Mossflower is the second book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It is the prequel to Redwall. It was published in 1988 by Philomel. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.
“When the clever and greedy wildcat Tsarmina becomes Queen of a Thousand Eyes and ruler of all Mossflower Woods, she is determined to govern the peaceful woodlanders with an iron claw, bringing every otter and hedgehog, every mouse and squirrel to its whimpering knees.
But then the brave mouse Martin and quick-talking mousethief Gonff meet in the depths of Kotir Castle. With the aid of all the woodlanders, the two escape from Kotir’s dank dungeon and resolve to end Tsarmina’s tyrannical rule. Joined by Dinny the mole, Martine and Gonff set off on a dangerous quest for Salamandastron, mountain of dragons, where they are convinced that their only hope, Boar the Fighter, still lives.”
What I Liked:
So a lot of people say that this is the best book in the series, and I have to agree (although my personal favorites come later). Mossflower has the classic Redwall formula (enemy threatens hero, hero (accompanied by at least one, usually two, others) sets off on quest to find enemy or warrior/item to help defeat enemy, enemy or separate threat attacks Redwall, hero comes back in the nick of time, and there’s usually a bunch of riddles to solve for those waiting at home), but before the formula gets old and repetitive in later books. Martin the Warrior is in it, and (in my opinion) the Martin books are some of the best, if not the best, books in the series. It introduces Salamandastron (or, as Dinny says, “Salad-anna-sconn”), Badgers Lords, and other tropes that are staples to Redwall, like songs and food. Holy cow, food. This is like Farmer Boy on steroids.
One thing I noticed is that the background Martin gives here is not at all what happens in Martin the Warrior, the prequel to this book. On the one hand, this could just be an example of retconning. On the other hand, once you read Martin the Warrior, what Martin says here makes complete and utter sense. Martin in Mossflower is completely true to his character as shown in Martin the Warrior. And Mossflower was written first! It’s a little mind-boggling, and genius, and probably just retconning (especially since Jacques does a lot of that in future books). But something I loved thinking about, definitely.
Loved the little connections to Redwall in this book, like Gingivere and the quarry. Martin also reads very much like Matthias (but without the timid, bumbly phase). Things that happen in Mossflower also come up again in other books, which I’ll try and point out when I see them. I think Redwall and Mossflower get the most references in later books than any others (except for books that are direct sequels).
The main villains of Redwall are, for the most part, pretty smart, although I think only one of them has minions that actually follow him because they like him as opposed to being afraid of him (Verdauga may have been one, too, but he doesn’t really count). They also always tend to have a fatal flaw, such as Tsarmina’s fear of water, that turns out to be their undoing. With Cluny, it was Martin in general and the bell in particular. Anyway, I think the point I’m trying to make is that most of the villains aren’t stupid or funny evil (like some of Angie Sage’s villains in the Septimus Heap series), and I like that. They’re actually genuinely terrifying in their own right and in their own way.
What I Didn’t Like:
Some of the dialogue is cheesy, especially things like war cries and statements of vengeance.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Violence, death.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Gonff extended a paw. “Martin the Warrior, eh. By gum, Martin, you’re a fine, strong-looking fellow, even though you could do with a bit of fattening up. My name’s Gonff the Thief, or Prince of Mousethieves to you, matey.”
Martin shook Gonff warmly by the paw. “Prince of Mousethieves, by the fur. You could be the King of the Sky, as long as I’ve got a cellmate to speak to. What did they throw you in here for?”
Gonff winced. “Stop squeezing my paw to bits and I’ll tell you.”
“Here, matey, lend a paw. Jiggle it from side to side with me, like this. Pull outward as you do.”
Martin assisted Gonff. The entire crest started to move outward. Bella stood ready to catch the hollow wooden cylinder—it dropped into her waiting paws.
Martin and Gonff eagerly clambered down from the lintel.
Dinny danced about excitedly. “Gurr, do ‘urry, Miz Bell. Is it the map of Sammerlandersturm?”
Mossflower could be the best book in the entire Redwall series, simply because it’s the second book and the formula is still fresh and new. Also, Martin the Warrior in the flesh makes Redwall books better. It’s not my favorite (that would be Taggerung, at least it was before this reread), but it’s close to the top. This is the book I would tell someone to start with if they wanted to get into Redwall.
You can buy this book here: Mossflower
Coming Up Next: The next post in my “Why You Should…” series. I’ll be talking about fantasy!