The Sable Quean is the twenty-first book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2010 by Philomel. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.
“He appears out of thin air, and vanishes just as quickly. He is Zwilt the Shade, and he is evil. Yet he is no match for his ruler, Vilaya, the Sable Quean. Along with their hordes of vermin, these two have devised a plan to conquer Redwall Abbey. And when the Dibbuns go missing, captured one by one, their plan is revealed.
Will the Redwallers risk the fate of their Abbey and all of Mossflower Wood to save their precious young ones? Perhaps Buckler, Blademaster of the Long Patrol, can save the day. He has a score of his own to settle. And fear not, these Dibbuns are not as innocent as they appear. After all, they’re from Redwall.”
Unfortunate title aside (“Quean” means a “disreputable woman,” but specifically a prostitute. Not sure why the publishers let that through, unless Jacques was aiming for the Scottish, which means “a young or unmarried woman”), The Sable Quean is a really refreshing Redwall book. There’s a competent, smart female villain who doesn’t go mad and who mourns the loss of her counselor; a sinister, albeit inferior threat that has an awesome death scene; a mole warrior; and a fairly realistic side-plot about what’s it like to travel with a bunch of infants and young children.
Vilaya and Zwilt the Shade are very good Redwall villains; two of the best, in fact. It’s rare to have competent villains, and both are. Vilaya’s plan just makes so much more sense than the usual “Let’s go attack Redwall Abbey” villain plan, and it probably would have worked very effectively if our Plucky Heroes hadn’t interfered. While Vilaya’s death is very quick, Zwilt has a prolonged fight with Buckler, and the end of that fight is one of the more striking scenes in the series.
I don’t know why it took Jacques twenty-one books to introduce a mole warrior, but there is finally one in this book and he is awesome. Moles are too good to be sidekicks. They deserve to swing massive hammers like Thor and kill all the enemies with just the help of a badger. Wow, if Axtel is Thor, then that means Ambry is, I don’t know, the Hulk? Redwall Avengers, assemble!
The most refreshing thing about this book was the absence of any Puzzle/Fetch Quest. Jacques tends to switch between Fetch Quest and War/Invasion with each book, but for some reason I feel that the last few books have been heavy on riddles. There were no riddles in this book, and, actually, very few songs. More time was dedicated to things like plot and development, which is a good thing.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Violence/fighting, death.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Woodlanders with families, relatives and friends. The young ones, their babes, their kindred, are the hope of the future, the very lifeblood of peaceful creatures. They would do anything to protect their brood, even fight. But how can they fight what is not there? The worry, the grief and sorrow at the loss of their dearest treasure. Where are their young ones? Are they alive or dead? No woodlander or Abbeydweller will know until I speak to them on my terms. Give me what I want, and your families will be allowed to live. They will, believe me, because the alternative would be too awful for them to image. That is my plan, Zwilt.”
I enjoyed reading The Sable Quean and I would deem it one of the better Redwall books. I do think the war books are better than the riddle ones in general, and this one has smart villains and some new character types (such as a mole warrior!). It came as a welcome relief after the last few bad Redwall books, and I’ll be honest, it’s nice to know there’s only one book left.
You can buy this here: The Sable Quean (Redwall)