The Tales of Catt & Fisher – The Art of the Steal edited by Justina Robson

December 11, 2020

Scholars, shopkeepers, collectors, aficionados. Obtainers of rare antiquities; relic hunters who can’t resist a lead, even when it takes them into terrible danger. There’s always an opportunity to be found amid the confusion, in the wake of the terrible Kinslayer War. There’s always a deal to be done, a tomb to open, a precious thing to obtain.

From encounters with the monstrous Vathesk to exploring new worlds; from wielding great power to do great good, to unearthing dark things best left lost. If you need the experts, if you can find your way to their Cherivell shop, maybe you can hire Doctors Catt and Fisher.

Twenty-twenty has been one hell of a year, what with global pandemics and political nonsense all over the place. I’ve been on quite the emotional rollercoaster as it goes. Fortunately, reading has helped enormously to get me through the tougher moments. Being able to escape into a good book offers no small measure of solace. I’ve read some truly wonderful stories in the last twelve months and I’m glad to say my final book of the year rounds things off perfectly; it is an absolute gem.

The Tales of Catt & Fisher – The Art of the Steal edited by Justina Robson is a cheeky little anthology set in a world of magic, political intrigue and the odd dodgy deal or two. The four stories that make up this collection are hugely entertaining, each works as a standalone or woven together as glimpses in Catt and Fisher’s ongoing exploits. If you’ll indulge me, I’ve jotted down some thoughts about each tale but the comments hold true for them all to be honest.

Belt and Bracers by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Peppered throughout the entire narrative there are some blissfully subtle comedic moments. It turns out, for example, that sometimes belts aren’t just for holding your trousers up. They can also be the tools for revolution. That might sound absurd, but trust me, it all makes a perfect kind of sense. I’ve always believed there is a delicate balance that exists between humour and seriousness. The writing on display makes that particular juggling act appear effortless.

Secrets and Lights by Freda Warrington – The language that each story contains delights at every turn. The names of the collectibles and items Catt and Fisher are searching for/traffic in are a perfect example.

“The Eight Wing Scales from the Eye of the Upper Right Wingtip of the Great Moth of Umberanaethon”

C’mon, admit it, with a name like that your curiosity is piqued isn’t it? The dialogue also sparkles with wit throughout. From blisteringly barbed comments to cheeky one-liners there is so much to relish.

“That’s why it’s fun,” Catt said, bubbling with glee. “Lad, we eat terrifying and insane for breakfast!”

There is also a lighthouse in this story and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a good lighthouse from time to time.

Taking Note by Juliet McKenna – There is a genuine depth to the world building, each author adds their own voice to the mix. The stories in the anthology all touch upon the fallout from the Kingslayer War. A decade after this all-encompassing event, and the repercussions are still being felt. Entire races have been left without homes. It helps the reader to understand there is also a darker side to Catt and Fisher’s stock in trade and we get to learn some further detail about it. Things don’t always go to plan in the collectible business and there are always consequences. The duo may appear, at least initially, harmless but fortunately there is a steel at the core of them both. Just as well, they’re going to need it.

The Unguis of Maug by K. T. Davies – The secondary characters that inhabit Catt and Fisher’s world are just as compelling as the two leads. The final story in the quartet introduces the shambolic ex-Templar knight Bailey Dannoch. Depending on the time of day he is either seeking some form of redemption or a bottle to curl up and die in. There is little denying Dannoch is a troubled man. What can I say? I’m a sucker for broken characters. I always find them endlessly fascinating, and in Dannoch’s case, I found him entirely relatable. I happen to be somewhat shambolic myself. There is also Ash, a street urchin whose attempts to rob the wrong shop at the wrong time means he finds himself apprenticed to everyone’s favourite doctors. Once again I found myself utterly enthralled.

Catt and Fisher, or Catty and Fishy to their friends, are a delight. There is a snarky back and forth that can only come from years of companionship. Catt is maybe just a little pompous, and Fisher is perhaps a trifle more sardonic than is entirely appropriate, but that’s half of what makes them so great. Within minutes of reading the first story, these two platinum rogues felt like my dearest friends. They are a classic double act, sitting somewhere between Morecambe and Wise and Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in Vicious. I think the thing that impressed me most is that each author maintains that same sense of these two characters while also crafting stories that are uniquely their own.I know what you’re thinking but please don’t ask me which story is my favourite, I couldn’t possibly pick between them. Damn you wonderful author type people, damn you all! You made me care!!

I’ll let you all in on a secret. Every year, after I put The Eloquent Page to sleep for its Christmas break, I read something just for me. No review type pressure, no need for blisteringly insightful commentary posted over the internet. I get to read whatever I want, whenever I want. I have a tendency to revisit my old favourites, it’s the literary equivalent of putting on some comfortable old socks. Not so this year. I’ve purchased the first two books featuring Catt and Fisher*. The power of the book gods compelled me. I just have to have more of these characters in my life.

The Tales of Catt & Fisher – The Art of the Steal is published by Solaris and is available now. High recommended.

For such a thoroughly splendid book I required a thoroughly splendid soundtrack. My musical accompaniment for the good doctors is the sublime Moonlighter by David Fenn. Not sure if I can put my finger on it, but something about the album feels suitably Catt and Fishery. You know me, I’m all about the feels.

Right, that’s me officially done with The Eloquent page until January. Have a marvellous festive season, look after yourselves and be nice to others. I’ll see you soon, there are still plenty more books for us left to read.

*Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky (book one) and Salvation’s Fire by Justina Robson (book two) for the curious amongst you.

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