It’s amazing how long it’s taken me to get through this book, a direct sequel to Mariel of Redwall considering it’s one of the shortest books in the Redwall series. I guess that’s what happens when you’re as busy as I’ve been lately.
Mariel and Dandin have left Redwall Abbey in search of adventure in the lands to the south, a journey which takes them to Southsward, a beautiful green land where the rightful rulers Gael Squirrelking and Queen Serena of Castle Floret have been usurped by Urgan Nagru the Foxwolf and his mate Silvamord, commanders of a vicious army of rats. Before they know what’s what Mariel and Dandin find themselves embroiled in the struggle against Nagru and along with tall-tale spinning Meldrum the Magnificent, one of the series’ most entertaining military hares, end up prisoners in the huge plateau-top castle.
Meanwhile at Redwall Abbey Mariel’s father Joseph the Bellmaker is visited in a dream by Martin the Warrior who gives him cryptic instructions to set sail for the south with a handful of Abbeydwellers to aid in the struggle against the Foxwolf. On their way they meet up with salty sea otter Finnbarr Galedeep and help him repossess his ship, the Pearl Queen, from a double crew of searats. A third story arc follows Slipp, the searat captain in charge of the Pearl Queen before Finnbarr’s reclamation of the ship and his lackey Blaggut who travel to Redwall in a story that introduces some rare shades of grey to the series’ villainy.
The Bellmaker is possibly the fastest paced and most thrilling book in the canon interweaving three tightly plotted stories that never waste a chapter meaning that there’s scarcely a dull moment. Marial and Dandin’s side of the tale in particular is a non-stop thrill-a-minute romp with two thirds of their plot given to an absolutely epic escape sequence. Southsward itself and Castle Floret especially make for pretty vivid settings. The ocean bound journey with Joseph and Finnbarr never lets up with one thrilling sequence proving nigh-on unforgettable. Slipp and Blaggut’s side of things is more dramatic than action packed but still represents one of the more interesting vermin stories in the series. Only the main villain fails to really impress, Foxwolf is a typically nasty baddie but offers little we haven’t already seen many times from Jacques.
It might not be as brilliantly rounded as the very best the series has to offer but The Bellmaker nonetheless represents the most efficient and varied adventure storytelling in a series not known for its frequent reinvention. A real Redwall highlight and a superior sequel.