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.