Fourteen-year-old Matt, an orphan with strange abilities who is constantly getting into trouble, is sent to live with a foster parent in a remote Yorkshire village after being involved in a violent crime. His new guardian, Mrs Deverill, seems to be hiding something sinister and the village and all its inhabitants are creepy as hell. Matt tries to escape but somehow can’t get away and everyone who tries to help him seems to end up dead. Continue reading »
In Veronica Roth’s future-dystopia story, Divergent, the first of an as yet unfinished trilogy, the post-nuclear war society of Toronto has been split into five factions of like-minded people. The idea is to apply lateral thinking to the prevention of future wars by nurturing a culture that upholds certain qualities; the virtuous opposites to five of the human flaws that give birth to conflict. Thus ideal led to the creation of Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation and Erudite, the five factions designed to counter aggression, dishonesty, cowardice, selfishness and ignorance respectively. Everyone in this rigid society must conform to one of these character types and those that don’t are considered dangerous. Continue reading »
I’m getting the feeling that reading books that served as inspiration for animated feature films might become a habit of mine. Just a few weeks ago I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s Coraline which inspired my number one film of all time. Now it’s the turn of How to Train Your Dragon which was adapted by Dreamworks into possibly their best animated feature to date. Cressida Cowell’s original novel, the first in a pretty lengthy series, is only passably similar to the frankly superior movie it spawned. Continue reading »
Lettie Peppercorn is the twelve-year-old landlady of an inn on stilts. A note from her alchemy-practicing mother, who left a decade ago, warns her that if she leaves her home she could die. Confined to the inn with only a pigeon and a pair of demanding and belligerent old crones while the contents of the house slowly disappear to pay for her worthless father’s gambling debts, Lettie faces a pretty miserable existence. Then one day a rude man arrives to sell her something he claims to have invented, something called snow. Continue reading »
One thing I find reassuring in my effort to become a children’s author is the knowledge that someone else in the family has already managed it. Simon Mayo, the popular radio broadcaster (who presents a weekly film review show with Mark Kermode that I listen to every week), is a distant relative of mine, second or third cousin once removed I think. We’ve never met apart from a brief conversation on Twitter but since his first and, so far, only book falls neatly into the type of storytelling I’ve built my life around, I definitely feel something of a connection with him. Continue reading »
Twenty-one down, one to go. It’s been a long road but the end is finally in sight. I have now read every Tale of Redwall with the exception of The Rogue Crew, the last work Brian Jacques published before he died last year. Before I commence on the final leg of my two year Redwall marathon there is the matter of my verdict on Marlfox, the eleventh book published and the last I read as a kid. Of all the books in the series this one proved the most useful in the debate over old Jacques against new. Of all the books in the series I had read before this was the one about which I could remember the least, including how much I like it and I approached it this time without any rose-tinted spectacles. So does Marlfox stand up next to the old classics or is it more of a match for the lesser later titles? Continue reading »
Does nostalgia cloud critical thought? Is a beloved creation from one’s childhood always at a massive advantage next to something more recent? The answer to these questions is almost certainly ‘yes’ but it might not always be that simple. I’ve now reviewed ten of the eleven Tales of Redwall I first read in my youth and this review covers the tenth of the eleven books in the series I am reading for the first time. There can be no question that the former ten have, on average, enjoyed more of my praise than the latter. Am I just revisiting Brian Jacques’ earlier work wearing rose tinted spectacles or did the quality of his books really drop off over time? I think the answer is probably both. Maintaining the extremely high benchmark of quality laid by books like Redwall and Mattimeo for over twenty publications is a big ask. And while there have been plenty of lesser titles like Triss and Loamhedge there is also High Rhulain and Eulalia!. And there is The Sable Quean. Continue reading »
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. Continue reading »
There used to be a time when new Tales of Redwall would arrive and fit into the extensive timeline in a haphazard and unpredictable way. The original story is the ninth chronologically and the first book in the saga was the thirteenth published. From The Taggerung onwards, however, new entries have slotted into the canon one after the other, each replacing its predecessor as the latest-set book in reading order. Although there was a whimsical appeal in the old backing and forthing there’s no real problem with the more linear ordering seen since, until, possibly, Doomwyte. Continue reading »
adventure, Arven, Brian Jacques, Clecky, Craklyn, Durral, Gerul, Grath Longfletch, Inbar, Lask Frildur, Mad Eyes, Martin, Piknim, Rasconza, Redwall, Rollo, Romsca, Sagitar, Tansy, Tears of all Oceans, The Pearls of Lutra, Ublaz, Viola
The Tales of Redwall are wonderful and the late Brian Jacques most forever be praised for how well he has managed to maintain the charm and appeal of a twenty-three book series despite sticking almost religiously to a formula. That said, and as delightful as stories like Mariel of Redwall and Salamandastron are most books in the series don’t match the lofty heights of four books that hold the gold standard for the series, Martin the Warrior and Mossflower starring, funnily enough, Martin the Warrior and Redwall and Mattimeo starring Matthias. However outside of these two miniseries within the main canon there is one book that just about keeps up, the ninth book in the series, The Pearls of Lutra. Continue reading »
Crikey it’s been a long time since my last book review. Put than down to getting behind with blogging in the early part of the year and having too many movie magazines to read on the tube. But now it’s back to business as usual with another Tale of Redwall under the microscope, and this time it’s Eulalia!
The 19th book in the Redwall series, published in 2007, Eulalia! (the title refers to the traditional war cry of badger lords and Salamandastron hares) charts the story of Gorath the Flame, a young badger taken prisoner by the villainous golden fox Vizka Longtooth and his Sea Raiders who make efforts to press gang him into becoming a blind weapon of a slave for them. At the same time a pair of wayward young creatures, Mad Maudie (the Hon.) Mugberry Thropple of Salamandastron and Orkwil Prink of Redwall are ejected from their respective homes to learn some responsibility and overcome their habitual fighting/thieving delete as appropriate. Naturally worlds collide and the ensuing adventure, I’m happy to say, carries on the fine work of High Rhulain. Continue reading »
And now, well over a year after my review of Mossflower, we wrap up the original Redwall trilogy and the last of the great books in the venerable series (unless one of the final handful of titles can pull something incredible out of the bag), 1989’s Mattimeo, a direct sequel to Redwall.
Some seasons after the defeat of Cluny the Scourge the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey are enjoying the peace that has reigned there while preparing for a summer feast. Among them is the son of Matthias the Warrior, Mattimeo, a bright young mouse whose hot-headedness and confrontational nature are a cause for concern for his parents. While the Abbeydwellers are enjoying their feast they are entertained by a group of travelling circus performers who are really slave drivers in disguise, led by the villainous Slagar the Cruel who masterminds the kidnapping of Mattimeo and a number of other youngsters. Matthias, Basil Stag Hare and Jess Squirrel set out to rescue their offspring. The peace at Redwall doesn’t last long in the aftermath either as raven General Ironbeak and his band of crows and magpies descend on the abbey in an attempt to claim the building for themselves.
Mattimeo might be one of the most eventful books in the series, packed with incident and adventure from the outset, and despite being one of the lengthiest entries in the Redwall canon flies along at a brisk pace that never leaves a dull chapter. The strength of the book lies both in its involving plot and the characters that enrich it. Much of the original Redwall cast return and are as strongly conceived and likeable as ever but it’s a triumvirate of new villains that make this book’s characters stand out. In truth it’s just two new villains since Slagar is in truth a returning character too. The fox, known as Chickenhound in Redwall survived his encounter with Asmodeus but not without horrible disfiguration and a burning vendetta against Redwall driven by mad notions of revenge against the creatures he inexplicably blames for his ordeal.
Slagar is not the unforgettable villain Cluny was but he is among the best in a proud tradition of series nasties nonetheless. He’s an altogether different proposition from Cluny, less reliant on brute force and strength in numbers with a greater focus on strategy, shady dealings and good old-fashioned deviousness than the rat general. His influence and impact on the whole feel of Mattimeo is hard to overstate, the lion’s share of the story happens because of him and he is a powerful presence in every scene he features in. Second is General Ironbeak, a cruel and overconfident raven who provides more than ample antagonism for the inhabitants of Redwall and comes closest of the many would-be conquerors of the abbey in the series to actually achieving that goal. Finally there is Malkariss, who balances this trio of evil as the most mysterious and frightening of the three, injecting the back end of the book with real menace and power. To say more about him would be to stray dangerously close to spoiler territory but he rounds off the strongest line-up of baddies the saga has produced.
So it’s handy that there’s a suitably superb set of heroes to oppose them. Matthias returns as a dependable and stalwart protagonist, carrying on from where his character arc left off at the end of the previous book and serving as a perfect heir for Martin the Warrior. The title character is an altogether more interesting proposition. Mattimeo is a flawed, even brattish boy whose pride at his position as the Abbey Warrior’s son lends his character the kind of fallibility that gives him the room to learn from his ordeals. It’s another pretty obvious arc but it’s satisfying. The friends who share his unenviable situation in the slave lines provide excellent support for his character, among them the returning Tim and Tess Churchmouse, both featuring far more prominently than before, and of course the no longer silent Sam Squirrel who probably could have been used a bit more. They’re a good bunch, easy to root for but their story allows a little tension between them. Mattimeo’s mother Cornflower has a bigger role this time round, serving as the chief protagonist in the Redwall-set storyline. Then there are some new protagonists such as Orlando the Axe, a mighty badger warrior hunting Slagar with the aim of liberating his own kidnapped daughter from the slavers, and Jabez Stump the hedgehog who has a similar predicament. Then there’s rhyming owl Harry the Muse, the fierce Stryke Redkite, hydrophobic otter Cheek and the return of the Guerrilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower, the list goes on.
The strength of the plot is in its simplicity. It is essentially a chase story accompanied by another siege story. The pursuit of Slagar has tension and urgency throughout and the frequent exciting happenings from adventures involving everything from cave-ins to earthquakes. The journey leads hero and villain alike to a southern region of the series’ map that wasn’t revisited until the disappointing Loamhedge and lends the story a curious sense of mystery in the context of the series. At Redwall the same old story of underdog defenders fending off burly encroachers is kept interesting and varied with moments of both peril and comedy and the climax of both stories offer hugely satisfying payoffs.
Mattimeo is undoubtedly among the highlights of a very lengthy series that confirms Jacques was at his best in the early days. Redwall, Mossflower and Martin the Warrior are probably all better but it’s a fine line and there’s no shame in coming forth behind those three. Naturally it’s a cracking novel in its own right and a book no fan of the author or the series should ignore.
A rollicking and varied adventure yarn that does everything right, delivering exciting action, epic scope and memorable characters. A fine sequel to Redwall and a robustly brilliant escapist tale.
At the current rate it won’t be long before the entire top shelf on the bookshelves in my room is dedicated solely to Brian Jacques’ work, not something I’m unhappy about. This time it’s High Rhulain, the 18th book in the Redwall series, published in 2005 and the best book in the series for some years.
High Rhulain’s villain is Riggu Felis, a vicious wildcat warlord ruling with an iron fist over Green Isle, the rightful home of the otterclans half of whom lie enslaved in his compound. Chief among the free otters rebelling against his tyranny is the outlaw Leatho Shellhound who dreams of the return of the High Queen Rhulain, the true ruler of the isle. Meanwhile at Redwall Abbey a young ottermaid named Tiria Wildlough dreams of Martin the Warrior who bequeaths her one of his great tasks to fulfil, an event that coincides with the arrival of two birds at Redwall, Brantalis the barnacle goose and Pandion Piketalon the osprey, both of whom know Green Isle.
Putting it simply High Rhulain is the best book in the series since The Legend of Luke and the closest the author has come to recapturing his early form. It’s not quite the equal of solid classics like Mariel of Redwall or Salamandastron, let alone Redwall itself but it clearly surpasses the several immediately preceding books since Lord Brocktree. The plot, which is a not exactly unpredictable affair involving the liberation of Green Isle, is fine as they go but it’s the characters that make this one stand out. Tiria is a likeable if fairly neutral heroine but it’s her many sidekicks that stand out, particularly the aforementioned birds and best of all Cuthbert Blanedale Frunk, a perilous and bonkers hare with split personalities. Riggu Felis is a fairly standard villain but his rivalry with his own son, which recalls Salamandastron makes for consistently interesting reading. Best of all though the narrative is mostly free of the pace-slowing character moments and endless meetings and feasting that have held back other recent stories. It’s an efficiently told well-paced story that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
There are a few other titbits to enjoy here, many of the otterclans share names with otter characters from throughout the series, there are some well thought out riddles to get stuck into and the abbey building is developed in the most interesting detail in quite some time.
With only four more books remaining in the series before Jacques’ death one can only hope that High Rhulain marked the start of a Renaissance for the author. I will of course be finding out in due course but won’t forget to review Mattimeo, The Pearls of Lutra, The Long Patrol and Marlfox along the way.
Showing the kind of inventive and thoughtful storytelling that made his early work so compelling High Rhulain stands as Brian Jacques’ best Redwall tale of the new millennium.
I come to this, a review I’ve been building to ever since I started this blog about a year ago, at an inconvenient time. I finished reading Brian Jacques’ first published novel, 1986’s Redwall about three weeks ago but due to a combination of working long hours and spending a week in New York for my brother’s wedding haven’t had the opportunity to review it until now. I prefer to review something very soon after finishing with it so that it’s fresh in my mind but in the circumstances will have to do my best to convey why I consider this to be my favourite book, the work of fiction that inspired my lifelong dream to be an author.
Redwall and its twenty-one sequels and prequels is set in an imaginary period world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals including mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, moles, rats, ferrets, foxes and many more besides. The central setting of the series is Redwall Abbey, a marvellous red sandstone structure home to a peaceful order of healer mice who thrive in simple happiness. Hero of this opening chapter in the lengthy saga is Matthias, a young orphan mouse struggling to fit in among the serene and composed Abbeydwellers who idolises the legendary Marin the Warrior, one of the abbey founders, a brave and mighty warrior mouse of long ago immortalised by his likeness in the abbey’s famous tapestry.
It is the Summer of the Late Rose and the woodland creatures are enjoying Abbot Mortimer’s Jubilee celebrations in the traditional Redwall way, with a hearty feast. Following the merriment when Matthias is escorting the Fieldmouse family home to the nearby St Ninian’s Church they witness a hay cart full of hundreds of murderous rats headed by one particularly fearsome vermin tearing past on the road. This hellish rat is Cluny the Scourge, an evil warlord so legendary and feared that his is the name mothers use to scare their children into behaving. Cluny and his cutthroat army take up residence in St Ninian’s and lay down plans to conquer Redwall Abbey. So begins a siege story full of daring rescues perilous questing, fiendish riddles and unforgettable characters.
What strikes you as you read Jacques’ first book is just how different it is from the rest of the series. The same basic formula applies but it is delivered in a noticeably less regimented style. His earliest work is actually his best written filled with linguistic touches and turns of phrase that might be deemed more advanced than what most of his subsequent work offers. But more than that it is clear that Jacques hadn’t yet fully defined his fantasy world at this point. There are moments in the story that subtly suggest that we might be in a world similar to one of Jacques greatest influences The Wind in the Willows which places these anthropomorphic characters alongside regular humans. No humans feature in the book but there are faint suggestions of them in innocuous little moments that would probably go over the heads of anyone but a long-time fan of the series. St Ninian’s Church, for example seems to be a run-down place abandoned by the humans that built it before it became home to mice. There is even the sense that the building might be as huge as a church would be compared to a real mouse. One thing it is not is a functioning place of worship. These things are only inferred – there is no explicit evidence that Jacques’ early intentions for his Narnia to be populated by humans at all. One unquestionable detail is the presence of non-anthropomorphic animals, namely the horse that pulls the rat horde’s cart near the beginning as seen on the vivid and dramatic cover art. Another character, a cat named Squire Julian Gingivere, possibly a descendent of Mossflower’s Gingivere seems to be much larger than Matthias the mouse and apparently walks on four paws. There are no other non-anthropomorphic characters like this anywhere else in the series and there are a few other species mentioned that never recur, such as the abbey’s unnamed resident beaver, and references to dogs and stags. It’s an oddity to read about these things that didn’t continue in the series and lends the first book an air of mystery and depth absent from the later entries. Although in many ways these details seem evident of a setting not fully thought through they do not detract at all from a quite brilliant adventure tale and it is important to remember that this book laid the foundations for twenty-one followers.
Almost every series convention that repeated again and again throughout the series started here. Apart from introducing Redwall itself and the peaceful nature of its inhabitants this was the first book to involve a siege story; established the importance of Martin the Warrior and his sword; laid out the various important roles within the abbey and the particular species usually seen occupying them (badger mother, cellerhog, etc.); determined the recurring characteristics of each of those species, such as the quaint speech of the friendly moles and the upper-class English-accented gluttonous hares; introduced the concept of the Guerrilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower or Guosim and their argumentative ways; established the mystical gypsy-like qualities commonly endowed to female foxes; gave us the first terrifying monster character in Asmodeus the Adder and features the series’ first and best riddles. Most importantly it gave us the concept of the vermin horde, the nasty, murderous gangs of filthy rodent creatures, mainly rats who kill and plunder under the command of an almighty and evil warlord. Every villain in the series is some imitation or variation on Cluny the Scourge, possible the series’ most memorable character, a truly crazed and vicious villain who treats his own subordinates with as much cruelty as those he strives to conquer. The villains drive every story in the series and Cluny’s contribution is inestimable.
So what is it that makes Redwall stand out above every other book in the series including the magnificent Mossflower, which, lest we forget, told the story of Martin the Warrior himself and related the events that led up to the founding of the abbey and was the subject of my first ever review of any kind? The answer is pretty simple. This is the best story and has the best characters. Matthias may be slightly overshadowed by the ancient hero he adores in the wider context of the series as a whole but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a hugely likeable second-best hero and the kind of spirited underdog anyone can root for. His efforts which follow his various attempts to thwart Cluny’s invasion and the search for Martin’s long lost sword form the backbone of the plot. The story moves quickly from episode to episode. If one thing above all others holds back the quality of the later books in the series it’s that not enough of interest happens. Jacques crams these four hundred odd pages with incident from the exciting chapter in which the mysterious Shadow steals Martin’s likeness to the moment Matthias’ love interest Cornflower foils an invasion attempt by burning down the horde’s siege tower there’s never a dull moment. The best part is the endlessly engaging quest for the sword which is where the riddles come in. These riddles have long been a Redwall staple and serve as a brilliant way to immerse you in the story as you try to work out the clues for yourself but the journey Matthias faces is what will really stay with you. The section where the young hero must make his way to the abbey roof by following a route up inside the building is a particular highlight.
One approach that particularly characterises Jacques’ work is the amount of time given to his villains. Half the chapters cast the villainous Cluny as the main character as we learn all about his plans and follow large portions of the many attack sequences from the point of view of him and his horde. The army itself is also interesting. Since these unpleasant minor baddies fulfil the same role in every book their characters never change much but it’s their names that paint the most vivid picture. With monikers like Darkclaw, Scumnose, Redtooth and Mangefur they make for brilliantly comic creations, some with their own diverting story arc’s such as Cheesethief’s rivalry with Scragg the weasel.
The decent characters too prove consistently memorable, such as the severe female badger Constance, the ancient recorder and scholar Methuselah, and the brilliantly eccentric campaigner Basil Stag Hare. Many of these figures recur in spirit throughout the series but there are some that remain unique such as the feisty sparrow Warbeak and the brilliantly amusing infant squirrel Silent Sam. It’s a terrific cast.
Possibly the most important reason why Redwall had such a vast influence on me however is the setting. Redwall Abbey is an absolutely vivid creation, the equal, in my opinion, of J K Rowling’s Hogwarts. A magical place of peace and plenty that houses many mysteries and adventures. Setting is one of the most important elements of adventure storytelling and Redwall remained strong and constant through a very lengthy series. In this first novel nothing is more important as the whole plot revolves around the sandstone structure. It’s also just about the only book in the series that takes place almost entirely in one place with very limited wandering to other locations. It’s a superb creation and the stories that have been set there have been wonderful. But none more so than the first.
Brian Jacques’ first book remains his best. It’s an eventful story filled to the brim with exciting twists and turns great characters and enticing mystery. Only a debut as strong as this could possibly lay the foundation for another twenty-one books.
My sequence of reading that has seen me tackling the Redwall books one by one, alternating between those I had already read in chronological order and those I hadn’t previously read in publication order has lead me to Rakkety Tam, the seventeenth book in the series, published in 2004, which is the last book I will be reviewing before the main event, Redwall itself.
As one of the series’ new-age editions Rakkety Tam sticks its nose ahead of much of its preceding competition and stands out a bit. By this time Jacques had settled in to a comfortable routine of producing one new book a year, roughly, risking little in each instalment and failing to deliver the kind of appealing characters and interesting situations common throughout his early work. Rakkety Tam is no different but it’s closer to past glories than many of the books published in the few years before.
The title character Rakkety Tam MacBurl is a tough, claymore-wielding highlander warrior squirrel currently in service to the insufferable Squirrelking Araltum and Idga Drayqueen whose realm is mercilessly ravaged by the forces of Gulo the Savage, a wolverine from the lands of snow and ice who steal the royal standard. Tam and stalwart buddy Wild Doogy Plumm strike a bargain with their employers and promise to recover the precious flag in exchange for their freedom from duty and set out to track Gulo’s horde down.
Meanwhile at Redwall Abbey a pair of wanderers bring news of another wolverine’s death beneath a fallen tree and a mysterious verse describing the whereabouts of the mysterious Walking Stone, an artefact Gulo needs to claim true leadership over his lands and which he is tirelessly searching for.
It’s a more eventful and less predictable tale than usual with plot threads clashing and parting frequently as various parties chase about striving to recover treasures from other parties. The villain is quite notable on this occasion, the vicious wolverine described as being the same size as a badger which helps create a vivid impressions of size and physical power in the antagonist for series veterans. However Gulo lacks real brains and is memorable solely for his species but it’s nice to see something new. That he and his gang are cannibals makes up for their relative seen-it-all-before status, a fact that gives rise to some uncharacteristically grisly early moments.
If it seems a darker tale than usual at the beginning things soon get back to normal with plenty of feasting and singing as a cast of okay characters trundle through the plot. As the hero Tam suffers from Lord Brocktree Syndrome, frequently upstaged by his number two but his thick accent, well-written by Jacques gives him character.
Not quite good or rounded enough to earn that fourth star but far too entertaining to warrant fewer than three. This is another middle-of-the-road outing from Jacques that beats much of his immediately preceding output.
A quick advertisement to begin with, Ception Theatre’s production of Little Bear as part of the Camden Fringe is under way. The show is on in St Martin’s Garden off Pratt Street, not far from Camden Town Underground Station and is completely free so if you’re in the area and looking for something to do at 7pm any day this week until Sunday the 7th (except Thursday the 4th) come along and watch.
With that matter dispatched let’s consider another classic Tale of Redwall. Published in 1992, Salamandastron is the fifth book in the series by Brian Jacques, the title refers to the huge extinct volcano that stands like a sentinel by the shores of the great sea west of Mossflower country and Redwall Abbey. It’s a recurring setting that first appeared in Mossflower and is the perennial home of a Badger Lord and an army of hares known as the Long Patrol. In this story the current lord in residence is Urthstripe the Strong.
Salamandastron weaves numerous plot strands together rather skilfully. Primary among them is familiar siege scenario recurrent throughout the series in this case perpetrated by Ferahgo the Assassin, leader of his army of Corpsemakers, a blue-eyed weasel in the habit of skinning his victims. Intent on possessing the rumoured riches within the mountain his army lays siege to the place with Lord Urthstripe and his hares horribly outnumbered.
Another plotline follows Mara, Urthstripe’s adopted daughter whose disillusionment with the rigid routines of Salamandastron drives her to leave with hare chum Pikkle Ffolger in tow. And let’s not forget the folks at Redwall Abbey who reluctantly take in a pair of deserters from Ferahgo’s army who abscond with a precious abbey treasure after a mishap. Worse still the Abbeydwellers start to fall foul of the deadly Dryditch Fever.
The big strength of Salamandastron is its eventfulness. With sometimes six different character groups covered by the narrative there’s scarcely a dull chapter as every strand has plenty of excitement to offer. When one lulls another will be in full swing. It’s a strong set of characters overall too. The abbey has two main heroes to get behind, Samkin the young squirrel who is the kind of mischief-maker that’s easy to like, and rugged otter Thrugg who teams up with the amusing baby dormouse Dumble. Many other figures in the story are recognisable series archetypes, Lord Urthstripe is a stoic and fierce badger as you’d expect and Ferahgo is a typically wily and assertive leader but can’t stand out like the best baddies in the canon.
Most Redwall books follow a routine and Salamandastron is no different so I’ll consider the several ways it stands out. Ferahgo’s relationship with his son Klitch is easily the book’s most interesting, resembling that of Swartt and Veil in Outcast of Redwall. The junior weasel’s brash confidence and, ambition and total disrespect for his father is a source of amusement that will often have you believing he would make the better leader. There are some memorable encounters various characters experience on their travels involving native creatures of the sky and water and it’s refreshing to see Redwall abbey at the mercy of disease instead of another invading army.
The downfall of having so many characters to follow is that many of them aren’t as well developed as one would like. Samkin is very likeable but features in too few scenes to be fleshed out into the more rounded character other Redwall heroes became. By the same token there’s little to differentiate Lord Urthstripe from other badgers. The book bearing the name of the badger mountain deserves a more memorable Badger Lord and both Boar the Fighter and Sunflash the Mace were better. These are relatively minor gripes though and the book ultimately takes its place as one of the good entries in the series well worth a read.
Perhaps the weakest of the early Redwall titles but still a great read, Salamandastron is packed with incident and boasts plenty of entertainment value.
I recently discovered that Brian Jacques died of a heart attack in February of this year. His Tales of Redwall have formed the subject of no fewer than ten of my book reviews (including this one) since I started this blog last year and his second book, Mossflower was the first thing I reviewed. Needless to say I was saddened by the death of the man who inspired my lifelong dream to be an author but I was deeply annoyed that it took me six months to notice especially given that I have reviewed four of his books (again including this one) since his passing. So let me take a moment to belatedly remember a wonderful author whose many wonderfully cheerful, action packed and beautifully written novels remain among the most cherished in children’s literature.
Rest in Peace Brian Jacques 15 June 1939 – 5 February 2011.
The final total of Redwall books numbers twenty-two. This is the tenth I have reviewed and you can be quite certain that I will be posting my verdict on each of the remaining twelve.
Since deciding to pursue the Redwall books I had not hitherto read one title stood out from the crowd. Loamhedge Abbey, first mentioned in Mossflower, is the spiritual forerunner of Redwall Abbey that was abandoned by Abbess Germaine, who became the first Abbess of Redwall which she designed, after the sickness swept through the abbey. It’s one of the sadder stories in the Redwall canon and I had assumed that Loamhedge would be chronicling it but I was wrong. Instead the book is set next after Triss.
Loamhedge deals with a lot of plot lines but the main part of it deals with Martha Braebuck, a haremaid of Redwall who has never walked and spends her days in a wheelchair. Appearing to her in a dream Martin the Warrior tells her that the secret to her learning to walk lies in the ruins of Loamhedge Abbey. Two rovers, Bragoon and Sarobando, legendary at Redwall as the biggest misbehaving youngsters the abbey has ever seen, volunteer to journey to the ancient site and discover the secret contained there.
In addition to this badger archer Lonna Bowstripe tracks sea rat captain Raga Bol through Mossflower country seeking vengeance against him. Both Raga Bol’s murderous crew and another vermin gang travel to Redwall with the aim of conquest.
I welcomed that Loamhedge returned us for the first time since Mattimeo to the lands south-east of Mossflower, a region of the fictional world that I’ve always found interesting but while the story offers some good moments and likeable characters I found it to be one of Jacques’ weaker books. The siege story which has been done so many times before in the series does nothing new here and the quest to Loamhedge lacks significance when considered against similar plot lines elsewhere in the canon. Large swathes of the lengthy story seem somewhat inconsequential and one twist renders an entire story strand rather redundant. Plus if I’m not mistaken Jacques made a fairly glaring error in the geography when writing the story.
There are good points of course. Bragoon and Sarobando are great characters, as are the three young Redwallers who sneak out of the abbey to follow them, Martha’s brother Horty, Fenna and Springald and the balance of power in one of the vermin gangs makes for interesting and unpredictable reading. Other than that Loamhedge is a by-the-numbers entry in the series, possibly its weakest and a real disappointment. Still, and I’ve said this before, this is a Redwall book and there’s a built in enjoyment threshold and the writing is as full of cheer, comedy and excitement as ever. It may not be a Redwall great but you could do a lot worse nonetheless.
The numerous plot strands pad out a rather insignificant story to a great length. It’s certainly worth a read for series completists but don’t expect one of the classics.