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.