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Well the snow means I can’t get into work today so what better time to review another Redwall title?

Martin the Warrior, published in 1993, is the sixth novel in the series and was, at the time of publication, the first book chronologically in the series, a distinction it retained until the arrival of Lord Brocktree in 2000. It serves as a prequel to Mossflower and develops the backstory of the titular mouse hero. It’s also brilliant.

The story starts with Martin enslaved by ambitious stoat chief Badrang, who, some time earlier after scuppering his ship near their home, captured Martin and his grandmother Windred before marching them across the continent to the northeast coast, a journey that Windred did not survive. With his absent father’s sword taken from him Martin is put to harsh work building Badrang’s stronghold base, Fort Marshank. The warrior mouse vows to reclaim the sword and bring down the slave-driving tyrant.

After standing up for fellow slave Barkjon, Martin is made an example of and tied to two posts on top the fortress battlements in a raging storm. Miraculously surviving the night, he is rescued from ravenous seabirds the next morning by mousemaid Rose and mole Grumm who pelt the aggressors with stones from outside the fortress. Martin is then dumped into the fort’s prison pit with Rose’s younger brother Brome and tough squirrel Felldoh, Barkjon’s son. Rose and Grumm launch a bid to rescue the three captives by tunnel and so begins one of the most varied and event-filled adventures in the Redwall series.

Martin the Warrior and everything about it feels right. The story is a perfect development of Martin featuring a classic triumph over adversity plot with a spirited, downtrodden hero overcoming fantastic odds to overthrow oppression. The characters fill all the requisite rolls and are uniformly engaging, none overdominating or superfluous. The ending is mature and satisfying and the whole thing rounds out into a varied, pacey and immensely rewarding yarn. It’s one of those rare stories that you just can’t imagine being any better. In short it is a flawless addition to the canon that further cements Martin as the best hero in the series.

The plot is divided into three main strands. First we have Martin, Rose and Grumm who, seperated from Brome and Felldoh after the escape from Marshank,  journey to Rose and Brome’s utopian home Noonvale to seek help in bringing Badrang and Marshank down. Then there’s Brome and Felldoh’s amusing exploits with the comical Rambling Rosehip players and their various efforts to thwart Badrang and his forces. And finally we have the story from Badrang’s point of view which concerns his strained rivalry with former messmate Captain Tramun Clogg and his continuing attempts to reclaim slaves and build his coastal empire. All three storylines are packed with incident and variety and compliment each other beautifully sharing a common basis of a central relationship.

Felldoh and Brome’s story starts when the pair are separated from their rescuers and fellow escapee Martin and join up with female badger Rowanoak, garrulous hare Ballaw de Quincewold, vain squirrelmaid Celandine and the rest of the Rambling Rosehip Players. Theirs is the central relationship with the most ground to cover with Brome starting out as a hero worshipper before eventually losing faith in his companion’s ways. In the case of Badrang and Clogg we’re given probably the best example of rival villains the series has to offer. From the amusing faux-courteous beginnings through a series of double-crosses and plots to Clogg’s rambling ending the pair’s interplay is consistently funny and entertaining. And then there’s Martin and Rose whose friendship keeps their story rattling along and frames the whole tale as they encounter pretty much everything in the world on their travels whether it be pygmy shrews, carnivorous lizards or tribal squirrels. It’s a sweet, deeply likeable relationship – the moment when Martin first lays eyes on Rose will melt your heart.

Each tale is great in its own right but with all three playing alongside one another we’re given something truly special, the kind of adventure where there’s always something exciting happening. If one story has a lull you can bet another will be in the middle of something gripping. But most importantly the whole thing feels right for Martin. Everything we’ve learned of the character from previous books and all the expectations that have come with that are completely satisfied and by the final page it somehow feels like it was a story you already knew. That’s how vivid the character is and how right Martin the Warrior feels.

Then there’s Martin the Warrior’s trump card. I won’t spoil it but let’s just say that through a combination of knowing the situation of Mossflower and a faint sense of something intangible present throughout, the book holds a strange inevitability in the story that leads to possibly the Redwall series’ most beautiful ending, pretty much doubling how much you love Martin in the process. It’s one of the absolute highpoints of the Redwall series and really sets the book apart from the rest.

Verdict

A faultless expansion of Martin’s legend that satisfies and entertains in huge measures. Mossflower just about has the edge but there are a multitude of reasons why this prequel should rightly be regarded as its worthy companion and one of the greatest books in the series.

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