Cat’s Quill (Hidden Places #1)

Title: Cat’s Quill (Hidden Places #1)
Author: Anne Barwell
Cover artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner press Buy Link
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Length: 350 pages
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

A guest review by Sirius

Summary: This fantasy novel took entirely too long to take off the ground for me, even if the pace picked up somewhat in the last third of the book.


Tomas Kemp has two successful novels to his name and the true belief that a successful sequel is only a matter of a little inspiration. When Tomas meets a mysterious stranger under the branches of an old oak tree, he feels compelled to tell him about a book he holds dear and the sequel he wants to read. But Cathal doesn’t share that deep belief that the sequel Tomas seeks ends happily. Cathal has seen enough of a world where stories are real to know that happy ever after is sometimes the dream that won’t come true.

But stories have never let Tomas down, and as he follows Cathal across the reality shift between their worlds, he learns that Cathal is right: Happy ever after is never just given—but sometimes, it can be fought for and won.

Hidden Places Series


I think before I get into my review, I need to talk a little bit in more detail about the set up of the story, otherwise I will not be able to adequately explain why I was only able to finish the book on the fourth re-read. I do not think that any of this counts as significant spoilers, but as you can see, I put a spoiler warning in just in case.

As the blurb tells us, Tomas is a writer; he comes to the village of Oakwood on holiday from London on the insistence of his sister to try and catch his muse. He is not very successful in trying to write his latest book and he is hoping that his inspiration will come back to him here. While on holiday he meets Cathal under a tree and, as the blurb also tells us, Tomas will eventually have an adventure when he is following Cathal to another reality. I thought the adventure element was very enjoyable, but the problem for me was that it took a REALLY long time to get to this part of the book.

Related to this is my first issue: editing, or lack of. Cat’s Quill is another example of a book that could have benefited, in my opinion, from stronger editing. The first one third of the book was too long and while it was set-up for the last part, it was just too much. One would think that we would be treated to a development of a love story before the adventure actually happens? I did not think so, because in the first half of the book Tomas and Cathal essentially have two (or three, depending on how you count) conversations and Tomas was doing things. Granted, this is plot-based and understandable, but whatever Tomas was doing in between having those conversations with Cathal felt very odd to me. While the writer tied it all up in the end, I felt that way too much time was spent on Tomas’s research and many things could have been edited out. For example, at some point Tomas is looking for a book and he goes to the library, where we meet a librarian who talks in riddles—literally. It was so frustrating to me, especially since the reason why she was talking like this was not ever explained. In other words, Tomas looking for the book was necessary for the plot, but the reason why we could not have a “normal” librarian was not ever explained.

“I will issue you a temporary card. After all, you will be with us a while, and I will not stand in the way of a quest. There are dragons to be slain and worlds to be discovered.”

The best I could come up with was that she was like that wise old lady in fairy tales, the one who gives predictions to the Quester, but always mysterious. The problem was that I came up with this after I was done, because the first sixty percent of the story or so read to me as very realistic setting with people talking in riddles and that frustrated me. I know the writer was setting up the reveal, but I thought it was over-written.

I really wanted to like how this book talks about stuff I bet any book lover thought about at least once (or at least I did :)). Do books create realities and do the characters which come alive on the pages become alive in those realities? If we want the sequel to our favorite book to exist, does it mean that it does exist somewhere in another reality? Which is more real — our imagination or our real life? What is “reality”? Unfortunately, I had too much of those pearls of wisdom from a couple of the characters and did not enjoy the execution of those ideas:

“Many hear the words but few listen, let alone step out in faith to share them with others. I believe that it is important to share what you have, to give of yourself rather than hide who you really are, but unfortunately the worlds in which we live are complicated.”

The second major problem I had was lack of character development. I wish I could say that during the first half of the book some character development occurs, but if it did I missed it. Basically I felt that Tomas’s character arc is that he is rude to people in the beginning of the story (which is really because he is sad and lonely and afraid that people will leave him if he will let them in) and when he realizes that he is in love he is less rude. I suppose this is some development for him. And I found Cathal to be a very frustrating character; at first he talks in riddles, then he talks in riddles again, and when his secrets are revealed, he does not talk in riddles any longer. We learn some facts about him, but I did not feel that I learned much about him as a character except that he fell in love with Tomas.

While I had problems with this book, other readers may not agree.


  • This sounds like a very wishy washy watercolour painting where the paint running is meant to be significant but it isn’t it’s just bad technique. Ok too much metaphor perhaps!

    Anyway I so agree about content editing I have a similar case of a fantasy novel that really needed help, but clearly didn’t get any.

    Thanks Sirius…. not for me.

  • I put this book down after a couple of chapters. Right from the beginning I didn’t like the characters. The two hotel owners accused Tomas of being rude but in fact they were the intrusive and critical ones. Also I didn’t feel the instant connection between Tomas and Cal. The whole thing had a very vague feel.

    • That is a very good point MandyM. I did think that Thomas was unnecessary snippy at times, but those two were just unbelievably annoying to me. Thanks for commenting.

  • LadyM, I am just asking for clarification – have you skipped the review because of the spoiler warning or are you asking me to clarify after you have read the review and my review wa that confusing :(? If you have not read the review, do, I can guarantee that there are no significant spoilers in the review, in fact as I said in the review I put the spoiler warning in just in case, mostly because I wanted to talk about initial set up in more details. If you have read it and are still confused, well let me know, I will have to think about the answer than.

    • The thing is, I have no idea what exactly to expect from the book. What is this other reality the men go to like? Is it some fairy land? Alternate reality like this one? Something else? Where is their adventure taking place? And, therefore, is this book closer to the high fantasy (with magic, creatures, etc.) or is it more urban fantasy or something else. It wouldn’t be to spoiler-ish if you tell me the titles of some similar books so I can know what to expect. I understood what were the things that bothered you and why, but 3.5 star isn’t exactly bad, so what did you like?

      • Ah. I would say it is a land with magic, but no magical creatures like trolls and, elves. People there have magic and can do magical things. No, I would not call it urban fantasy. I dont know, maybe it is even too much to call it an adventure, it is more of a “saving expedition” I guess. I am really struggling to come up with the names of similar books too. I liked the writing, it flowed nicely, but as I said, it was painfully slow. I have a feeling though that it is very easy to feel that writing slowly sucks you in and is kind of magical. I did like “the saving expedition”, because Tomas gets to show off his good qualities. Is there a good worldbuilding in the other reality? It was quite sparse I would say, but it was enough to serve the scene for the “adventure” or “saving expedition”.

        Maybe I should just lower the rating, because thinking about it, I really cannot list many things that I liked.

  • Can you say something about actual adventure/quest without spoilers? World-building of another reality? I want to know if it would appeal to me. Thanks. 🙂


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