Author: Robert Repino
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
ARC provided by publisher
"I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords."
I was intrigued by its animal apocalypse premise: superintelligent ants bring sentience to animals, who rise against humans in "the war with no name." A neutered housecat, Sebastian, becomes a soldier and possibly a messiah.
You don't expect something like that to be especially realistic, and the science given to explain how the ants brought about the war is nonsensical. The author would have better served his readers by making this a Great Unknown. (Not particularly spoilery: the ants put hormones in the water to mutate the animals. And yet it doesn't affect the humans. If you're going to put something in the water, why not poison all the humans and be done with it? The answer is spoilery, but basically it's because otherwise there wouldn't be a novel.)
But you either go with it, or you stop reading. I kept reading.
And it wasn't just the WFT moments that kept me reading. It was because of Sebastian, an ordinary housecat, who protects his family from intruders, enjoys a sunny square on the carpet, and becomes best friends with the neighbor's dog, Sheba.
When the war starts, Sebastian and Sheba are separated, and Sebastian is determined to find her, at all costs. His first moment of sentience was curling up with Sheba and promising her to protect her. That promise is what keeps him going through the war. When the war's over, Sebastian is recruited to head an investigation about a new biochemical weapon the last of the humans have developed. Sebastian figures his position might help him find Sheba.
I found Sebastian's journey, his loneliness, his tenacious hope to be heartbreakingly compelling. Would I have been as compelled if I weren't a cat person? I don't know.
Mort(e) isn't going to be for everyone. But I would recommend it to readers willing to try something ambitious, a novel that aspires to blend together a parable about humanity's relation to nature, science fiction dystopia, and a criminal investigation story.