Welcome to a summer of Redwall! That’s right, this summer I’ll be reviewing every book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Technically this is a part of Series Week, but since there are about twenty books and the Week would turn into more like a Series Month, I decided to spread the reviews out and make it a Series Summer (Weekends) instead!
I’ll be reading the books in publication order, not chronological order (although I’ve always wanted to do it). Although this will be way more stretched out than a normal Series Week, I will still do a wrap-up and a scale of my favorites at the end.
The first book is called Redwall and it was first published in 1986 by Hutchinson’s Children’s Books. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques, who is sadly deceased now, can be found here.
“It is the Summer of the Late Rose, and the gentle mice of Mossflower Wood gather to celebrate a year of peace and abundance at Redwall. But a sinister shadow has fallen across the ancient stone abbey. For it is rumored that Cluny is coming—Cluny, the menacing one-eye rat and his battle-seasoned horde—Cluny, who has vowed to conquer Redwall Abbey!
The woodland creatures rush to a desperate defense. But what can an Abbey of peace-loving mice do against Cluny the Scourge and his evil band of rats? If only they had the sword of Martin the Warrior, they might stand a chance of saving their beloved Abbey. But the hiding place of the legendary sword has been long forgotten. It is the bumbling young Matthias who sets out to find the sword, fights for his abbey, and becomes a most unlikely hero.”
What I Liked:
Oh, the memories that came rushing back when I started reading this book! I loved Redwall growing up and read them over and over—I’m talking maybe five or more times for some books, less for others (the most recent ones I’ve only read once). The series is a little bit like Watership Down, but less serious and with more creatures besides rabbits (I don’t think there are any rabbits in Redwall. They’re all hares).
As the first book in the series, this book sets up a lot for the rest—character types, style of writing, plot formulas, group dynamics, you name it. But Redwall is also the book that’s the most different. There’s mentions here of towns, horses, beavers, and other animals and objects that completely vanish in the rest of the series (as well as several group dynamics, too, like the rules of the Guosim shrews and the goal of the Abbey creatures. Even the names change: here, last names are simply Vole or Churchmouse or Squirrel. In later books, they become more complicated (if there are any last names at all). For the villains it’s the opposite. Here, they have names like Killconey and Cheesethief. In later books they become quite stooge-ish, with names like Splitnose or Bentclaw or whatever). It’s quite interesting, really.
If you want a series that is completely Black and White, this is the series to read. With very few exceptions, every rat or similar “vermin” (as they’re called) is evil, every mouse or similar woodland creature is good. These books are simply Good versus Evil, all the way. And Jacques skimps on neither the fighting and violence nor the deaths that result. He’s not afraid of killing off beloved characters (perhaps the most poignant example is in Martin the Warrior, but we’ll get there). That being said, there’s rather a lot of nameless masses in all these books and you’ll notice it right away here. There are only about ten or so Abbey characters with names, but apparently there are hundreds of creatures living the Abbey because tons of them die during every battle. It’s easy to think only ten or so creatures live in the Abbey, and then remember “Oh, right, there are more” every time a slew of “defenders” are killed in an assault.
Matthias’ development is great, although a little quick in my opinion. Also, I’m wondering if there’s any significance in his anagrammed name, “I Am That Is.” Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a ton. You can’t really call someone “I Am That Is” without thinking of I AM. And Matthias becomes the savior of Redwall, which makes it even more significant.
The accents are great, too, and so memorable. I heard that Jacques gave each creature a different accent because he wrote this book for blind children to listen to and enjoy.
What I Didn’t Like:
Some of the writing was not the greatest, but I’m picky when it comes to style and things. There were a few other little things (mainly plot mechanics), but those came from reading the series before, so I’ll talk about them when we get a decent number of books in that it becomes relevant .
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Violence, death.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Matthias leaned forward eagerly. “Martin! Tell me, Brother, I love hearing about the warrior monk.”
Methuselah’s voice dropped to a secretive whisper. “It is written in the great chronicle of Redwall that Martin was very young to be such a warrior. He could have been the same age as yourself, Matthias. Like you, he was impulsive and had a great quality of youthful innocence about him when he first came to our Abbey. But it is also written that in times of trouble Martin had the gift of a natural leader, a command over others far superior to hi in age and experience. The chronicle says that they looked to Martin as some look to a strong father.”
Matthias was full of wonderment, but he could not help feeling puzzled. “Why do you tell all this to me, Brother Methuselah?”
The old mouse stood up. He stared hard at Matthias for a moment, then, turning, he shuffled slowly off. As he went, he called back over his shoulder, “Because, Matthias…because he was very like you!”
Matthias tapped the basket with his foot. “Listen, Warbeak, if that’s your name. You’d better improve your temper, or you’ll find yourself without food to eat or any medical attention. So if I were you, I’d sit quietly for a while and think about that.”
Matthias spun on his heel and marched off, the enemy sparrow’s chirps still ringing in his ears: “No wanta food, no needa ‘tenshun. Warbeak Sparra, all brave, killeet.”
Matthias sighed wearily.
There was just no talking to some creatures.
Redwall begins one of my favorite and most-loved series that I read growing up. The worldbuilding is quite good and the series remains, in my opinion, one of the more unique fantasies written. Strap on your seatbelts, we’re in for a wild ride!
You can buy this book here: Redwall
Coming Up Next: Mossflower