There used to be a time when new Tales of Redwall would arrive and fit into the extensive timeline in a haphazard and unpredictable way. The original story is the ninth chronologically and the first book in the saga was the thirteenth published. From The Taggerung onwards, however, new entries have slotted into the canon one after the other, each replacing its predecessor as the latest-set book in reading order. Although there was a whimsical appeal in the old backing and forthing there’s no real problem with the more linear ordering seen since, until, possibly, Doomwyte.
Brian Jacques based Gonff the Mousethief, Martin the Warrior’s best pal, on himself as a young man so it makes sense that he should be fond enough of him to revisit what remains one of his best creations. Doomwyte opens with the hero, Bisky, boisterously retelling to the other Abbey youngsters about the adventures of the Mousethief who just happens to be his ancestor. It’s a great way to start a new book for fans and leads on to a story not dissimilar to The Pearls of Lutra involving a search for a number of precious stones once stolen and hidden by Gonff. References to classic characters in the series like this are never unwelcome but given that there are fifteen books, surely spanning several centuries, dividing Doomwyte and Gonff’s most recent appearance, it somewhat beggars belief that the story of the Eyes of the Doomwyte Idol should remain dormant for so long.
Korvus Skurr the raven is head honcho on the side of the villains in this one. The supremo of an ancient order of carrion birds learns of Bisky’s story and, like Ublaz before him, sends his birds to reclaim them for the Doomwyte Idol. So begins an often energetic and unpredictable story that mixes treasure-hunt adventure tropes with the usual battling factions. Excursions into vast underground caverns through mysterious cellar doors lead to some breathless set pieces and the army of Painted Ones, first seen in Mattimeo, provide good value as secondary nasties.
But the various parts of the story don’t quite gel into a cohesive whole. There are frequent lulls and, uncharacteristically for Jacques, the narrative doesn’t always maintain a proper balance between plot threads. Korvus Skurr is a pretty lame baddie, is given little to do, struggles to maintain absolute control of his underlings and is completely overshadowed by the far more menacing adder Baliss. Likewise few of the hero characters are really memorable or original. Bisky has the kind of enthusiastic charm that carries his story ably but he’s underdeveloped. The most interesting prospect among the supporting cast are the Gonfelins, a tribe of thieving mice who also claim descent from Gonff, and a decidedly less than sympathetic Log a Log.
Doomwyte is a very up and down adventure, there are undoubted high points including a dramatic third act rescue attempt and a startling encounter with an old hedgehog and a lot of bees but for every collapsing yew tree there’s a pace-slowing feast or singsong. The book goes down as a solid missed opportunity, great in parts but lacking in consistency.
Lacking the drive of High Rhulain and the drama of Eulalia! the twentieth Tale of Redwall is still an enjoyable and fan-pleasing entry in the venerable saga and well worth a read but it should have been set earlier.