four years later he published a prequel, The Tangled Lands. In a 2012 post on his blog, Shetterly looked back fondly at Cats Have No Lord, while openly acknowledging its flaws.

Cats Have No Lord is my first novel. I had tried to write several more ambitious — meaning, more pretentious — books and gave up on them because they were awful, so I finally decided to learn how to write by writing something with everything I’d loved as a kid. If I missed any fantasy cliches of the ’70s, I don’t know what they were: this book has a spunky female thief, a mysterious swordsman, a magician, and a big barbarian. Oh, and a talking horse.

It sounds awful, but my love must’ve shown through, or maybe readers were more desperate or more kind in those days. Booklist said, “The first-rate world building, the unique cast of characters, and the author’s clever whimsey make it absorbing reading. Recommended.”

“Unique” must mean they thought I did good things with the characters, but every single one began with a trip through Central Casting to see who was available. Literally.

I wrote the first draft of the first four chapters without a clue where I was going. I just thought, “I need a cool swordsman,” and wrote a chapter. Then I thought, “He needs sidekicks,” and wrote the big barbarian’s chapter, then the magician’s, and finally the love interest’s. But something happened that I hadn’t expected in what was originally the fourth chapter. I gave her a telepathic horse because she needed someone to talk to, and the two of them stole the show.

So I began again with Lizelle and Darkwind as the stars, and made Catseye, Thraas, and Merry their sidekicks, and soon my first novel was done. I wrote an odd prequel to it a couple of years later. I really should write a proper sequel someday, because I still love those characters.

I tend towards fairly serious and dark fantasy, and light fantasy usually doesn’t interest me. But there’s something about Shetterly’s particular brand of whimsical fantasy that appeals to me far more than, say, Robert Asprin or Craig Shaw Gardner. I’ve always wanted to read these books, and now that I tracked down a copy of The Tangled Lands I finally have the chance.

Cats Have No Lord-back-small The Tangled Lands-back-small

Here’s the original publishing details.

Cats Have No Lord (Ace, 225 pages, $2.75 in paperback, April 1985) — cover by Janny Wurts
The Tangled Lands (Ace, 247 pages, $3.95 in paperback, December 1989) — cover by E. T. Steadman

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

2 Comments »

  1. I have never come a Ross this author before. Will keep an eye out for these books, they sound pretty diverting.

    Cover art by Janny Wurts. THE Janny Wurts, she of many excellent fantasy novels?

    Comment by Tony Den - October 31, 2019 3:17 pm

  2. Tony,

    The very same! I believe Janny actually started in the industry as an illustrator, working in the RPG industry for folks like Mayfair Games, before her first novel appeared in 1982 (Sorcerer’s Legacy).

    When she was a guest at Maplecon in the mid-80s, she attended as Artist Guest of Honor. She’s married to the well known fantasy artist Don Maitz.

    Comment by John ONeill - November 2, 2019 11:08 am


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