There's just something about faeries and Elizabethan England that mix, isn't there? It seems like I can't turn around without tripping over a book that involves the two. And that's not necessarily a bad thing; I like faeries, and I like Elizabethan England. But as with most trends, it can become hard to find writers who are using the material in inventive ways. Fortunately, that's just what Seanan McGuire does with "Rat-Catcher". There are beings of faerie, but they are also cats. As one of them--a rebellious prince who tries to stay out of court politics--learns of an impending disaster that will burn London, magical and mundane alike, he struggles with his split loyalties. I wish I could be unconditionally enthusiastic about this novelette, but in spite of its fun premise and adequate execution, it didn't quite leave much of an impression on me.
Rand doesn't have much love for the goings-on in his father's court. He much prefers to spend his time in cat form, watching plays and hanging out with the actors. As an immortal, he is fascinated by mortality and the depth and passion associated with it. McGuire draws a contrast between the short-lived but brightly burning humans Rand observes and the dull, stagnant court that he attends as he tries to warn his father-the-king of their doom. The promise of eternal life makes each day seem less special, less important.
McGuire also touches on self-fulfilling prophecies, with Rand wondering whether London would have burned at all if they hadn't acted in response to this prophecy. This isn't something she explores in much detail, though.
And that's about all that I remember. "Rat-Catcher" isn't bad. In fact, I don't mind saying it's very good. It's a neat little story about a faerie-cat and his problems, with a good historical backdrop and some nice dialogue. Yet it is also an ephemeral experience; unlike some fiction, it has not left much in the way of a mindworm. I can tell how impressive a book is by how long it takes me to stop thinking about it after I finish reading it. "Rat-Catcher" does not take long to read and doesn't stick around for much longer thereafter.
As with most of the Hugo novelettes this year, I'd happily recommend this but am not all that impressed by it.