I'm knocking off one half star because there's something about the beginning, where it's really hard to get into. I guessed it might be that both another reviewer out there, and I, had trouble telling who the narrator was. (It's mostly from one point of view, but you get two more in there, too.) There was also the whole really short sentences stacked up one against each other, and it's was bizarre and frustrating in the beginning. Charley's Hoot name is Smiley - and that's the name he prefers to go by. His the mount of the next in line to rule, His Excellent Excellency, Future-Ruler-of-Us-All. As such, he's treated... not quite well, but better than most mounts. (There's a hierarchy: Seattles, the strongest who can carry the most, Tennessees, who are the fastest, and everyone else, who are considered nothings. In addition, male mounts are called Same and female mounts are called Sues.) The Hoots, alien invaders who have short, weak legs use humans as mounts. They spent a considerable time giving treats and pats, telling everyone who will listen how kind they are, and preening over how smart they are, and how they can hear and see and smell better than us.
Meanwhile, Charley's father, Heron (Hoot name Beauty) has rebelled, leads a group of people who are considered 'wild.' What they want is democracy, to choose who they are, though. When Heron manages to save Charley, he doesn't realize just how indoctrinated his son is: how much his soon loves the Little Master. (Or how much the Little Master loves Charley.)
About this time, I started really getting into this book and reading much more quickly. I got more invested in Charley as he started questioning everything everyone told him, both his father, and the Little Master. Before, he'd been passive, and now he was actually thinking, becoming something other than what he'd been physically and emotionally and mentally trained to be.
From there on in, I was reading as fast as I could to see what would happen to Charley and what would sway him to one side or the other: as a Hoot's mount, or his own person. It's harder than I wanted it to be: Charley took so much pride in the fact that Smiley was considered perfect in the Hoot society, he was so brainwashed, he was so simpatico with The Little Master, that he couldn't simply be torn from that life and adapt to another. He may have been in chains, but those chains gave him hot and cold running water, food he was used to, and a comfortable roof over his head. With a nasty master, this could have still been hell. As it was presented, His Excellent Excellency was presented as a loving master.
Still, the ending galls, enough for me to knock off another half star.
Compromise with a slave master just feels wrong and I was left unconvinced. Charley had matured enough to throw off his shackles, and the Little Master felt more like he found Smiley convenient rather than truly feeling for him. Fondness, yes, but not the love and adoration that Charley had for the Little Master, so it still felt like a slave-master relationship rather than the loving friendship it was presented to be. Charley was always the one more forgiving, more patient, more accommodating. Even with the Little Master trained to be able to walk, it didn't feel like it was enough - how far he could walk, how little he gave up - to make up for what had come before.
A worthwhile read even if a little unsatisfactory at the end. I also read early on that the author seemed to be rewriting The Silk and the Song, an older short story that is available for free and in which humanity is enslaved by an alien race that uses them as the same sort of beasts of burden. Perhaps, but when the author talks about her own inspiration for this book, she talks about a class she took that dealt with predators and prey and which you can read a bit about here. So while there's the obvious slave/master connotations, there's a predator carrying around prey. I wouldn't have really paid attention, or thought about why the Hoot's had such weak legs and bodies, if not for reading that interview halfway throughout. I also felt like I never really felt that aspect, or that it didn't speak as much to me, as the whole using a people as slaves. (Although in retrospect, the whole 'do good and get treats' makes a little more sense in how people train predator animals.)
So I really, really enjoyed this, and despite my slight complaints, I can easily see myself reading this. I feel like maybe on a reread I'd pay more attention to the details that would make the prey/predator dynamic seem more obvious. For now, though, onto new books!