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This entry into the Redwall series, published in 2002 breaks a sequence for me. With the exception of Mattimeo every book I owned in the series before Triss was the compact Red Fox paperback edition which featured the same stone window design on the spine through which can be seen a character illustration. I looked for a similar edition of Triss but it looks like those printings were phased out which I found a little sad. It’s a strange thing to take note of I admit but the larger sized edition of Triss actually made for a slightly different reading experience. That’s what happens when you’re so used to something I suppose.

Triss is the next book in the series chronologically after The Taggerung but it seems like a lot of time has elapsed since the events of that book since none of the characters from that title return. Deyna, the Taggerung of the preceding story does get a mention but seems to have become a figure of history at Redwall. Brian Jacques doesn’t leave such a gap between the events of his books very often so it might be appropriate to treat Triss as something of a new age for the saga.

Triss is a young squirrelmaid who, like Martin the Warrior in the book of the same name, begins the story as a slave of a vermin fortress. The fort, Riftgard is ruled by Agarnu the true blood ferret, an old conqueror who is losing his lustre somewhat. For his daughter, the swashbuckling Princess Kurda to succeed she must first recover two royal artefacts that became lost in Mossflower country. To this end the enslaved creatures at Riftgard are busy building a boat to take her and her dim-witted brother Prince Bladd on a quest to recover said items. However, Triss and a couple of accomplices upset their plans by escaping in the very same boat to freedom. Kurda and Bladd, enlisting the aid of Captain Plugg Firetail and his crew of freebooters give chase in the effort of meeting the duel objectives of recovering both slaves and artefacts. Meanwhile at Redwall Abbey, learned Abbeydwellers Malbun and Cirkulus become extremely excited when the ancient entrance to Brockhall, the secret ancestral home of badgers last seen way back in Mossflower, is rediscovered but their efforts to explore the place are marred by an unknown menace stalking the forest. Further to this Sagax, a young male badger, sets off from Salamandastorn with sidekick Scarum, another gluttonous hare, seeking adventure.

It all starts extremely promisingly for Triss despite the sense of deja vu surrounding the early part of its basic plot. Riftgard and its rulers are vividly drawn, especially the thickly accented Princess Kurda, and the escape is handled deftly. The rediscovery of Brockhall is as exciting a proposition to long time fans as it is to Malbun and Cirkulus and there’s something very stirring about the way Sagax and Scarum set off in search of the unknown.

Sadly though this didn’t prove to be the sparkling return to form you’d really hope for. Jacques is guilty here of indulging in some bad habits letting the pace slacken for a good old singsong or feast when you want things to move on, introducing forgetable little societies who help out the heroes and are then left behind. These are all things that have been done before time and again of course but therein lies the problem. Since The Legend of Luke Jacques hasn’t been coming up with enough original plot ideas for his books and I’m desperate to see him take some risks instead of relying on the same slightly tired formula. Even the good ideas here don’t pan out terribly well, the Brockhall story strand at Redwall for instance is painfully slow to get anywhere. It’s a shame and a real missed opportunity because we have the best set of new characters for quite a while in this one.

The scholarly duo of Malbun and Cirkulus are consistently entertaining and an unusual choice for main Redwall-based characters (one example of a risk being taken and it working). The villains are more varied than they have been for a while. Kurda makes for a focused and dangerous female villain although she’s no Tsarmina while top honours in the villainy stakes go to the industrious Plugg and his freebooters. Each strand has a reliably resourceful otter to guide it along, Skipper at Redwall, Shogg with Triss and Kroova with Sagax and Scarum whose relentless bickering is always hilarious. Triss herself however isn’t the most electrifying heroine. She’s got some spirit and determination but you don’t feel it the way you do with Mariel and never really stands out even in her own storyline but isn’t overshadowed in the same way as Lord Brocktree. The real star of the show however is Scarum who might be the most garrulous hare of the series to date which is really saying something.

Inevitably stories collide and adventures are had and Jacques includes one of his most inventive and interactive riddles yet but as we progress the narrative lacks a sense of tension that it desperately needs towards the end. It’s never less than engaging and is probably the best since The Legend of Luke but you can’t help wondering if Jacques had employed some more originality what we might have ended up with.

Verdict

Triss represents a missed opportunity for the series. What started out as a refreshingly focused and multiple-stranded story ultimately strays into predictible territory. It’s still great value while it lasts though.

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