by Brian Jacques
The second Redwall novel is a lot like the first.
Maybe a little too much like the first.
Don’t get me wrong: the most notable and important similarity is that these are both lovely books. This one is a distant prequel to Redwall; it tells the story of how the animals gathered at the place that would become Redwall Abbey, and decided to build that great haven. It is the story of how Martin the Warrior came to be the hero of Redwall, and how he got his mighty sword, the same weapon that Matthias searches for in Redwall. The writing is just as good, and just as sweet; these books read more like fairy tales than anything else, and it makes them great fun — though like the original fairy tales, they are not by any means bloodless, nor do all of the heroes make it to Happily Ever After. There are cute younguns, and amusingly crotchety elders, and the food still sounds delicious.
There are differences, too: in this, the villains are striking out from a castle, rather than trying to win their way into one; it changes the battles and the strategies, and that was well done. This one ranges farther afield, as our heroes quest to Salamandastron, the legendary volcano far to the east, in hopes of finding allies. That was also excellent, particularly the parts with the rabbits, whom I enjoyed tremendously in Redwall when there was only one pommy British fellow with long ears; in this book there are nearly a dozen, and every one is delightful.
But: you’ve still got a horde of weasels, stoats, and ferrets led by one particularly savage tyrant; the weasels, stoats, and ferrets are still clumsy incompetent buffoons who lose battles against the heroes because of their stupidity and cowardice. You still have the great, sinister predator — in Redwall it’s a serpent, in this one it’s an eagle — that threatens everyone who comes near. You still have the badger who carries the battle with its great strength. You still have the desperate quest for allies that goes far afield and comes back at the last second — with shrews, both times. You still have the one bird that is not really trusted but is extremely helpful. And of course you have the mouse who saves the day with a big sword and limitless courage.
I suppose I shouldn’t make too much of this; it is a series, after all, and therefore is going to have common threads that run through all the books. But this one felt a little too familiar, for all that the familiar parts were still delightful.
I’m hoping the next book will offer a little more variety.