School Library Journal:
In this picture-book fantasy, a skinny, red-haired girl is lured into a forest inhabited by tree spirits, fairies, and magical cats. When Lillian falls asleep under an ancient beech tree, she accidentally disturbs a snake whose bite quickly draws her toward death, until the cats gather around her in a magic circle. However, to save her, they must change her into something that isn't dying, and thus she awakens transformed into a kitten. Her quest to return to her true self brings her into contact with many creatures, but it is the gnarled Apple Tree Man who finally leads her to her heart's desire. De Lint uses simple yet evocative language to describe Lillian's journey into this mysterious place filled with dark hollows and dense woods, where felines work their enchantment with voices that sound like "a kitchen full of fiddles not quite in tune with each other." Although the plot seems too neatly resolved, young readers are certain to enjoy the mood that has been created. The artwork is also appealing, with illustrations reminiscent of an animated film. Backgrounds are soft and misty and foregrounds set the scene, but the effect is sometimes too Disneyesque. Still, the book is worth consideration, particularly as a short read-aloud or for middle graders seeking a quick read.
Green Man Review, 2003:
A Circle of Cats is a bewitching little book, much bigger inside than out, and a wonderful collaboration between two enormous talents. There's a place of honor on my bookshelves for this one ... when I can finally stop going back to it every little bit and actually bring myself to put it away. In relation to de Lint's body of work as a whole, and indeed to the field of modern fantasy and fairy tale overall, this piece is simply outstanding.
A Circle of Cats is not a novel, or a novella, or even, at 44 pages, a chapbook—those are merely convenient labels assigned by publishers and booksellers to assist them in categorization. Call Cats instead an enchantment, a weaving of words and pictures into pure magic. Charles de Lint is adept at converging the mundane world and the Otherworld: at touching them together briefly to produce intense moments and life altering episodes, and then gently letting each world retreat from the touch and settle back into its own normality, usually with both sides all the better for the experience.
Lillian's time with the cats, the Apple Tree Man, and the Father of Cats is just such a touching of worlds, and one of the loveliest de Lint has given us. He didn't do it alone, though—Charles Vess is the second sorcerer necessary to this crafting of magics. His illustrations are, in a word, glorious. A Circle of Cats would be a fine fairy tale without the illustrations, but it wouldn't be the same story.
www.kids-places.com, June 30, 2003:
This book is a prequel to Seven Wild Sisters, and focuses on the character of Lillian, a free-spirited orphan, who lives with her aunt, miles away from others. She is an independent and free spirit who leaves food for wild cats and seeks fairies in the wild forest and countryside. This is a magical, lyrical, and original fairytale written by Charles de Lint. Charles Vess' illustrations, in color throughout the book, are superb! Today it is rare to find an original fairytale that isn't a retelling of a classic tale. I recommend this book to all age groups, and most especially to those who love cats and fairytales. I predict that this book, along with the others in the series, will be cherished and read for years to come.