In an effort to avoid Redwall fatigue this is the last book in the series I’ll be reading for a little while. Following my pattern of reading one I’ve known for years (in chronological order) and alternating that with one I’ve never read (in pulication order) the next in the sequence is the 1991 title Mariel of Redwall, the first book to be published following the original trilogy of Redwall, Mossflower and Mattimeo and the next in reading order after Outcast of Redwall.
Mariel of Redwall takes place relatively soon after the abbey’s completion (in fact the bell-tower is still under construction) and follows the tough and tenacious mousemaid Mariel. Gabool the Wild is the searat King of Terramort Isle where he commands his murderous fleet of pirates from Fort Bladegirt and he has recently plundered a magnificent bell created by Joseph the bellmaker for Lord Rawnblade of Salamandastron. After being attacked by Joseph’s daughter Mariel he punishes the mousemaid by driving her into the wild sea during a storm. Mariel miraculously survives washing up on the shore near Mossflower country but her memory is gone. She defends herself from gulls with a makeshift weapon, a knotted length of rope she names Gullwhacker and before long ends up at Redwall Abbey where the recitation of a mysterious poem brings her memories flooding back. Together with spirited mouse Dandin, a descendent of Gonff armed with Martin the Warriro’s sword she sets off to deliver justice to Gabool.
Meanwhile said tyrant’s tendency to off the captains serving under him leads his former right-hand rat Greypatch to desert the island, absconding with the Darkqueen, the best ship in the fleet. Gabool sends the flotilla to track down greypatch and reclaim the Darkqueen but in the meantime is tormented by waking nightmares in which the mysterious bell torments him with its ringing, sending him slowly mad.
It’s a good’un this as you’d expect Jacques’ early work to be weaving one of the best sets of charcters in the series and casting them in an eventful fast-moving story that taps into the spirit of adventure in similar fashion to Martin the Warrior. Mariel is arguably Jacques’ best heroine, all feisty indomitability and resolve and is a quite different charcter from the series other great heroine, the gentler Rose. The unique Gullwhacker she wields represents a nice hook for her warriorlike character. Her equal is Dandin, the next best hero mouse in the series after Martin and Matthias. Restless spirit and reckless courage personify Dandin as outlined by his first notable moment which sees him bungee-jumping off the bell-tower.
There are plenty of other memorable characters too, such as blind herbalist Simeon who has the uncanny ability to sense pretty much anything. Then there’s Mother Mellus who fulfills the role of badger mother at the abbey and is constantly on the tails of Bagg, Runn and Grubb, among the most mischievous and amusing Dibbuns (abbey youngsters) in the series. Lovesick Tarquin L Woodsorrel is the harolina-wielding hare who can barely open his mouth without mentioning the name of Hon Rosie whose raucous guffaw marks her out. Not to mention Gabool the Wild who goes down the Tsarmina path of villainy by losing a few marbles during the story. They’re a great bunch to read about.
And the plotting is pretty efficient too, never lingering in one place or on one subject too long whilst leaving plenty of room for standout moments like Mariel’s unconscious telling of her backstory, one of the more entertaining exposition scenes I’ve ever read, and of course the adventure through dark woodland and dangerous sea.
It’s no mistake that Mariel of Redwall was given a direcdt sequel in The Bellmaker because it’s one of the most likeable entries in the series. Yes there have been better books and the plot does little to really stand out but when the spirit of escapism is this strong sometimes that’s all you need.
A great standard by which the series can be judged featuring all the staples and an excellent set of characters including two of the best hero characters in the canon.