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Literature / Lionboy

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The Lionboy trilogy is a young adult series by Zizou Corder, the pseudonym of Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakoh Young. Our hero is a British boy named Charlie who was born to a black father, Aneba, and a white mother, Magdalen. But Charlie is even more special than he seems. He can speak to cats because of an incident when he was a baby. Aneba, had taken him with him on an expedition in the jungle when they came across a leopard and her baby. Aneba gave them some tranquilizer, and the baby leopard playfully scratched Charlie, who ended up getting some of the baby leopard's blood in his body.

One day, he comes home from school to find that his parents have been kidnapped. Popular kid Rafi takes Charlie to his house, but Charlie quickly deduces that Rafi is up to no good, and escapes. Rafi chases after him with his dog, Troy. Charlie escapes on ship, eventually meeting the Circe, a ship that carries a travelling circus, which Charlie joins. He is fascinated by the circus' lions, and after learning about how unhappy they are being in captivity, he decides to help them escape. He succeeds in getting them out of the circus, but now he must get them back to Africa, while finding out what happened to his parents, in an adventure that will take him across the world.


The books are, in order:

  1. Lionboy (2003)
  2. Lionboy: The Chase (2005)
  3. Lionboy: The Truth (2006)

This series provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Mostly averted. Any adult character who isn't evil is usually very helpful.
  • America Takes Over the World: Implied. Reference is made multiple times to "the empire." It takes a little reading between the lines to figure out that they mean America.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Mabel Stark wants to use Charlie's Cat-talking ability to communicate with her tigers, he bluntly points out to her that she might not want to do so, since "did she really think they loved her, or wanted to be with her?" Unsurprisingly, she breaks into tears. This is eventually subverted however near the end of the third book, when Charlie asks everyone want they want for the future and the tigers say they love Mabel, only want to stay with her, and cry at the thought of being parted from her.
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  • Big Bad: The Head Chief Executive, corrupt leader of the Corporacy and mastermind of the company's plan to engineer allergies to profit off of medicine for them.
  • Brick Joke: At one point early in the first book, while discussing Charlie's ability to speak to cats after the incident with the leopard cub, one of his parents question if the leopard cub he swapped blood with can now speak English, but the idea is dismissed. During the final book, Charlie meets up again with the now grown-up leopard, who can in fact speak English.
  • Cats Are Mean: Averted. The only cat who comes close to this trope is Sergei, who is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Head Chief Executive.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Happens in the first book - Charlie's mother grazes her shin when she falls off a ladder, and uses the opportunity to write a message in her own blood. She even mentions that it's something she's been "meaning to do for a while."
  • Dissonant Serenity: One of Maccomo's defining characteristics is the fact that he's completely calm, even when the odds aren't in his favor.
  • Girls With Mustaches: A bearded lady is one of the many members of Major Tib's circus.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • It's much more reluctant and resentment-filled than most examples, but eventually the fact he learns he's related to Charlie and his mother is Mabel Stark leads to one of these for Rafi.
    • Mabel herself has one of these also thanks to the above reveal, but her 'villainy' only amounted to being willing (at first) to help Maccomo chase down Charlie and the lions, and this only because invoked she naturally assumed it was right for the cats to stay with the circus and because she had learned of Charlie's Cat-talking ability and wanted to use it to communicate with her tigers.
  • Historical Domain Character: An odd example (though appropriate for a book about big cats) is in Mabel Stark, who not only is part of the circus Charlie joins (and starts out as an antagonist due to being the Old Flame of Maccomo, before changing sides) but also his long-lost aunt. At the same time, this makes her a lot more integral to the plot and connected to its characters than such figures usually are.
  • Kid Hero: Charlie. It's hard to believe a young boy accomplished all that he did in these books.
  • Last of His Kind: Primo, thanks to being the product of genetic engineering.
  • Lovable Lizard: Ninu, a friendly little chameleon who befriends Charlie and Sergei. Despite not being a feline, Charlie can still talk to him.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father / Luke, You Are My Father: Both of these tropes end up employed in the case of Rafi—first Charlie learns of his true parentage and informs the mother, Mabel Stark (who knew she was a mother, but not of the character in question due to giving him up for adoption), then Mabel herself has to inform the character. As if that isn't enough, the fact Mabel is also secretly his aunt who ran away to join the circus means Charlie realizes the character in question is his own long-lost cousin.
  • Meaningful Name: Primo is not the "first" cat, as his name implies, but he accepts it because by this era's standards, he is.
  • Mega-Corp: The Corporacy.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Charlie is a master of this, and constantly uses it on adults who he is suspicious of.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Used numerous times by Charlie and his parents, to warn the other that they're in trouble.
  • Panthera Awesome: It's worth noting that the authors seem to go out of their way to describe the lions as graceful and beautiful at every opportunity. It's also worth noting the example of the prehistoric sabretooth lion, created through genetic engineering by the Corporacy, that Charlie and the lions end up naming Primo, and who also gets to stand in for Venice's Lion of Saint Mark.
  • Pet the Dog: Played with—Rafi has a dog who is utterly devoted to him, and this is never shown to be in spite of any abuse, yet when he accidentally gets abandoned by Rafi at one point and patiently waits for him, Rafi doesn't give his absence a second thought. Still, they end up reunited by the end, and Rafi seems disgruntled but pleased.
  • Photo Op with the Dog: After being introduced to Primo via the King of Bulgaria's valet (who is convinced getting in his good graces will help his master politically), the Doge of Venice attempts one of these to become a Villain with Good Publicity, since the sabretooth lion has been dressed up as the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of hope, pride, and patriotism for the city. It backfires spectacularly.
  • Poison-and-Cure Gambit / Withholding the Cure: It turns out this is the reason for the disappearance of Charlie's parents: the Corporacy had engineered an allergy to cats in the population, requiring the medicine they produced to treat the fatal asthma that resulted, but his parents had discovered a cure to the allergy thanks to Charlie's blood-exchange with a big cat. So the Corporacy kidnapped them to either force them to work for them, making their work part of the Corporacy's cure, or to eliminate them.
  • The Reveal: The series uses this trope so much (whether in the Big Bad's various plans, long-lost relatives turning up, other characters' origins, numerous Contrived Coincidences, or how all the characters somehow manage to end up in the same place at the end to save the day/resolve dangling plot threads) that it has to be deliberate—and affectionate. One reviewer described the final book as Dickensian, and the comparison is apt.
  • Repulsive Ringmaster: Downplayed. The series features circus lions who are abused. The circus' ringmaster isn't evil, but he is kind of apathetic to the lions' abuse. The lion tamer is the one who's really evil.
  • Running Gag: The bit in book two where Charlie learns his parents stole a car, and can't stop teasing them about it. Also lampshades how easy it is to become an Overly Long Gag when his parents, who at first found it funny too, quickly run out of patience with him.
  • Scary Black Man:
    • Maccomo, the circus' lion tamer, hails from Africa, and is one of the most dangerous, cunning, and cruel characters in the entire series.
    • Aneba generally isn't, being more of a Gentle Giant, but he does play up the image to try and freak his kidnappers out in the first book.
  • Sleazy Politician: The Doge of Venice, who is literally letting the city sink into the sea while feasting in luxury in his palace and is desperate to hold onto his position by any means necessary.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Charlie gains the ability to speak Cat (though his abilities also extend to a chameleon) after accidentally getting leopard blood into his system when he was very young.
  • Stepford Smiler: Everyone in the Corporacy, because they put a chemical in the air that causes people to conform to their standards.