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We’re getting fairly close to the end of the Redwall marathon now, this is the nineteenth I’ve reviewed and with just Marlfox, The Sable Quean and The Rogue Crew to go, the end is very much in sight.

The Long Patrol might be described as the sequel to The Pearls of Lutra featuring a number of the earlier title’s characters including Tansy, now Mother Abbess of Redwall Abbey and, of course, Arven, the most mischievous Dibbun of all time as was, now filling the role of heroic warrior of Redwall. The book also marks the first appearance of Lady Cregga Rose Eyes, the only character in the entire twenty-two book saga other then Martin the Warrior himself to feature in three separate titles. But top of the billing is Tammello De Fformelo Tussock, or Tammo, the son of a belligerent old campaigner of the Long Patrol, the formidable and disciplined order of fighting hares resident at Salamandastron.

Having grown up in a remote compound community Tammo is anxious to leave home and join up with the famous fighting force and gets his chance when the wandering Russa Nodrey, an old friend of his mother, pays a visit to his home. Slipping away in secret to escape his father’s strictness he and Russa set out towards Redwall Abbey and, as chance would have it, meet up with a ranging patrol of Salamandastron hares along the way.

Meanwhile at the Abbey, Abbess Tansy and the other abbeydwellers have work to do after the south wall of the Abbey is discovered to be sinking and then partially collapses when a storm brings down a tree on top of it. Fans of Mossflower will be very interested to learn the cause for the subsidence but the main reason these unfortunate events are significant and work well as a plot point is the Rapscallions.

A vast army of vermin has landed their decrepit fleet on the shores south of Mossflower country. Gormad Tunn the greatrat is the commander of these ne’er-do-wells, the Rapscallions, but he has been left mortally wounded at the paws of Lady Cregga Rose Eyes after their disastrous encounter with her and the Long Patrol at Salamandastron. Following his death his two sons, Damug Warfang and Byral Fleetclaw fight to the death for the right to lead the horde with the former emerging triumphant. Damug swiftly organizes his troops and sets them out on a land-bound campaign of conquest that takes them closer and closer to the very vulnerable Redwall.

Finally there is Lady Cregga Rose Eyes, the female badger ruler of Salamandastron, a creature whose life seems to be dominated by the dreaded Bloodwrath, a badger affliction that sends the huge creatures into berserker rages. She sets out from her mountain home with five-hundred hares, many of them new recruits into the Long Patrol to track down and wipe out the threat of the Rapscallion Army.

The Long Patrol is a cracking thriller that combines its four narrative strands to great effect. The linear events of the three journeying factions travelling to clash at the site of the forth, Redwall, works brilliantly in building tension. The whole book is one long build-up to its dramatic, and bloody final clash. It’s a race-against-time story that is given a lot of weight by the canny twist of having Redwall in a far less defensible condition than in any other book in the series. Instead of the usual siege story The Long Patrol is all about war and stands as one of the finest examples of the war novel in the Redwall canon.

The downside to having so many plot threads is that there are an enormous number of characters to juggle but Jacques does a very creditable job of developing as many of them as possible. Among Damug’s drones the dim-witted Sneezewort and Lousewort serve as an interesting window through which to view the lower ranks of a massive invading force whilst many of the bright-eyed young recruits marching from Salamandastron manage consistently entertaining character moments. Some of the more major figures don’t quite reach the same heights. Tammo is a fairly average main protagonist in over his head and even Arven is given less to do with his warrior status than other incumbents have enjoyed. Tansy is still engaging as the resourceful and sensible Abbey head, Russa Nodrey’s no-nonsense approach to roving is fun and the savage and single-minded Lady Cregga is a very interesting creation but few of the other innumerable characters have enough time to really stand out. The Long Patrol that Tammo meets offer a good variety from the usual upper-class military hare archetype familiar to the series with a range of good figures from master of disguise Midge Manycoats to the beatboxing Corporal Rubbadub.

 Vastly difference from The Pearls of Lutra it may be but The Long Patrol does not suffer for it, instead providing a frequently thrilling and never less than engaging chapter in the saga. The story manages a sense of scale and urgency that many of the more recent entries could have benefited from hugely. Consider this just another excellent book in the Tales of Redwall and one well worth picking up.

Verdict

Eventful and exciting with a smartly conceived plot The Long Patrol succeeds brilliantly as a war story and races along at a blistering pace providing many memorable moments and gripping adventure. Not one of the absolute best of Jacques’ work but not far off either.

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