Twenty-one down, one to go. It’s been a long road but the end is finally in sight. I have now read every Tale of Redwall with the exception of The Rogue Crew, the last work Brian Jacques published before he died last year. Before I commence on the final leg of my two year Redwall marathon there is the matter of my verdict on Marlfox, the eleventh book published and the last I read as a kid. Of all the books in the series this one proved the most useful in the debate over old Jacques against new. Of all the books in the series I had read before this was the one about which I could remember the least, including how much I like it and I approached it this time without any rose-tinted spectacles. So does Marlfox stand up next to the old classics or is it more of a match for the lesser later titles?
Castle Marl, a stronghold situated on an island in the middle of the same island that was once home to Slamandastron’s Lord Urthwyte is home to the seemingly magical clan of Marlfoxes. They are presided over by the High Queen Silth whose insatiable desire to be surrounded by beauty sends her cunning brood out in search of treasures. The search of the Marlfoxes takes them to Redwall Abbey where the Wandering Noonvale Companions have taken temporary residence. From there they manage to steal the famous tapestry depicting Martin the Warrior and spirit it away south while their remaining forces attempt to conquer the Abbey entirely. A young warrior, Dannflor Reguba together with Songbreeze Swifteye of the Noonvale Companions and Dippler the Guosim shrew sets out to recover the ancient treasure with Martin’s sword in hand.
It’s a cracking adventure that gets the balance spot on. The various characters, among them Lady Cregga Rose Eyes and a charismatic trio of central young heroes, keep the pacey story moving and are good examples of recurring character types that have recurred throughout the series. The plot moves from a gripping opening act in which the Marlfoxes establish their mystique to a combination of fast moving linear adventure and the age old siege story and the balance that is achieved is excellent. This is another good example of Jacques relying on the bright spirit of adventure to tell a simple but engaging story. There are few real surprises but sometimes a story needn’t be original to be worth reading. I’ll take reading about a group of optimistic youngsters setting out on a foolhardy mission to recover a lost treasure any day.
One element the story lacks is a really strong central villain. Queen Silth comes into the story too infrequently to make the kind of impact you might enjoy from one of the classic villains. It seems here that for once quantity makes up for quality and there are no shortage of Marlfoxes to fill the void and their mystique and menace is enough to provide the requisite degree of threat while their constant scheming against each other keeps their balance of power interesting.
It might not be one I remember vividly from childhood but Marlfox is still a high quality entry in a series not wanting for them. This consistently entertaining adventure comes highly recommended.