I recently wrote about classic romance novel The Windflower by Laura London for Heroes & Heartbreakers. In that post, I didn’t have a chance to talk about one of the most notable secondary characters, Cat, whose surname we eventually learn is (probably) Cathcart – it isn’t clear whether he uses it or not.
After I’d finished reading the book, at least five people told me Cat was their favorite character in the book, and they’d wished there had been a sequel featuring him. My thought on the matter is that there might have been plenty of sequels written in spiral notebooks or perhaps even mimeographed and passed from hand to hand…alas, I have no evidence of this.
Here’s a description, from heroine Merry’s second encounter with him: Cat. The boy scanned her without pity or recognition or even much interest while the fog played mother-of-pearl patterns on the stark bend of his tall cheekbones. On one side of his face sparkled the engraved hoop of a silver earring as big as a bangle, and his pale hair ribboned neatly from chin to hip in a thick braid knotted with leather. His buttonless black shirt fell open to the low-slung waist of his trousers, exposing the bands of tanned maturing muscle that corded his chest and below. The collar of his buff greatcoat moved idly in the wind from the sea.
Yeah. I can see why readers find him memorable, even years later. I had an instant impression of someone who looked a bit like the man illustrating this post, Norwegian actor Thor Knai. Cat is always, almost ruthlessly, competent at everything except emotional relationships, from which he tries to keep his distance.
At first, Merry sees Cat as emotionless and terrifying; this impression is reinforced when he pretends to drown her (to save her from bad guys). But later in the novel, he becomes her chief confidant, and we learn that he was raised in a brothel, and is still learning to overcome some of the things that happened to him there.
Cat provides Merry with vital information about sex that enables her to regain some agency in her turbulent romance with Devon, and though we the readers aren’t given details of the conversation, Cat’s tone sets the stage. There are probably not many people who are introduced to the facts of life by a lecture beginning: “Now, look—and pay attention, will you—I don’t want to go over this a dozen times. Furthermore, if you don’t like what I tell you, don’t squeak and fuss at me. I didn’t design the world.”
Cat and another fun character, Raven, serve as Merry’s best friends, more so even than Devon, who eventually marries her. I have the sneaking suspicion that the author might have liked them better, too.
Cat’s wealthy father is revealed late in the novel, and his relationship with his father is shown to improve. In a romance novel of today, he would have Sequel Bait tattooed across his muscular chest. I wonder if he was intended to later have his own book? Or if his reconnection with his father was meant to be the end of his character arc?
Finally, Cat’s relationship with amoral pirate Reed is very complex and interesting. Reed bought Cat out of servitude, then freed him. It’s clear they sometimes pretend Cat is Reed’s catamite for nefarious purposes, and that in many ways they are confidants, though in other ways Reed treats Cat as a child, in a way suggesting he’s trying, as Cat is, not to become emotionally involved. I can’t help thinking that the fanfiction I imagined people writing about this book would have been mostly about Cat and Reed. There’s so much conflict and potential conflict in their brief appearances together.
It seems a waste that such a great character only appeared in the one book.