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And now, well over a year after my review of Mossflower, we wrap up the original Redwall trilogy and the last of the great books in the venerable series (unless one of the final handful of titles can pull something incredible out of the bag), 1989’s Mattimeo, a direct sequel to Redwall.

Some seasons after the defeat of Cluny the Scourge the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey are enjoying the peace that has reigned there while preparing for a summer feast. Among them is the son of Matthias the Warrior, Mattimeo, a bright young mouse whose hot-headedness and confrontational nature are a cause for concern for his parents. While the Abbeydwellers are enjoying their feast they are entertained by a group of travelling circus performers who are really slave drivers in disguise, led by the villainous Slagar the Cruel who masterminds the kidnapping of Mattimeo and a number of other youngsters. Matthias, Basil Stag Hare and Jess Squirrel set out to rescue their offspring. The peace at Redwall doesn’t last long in the aftermath either as raven General Ironbeak and his band of crows and magpies descend on the abbey in an attempt to claim the building for themselves.

Mattimeo might be one of the most eventful books in the series, packed with incident and adventure from the outset, and despite being one of the lengthiest entries in the Redwall canon flies along at a brisk pace that never leaves a dull chapter. The strength of the book lies both in its involving plot and the characters that enrich it. Much of the original Redwall cast return and are as strongly conceived and likeable as ever but it’s a triumvirate of new villains that make this book’s characters stand out. In truth it’s just two new villains since Slagar is in truth a returning character too. The fox, known as Chickenhound in Redwall survived his encounter with Asmodeus but not without horrible disfiguration and a burning vendetta against Redwall driven by mad notions of revenge against the creatures he inexplicably blames for his ordeal.

Slagar is not the unforgettable villain Cluny was but he is among the best in a proud tradition of series nasties nonetheless. He’s an altogether different proposition from Cluny, less reliant on brute force and strength in numbers with a greater focus on strategy, shady dealings and good old-fashioned deviousness than the rat general. His influence and impact on the whole feel of Mattimeo is hard to overstate, the lion’s share of the story happens because of him and he is a powerful presence in every scene he features in. Second is General Ironbeak, a cruel and overconfident raven who provides more than ample antagonism for the inhabitants of Redwall and comes closest of the many would-be conquerors of the abbey in the series to actually achieving that goal. Finally there is Malkariss, who balances this trio of evil as the most mysterious and frightening of the three, injecting the back end of the book with real menace and power. To say more about him would be to stray dangerously close to spoiler territory but he rounds off the strongest line-up of baddies the saga has produced.

So it’s handy that there’s a suitably superb set of heroes to oppose them. Matthias returns as a dependable and stalwart protagonist, carrying on from where his character arc left off at the end of the previous book and serving as a perfect heir for Martin the Warrior. The title character is an altogether more interesting proposition. Mattimeo is a flawed, even brattish boy whose pride at his position as the Abbey Warrior’s son lends his character the kind of fallibility that gives him the room to learn from his ordeals. It’s another pretty obvious arc but it’s satisfying. The friends who share his unenviable situation in the slave lines provide excellent support for his character, among them the returning Tim and Tess Churchmouse, both featuring far more prominently than before, and of course the no longer silent Sam Squirrel who probably could have been used a bit more. They’re a good bunch, easy to root for but their story allows a little tension between them. Mattimeo’s mother Cornflower has a bigger role this time round, serving as the chief protagonist in the Redwall-set storyline. Then there are some new protagonists such as Orlando the Axe, a mighty badger warrior hunting Slagar with the aim of liberating his own kidnapped daughter from the slavers, and Jabez Stump the hedgehog who has a similar predicament. Then there’s rhyming owl Harry the Muse, the fierce Stryke Redkite, hydrophobic otter Cheek and the return of the Guerrilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower, the list goes on.

The strength of the plot is in its simplicity. It is essentially a chase story accompanied by another siege story. The pursuit of Slagar has tension and urgency throughout and the frequent exciting happenings from adventures involving everything from cave-ins to earthquakes. The journey leads hero and villain alike to a southern region of the series’ map that wasn’t revisited until the disappointing Loamhedge and lends the story a curious sense of mystery in the context of the series. At Redwall the same old story of underdog defenders fending off burly encroachers is kept interesting and varied with moments of both peril and comedy and the climax of both stories offer hugely satisfying payoffs.

Mattimeo is undoubtedly among the highlights of a very lengthy series that confirms Jacques was at his best in the early days. Redwall, Mossflower and Martin the Warrior are probably all better but it’s a fine line and there’s no shame in coming forth behind those three. Naturally it’s a cracking novel in its own right and a book no fan of the author or the series should ignore.

Verdict

A rollicking and varied adventure yarn that does everything right, delivering exciting action, epic scope and memorable characters. A fine sequel to Redwall and a robustly brilliant escapist tale.

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