by Brian Jacques
(*Note: it’s #5, actually.)
Now this is a good Redwall book.
There are some things that come close to my complaints in the past: the books in this series, while all well-written and sweet and fun, have tended towards a formula, to the detriment of a couple of the installments. And there are pieces here that are also part of the formula, to wit: a young male member of the Redwall community finds the sword of Martin the Warrior (How the hell could these people lose a sword this many times? I mean, come on! Every book they find that dang sword! Somebody needs to give these guys a pad of sticky notes.); a hare of the Long Patrol who can eat more than three other animals combined; the vermin army that attacks is led by a vicious evil beastie who rules them with fear and violence; said vermin army (spoiler – but not really) is defeated in the end; there are cute baby animals and playful pranksterish adolescent animals and kindly but staid elderly animals; and there’s a lot of food.
Goddamn, there’s a lot of food in these books. It’s like their one way to celebrate both their general happiness in life and also their victories over their enemies: some massive feast, with detailed descriptions of the dishes and the animals eating as much as they can.
But in this book, Jacques was able to add enough newness that the familiar elements felt familiar, rather than stale. Like the animal who finds and wields the sword (A squirrel this time, named Samkim) is not really the big hero: he does some good things, but mainly, he loses the sword and spends most of the book trying to chase it down; a different creature is actually the one who saves the day. While the vermin army was familiar, it doesn’t actually attack Redwall, and so there wasn’t the usual depiction of a siege. There was a siege, but it had an entirely different character because it takes place at the hollow volcano stronghold of the Badger lords and the hare Long Patrol: Salamandastron. And it is the badger lords who save the day. Also, the cute baby animal goes out on a quest, as do the pranksterish adolescents; this made both familiar character types more sympathetic, and minimized their cuteness and pranksterishness, which I really liked. This book had more to do with the badgers of Salamandastron, and also the shrews of the GUOSSIM (“Logalogalog!” has to be one of the best battle cries I’ve ever known. Along with the Tick’s immortal “SPOOOOOOON!”), than it had to do with Redwall itself, though Redwall is still a prominent part of the story; so this one felt like it expanded the world, rather than walked the same old paths.
There was also, though I don’t want to spoil the story any more than I already have (Come on, you knew the bad guys weren’t going to win. This is a children’s fantasy series. No way the bad guys actually win.), some real tension and suspense: because there is death in this book, and it isn’t just minor characters. The battle for Salamandastron has casualties on both sides, and indeed, goes against the badgers in several ways, for much of the book; creatures that seem set up to play major roles end up dying; there is a sad but realistic depiction of a serious contagious disease, and the way such a thing could rip through a community during the medieval times that these books are essentially set in. It meant that when some characters that I liked managed to survive, I was genuinely happy, because I knew there was a real chance they might not, so it was a victory when they did.
Other fantasy authors, take note. Except for you, George R. R. Martin. You already know more than enough about killing off your own characters.
This was a really good book, one of the best so far. Looking forward to more.