After a brief hiatus it’s time to get back into the Tales of Redwall and this time it’s Outcast of Redwall, published in 1995.
Outcast of Redwall, the first book set after the completion of Redwall Abbey, feels like an introvert in the wider Redwall series. It’s not as obvious or joyous as most of the other titles. There’s something stranbely humble and unassuming about it. These might seem like strange thoughts to open with but I think this is where the key to Outcast’s success lies. The image above shows the cover of the edition I own and it’s one of my favourites of the series. It’s an evocative image, Sunflash the mace and hawk companion Skarlath in the snowy forest, one that conveys a sense of bleakness tempered by hope and that is what Outcast is about. It’s among the saddest and most meloncholy books in the series and that’s why it stands out.
Outcast of Redwall follows the story of Sunflash the Mace, a Badger Lord who, at the beginning of the story lives a life of slavery under the cruelty of ferret Swartt Sixclaw. After saving Skarlath’s life the hawk helps him escape Swartt’s clutches, the badger injuring his six-clawed paw in the process and the two sware a vow of death against each other. Their two worlds collide several times as Sunflash inevitably travels to Salamandastron and Swartt builds up an army to strike at the mountain. It’s a much better story than the similar Lord Brocktree, filled with incident and variety. Swartt’s cunning tricks that gain him his power highlight him as among the cleverest of Redwall villains and Sunflash and Skarlath are a very likeable team.
But the real reason Outcast is memorable is because of the title character’s story. Swartt has a son during his journey who is abandoned near Redwall Abbey. The baby ferret is brought to the abbey to be raised among the good creatures there and it’s loving mousemaid Bryony who takes up the charge of looking after him. Brian Jacques (and Bella, the same badger in Mossflower, now very old) came up with a cracking name for him, Veil, which is an anagram of both evil and live and his character represents probably Jacques’ most interesting study of the nature of evil. Despite his decent upbringing in the abbey Veil turns out a bad ‘un and after one hainous crime is declared an outcast. Bryony, a character you always feel for follows him from the abbey in a desperate effort to change his ways.
One of Jacques’ criticisms has been that each race of creatures he writes about is either good or bad with almost no exceptions. It’s a very black and white approach I understand the complaint but although it’s not the kind of technique I would ever use I know why Jacques does it. Remember these are anthropomorphic animals we’re reading about and it’s very easy to except that things like rats and weasels can be bad guys and cuddlier creatures such as mice and otters their antithesis. No doubt the seeds of this approach were sowed by The Wind in the Willows, which was one of his major influences. In Outcast of Redwall Jacques seems to tackle the issue headon with Veil who, despite the best of upbringings cannot contain the villainous ways of his species. Essentially blood will out but it’s not quite as simple as that as the ending proves. Needless to say Veil is a pretty deep character and his and Bryony’s story a fairly affecting one.
Naturally the two stories come together and after a lot of eventful goings on we reach a very satisfying conclusion. Outcast of Redwall may not be the most cheerful book in the series but its variety and depth make it a very enjoyable one.
It may not feel like one of the Redwall greats but Outcast is a very worthy entry in the series with some memorable characters and an eventful plot. It’s a great read and one the fans shouldn’t miss.