Varjak Paw is a noble Mesopotamian Blue kitten, who lives in an old house high on the hill with his family and their owner, the Contessa. Varjak loves to hear from his grandfather stories of the family's earliest ancestor, Jalal, and his Way. It's said Jalal traveled all the way from Mesopotamia, fighting mighty warrior cats, and that he was a great hunter, who travelled to the ends of the earth, before settling in the house. But Varjak is the only one; his family, except his grandfather, are all content to stay behind the high walls, where they are fed and looked after.
Then the Gentleman arrives, accompanied by two strange cats who do not talk and have strange, blank, black eyes, and their arrival, along with the Contessa's death, throws the house into turmoil. Both Varjak and his grandfather sense something strange and wrong about the Gentleman, although the rest of the family refuse to see it. Varjak attempts to escape, and suceeds, but in the process the two black cats tear Varjak's grandfather apart.
Now Varjak must attempt to survive in the city beyond the walls; he must befriend allies and survive, so he can return home. Dogs, cars, even other cats are all a threat to him, as are the mysterious Vanishings, when a cat will disappear and never be seen again...
The Outlaw Varjak Paw is the sequel; Varjak must find a home for a group of street cats. In doing so, he incurs the dangerous attention of Sally Bones, who rules both her gang and the cats of the city by fear. But Sally Bones is not all she seems, and somehow, she has learnt the Way...
Both books are written by S.F. Said, and illustrated by Dave McKean.
These books provide examples of:
- Arc Words: "Keep the Way alive."
- Big Bad: The Gentleman in the first book, Sally Bones in the second.
- Eyepatch of Power: Sally Bones, who is missing an eye.
- Flashstep: Slow-time, one of the Skills, can have this effect.
- Icy Blue Eyes: Sally Bones.
- Invisibility: Shadow-walking.
- Last-Name Basis: Holly sometimes joking calls him "Mr. Paw".
- Light Is Not Good: More specifically, white fur and blue eye(s).
- Meaningful Name: "Jalal" is the Arabic for "glory".
- Pets Versus Strays: Varjak's family hates stray cats while the stray cats tease Varjak for being sheltered.
- Shout-Out: Varjak is named after Varjak from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
- Stray Animal Story: The series is about a kitten who must leave his home and find a dog to protect his family after their owner dies. He befriends stray cats and a stray dog along his way.
- Supernatural Martial Arts: The Way, a mystical martial art practiced by cats.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Ginger disappears after his one scene in this book and receives only a brief mention in the sequel.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The setting is known simply as "the city". Word of God states it was intentional, so that readers could imagine any city they like. That being said, the square with the fountains, column with four lions and all the pigeons seems to be at least an homage to Trafalgar Square.
- Woman in White: Sally Bones is an animal version of this. Mysterious, creepy, and bone-white.
- Xenofiction: The books are written from Varjak's viewpoint, which does not understand humans at all.
- Automobiles Are Alien: Varjak doesn't know what a "dog" is but cars match the description he's given. As a result Varjak mistakes cars for dogs until Ginger tells him otherwise. All his attempts to reason with cars obviously fail.
- Big Brother Bully: Julius towards Varjak.
- Big Damn Heroes: Cludge arrives to scare the Gentleman away when he was about to kill Varjak, Holly, Tam, and Julius.
- Big Eater: Tam
- Big Friendly Dog: Cludge...as long as no one threatens his friends.
- Cassandra Truth: When Varjak tells his family about the Gentlemen and the strange black cats, everyone besides Elder Paw ignores him. They also don't believe him when he says that the cats killed Elder Paw.
- Coming-of-Age Story: The first novel starts with Varjak as a young, sheltered pet and follows his character development into a self-assured stray cat and practitioner of the Way.
- Creepy Twins: The black cats.
- Dogs Are Dumb: Cludge. (And the rest of his family in the second book.)
- Fantastic Racism: Varjak's family disapproves of being friends with cats of other breeds, and they even scold Varjak for being friends with Holly. When she gets captured, they don't help Varjak rescue her because she was different from them. Varjak calls them out on it big time, saying that Mesopotamian Blue cats are just cats like every other cat.
- Fate Worse than Death: Being turned into one of the Gentleman's cats.
- Fish out of Water: Varjak, a spoilt kitten who has always been fed from a bowl, in the streets of the city.
- Sally Bones' Dragon Razor make brief appearances in the first book.
- Varjak's family is given a mouse toy by a Gentleman. It's jarringly realistic, even in its smell. It turns out to be a taxidermic mouse.
- Haute Cuisine Is Weird: White Sheep Varjak hates caviare, while the rest of his Idle Rich family loves it.
- Ironic Nickname: The Gentleman is anything but.
- Kick the Dog: Even after Varjak tries warning his family about the Gentleman and his cats, his older brother Julius calls him a disgrace to the name of Jalal and snarls at him to apologize for "what he did".
- Lovable Coward: Tam.
- Mind-Control Eyes: The eyes of the toy cats are described as being blank and glassy.
- Shared Unusual Trait: Varjak is the only one in his family with amber eyes. He shares this trait with Jalal, as he discovers when he looks at his reflection for the first time.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Varjak, at the end of the book.
- Tsundere: Holly, full stop.
- Uncanny Valley: The Gentleman's cats, in-universe.
- The Un-Favourite: Varjak, to, well, not only his older brother, but also the rest of his litter.
- Took a Level in Kindness: Varjak's family after he saves Julius from the Gentleman.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Varjak's family, who wish Varjak would have green eyes and behave sedately as a proper Mesopotamian Blue should.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Not whilst the Gentleman is still there.
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Where all the mice hide in the winter. Semi-justified, since they are cats.
- Disney Villain Death: Sally Bones falls off a building and dies.
- Ear Ache: Razor gets both his ears (and tail) torn off by Sally Bones.
- Mind Rape: Sally Bones does this to Varjak, causing him to temporarily lose his powers.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Razor, one of Sally Bones' captains.
- Really 700 Years Old: It's never stated how old Sally Bones really is, but it is implied that she is the only creature alive to meet Jalal in person, and he is a stuff of legends.
- Shared Unusual Trait: At the end, one of Holly's eyes has become icy blue, like Sally Bones'.
- Snow Means Death: Sally Bones lands in the snow when she falls. All they can see of her from the tower is her eye.