© Brian Jacques, cover illustration by Troy Howell.
This is the fifth book in the “Redwall” series of fantasy novels featuring humanlike animals in a mediaeval setting. By the fifth book in most series, one knows pretty much what to expect, and so it is here. There will be a lot of feasting, particularly in Redwall Abbey, on strange made-up dishes and unlikely ingredients, rather than food the animals involved, were they real animals, would be wanting. (This is clearly aimed at younger readers, and I often skip over it.) There will be a band of evil predatory animals preying on weaker ones, or attempting to assail strongholds of more noble creatures. Here, it’s led by a pair of deadly weasels, Ferahgo the Assassin and his son, who ultimately take on the mountain fortress of Salamandastron, home of a long line of badger and hare warriors. There will be young animals from Redwall Abbey out seeking adventure or retribution or both. Here it’s the squirrel Samkin, the mole Arula, and on a separate quest, the young hedgehog, Dumble, as well as a pair of young animals from Salamandastron who are out seeking adventure too, and getting into lots of serious trouble. There will be struggles, skirmishes, captures, escapes, and enough plot twists in each of several storylines to keep things moving well, and there will be mysteries that are gradually unveiled, tying it all together.
I can’t say I love this series. It’s entertaining reading, but there are things about it I don’t like. Aside from the endless feasting, there’s the many dialects, which are often hard for me to comprehend, particularly the one used by the moles. There’s the disconnect in size differences. We have small, fiesty, heroic animals like shrews fighting very much larger beasts like stoats and weasels. The legendary hero, Martin, was a mouse, and his sword is large enough for a badger to use. Nearly every animal is a vegetarian, even the natural carnivores. In order to really enjoy the series, you have to kind of overlook a lot of this and simply think of the animals as small people. Sometimes it works better than others.
I found this volume only passably good, I’ve enjoyed some of the others more. It has its moments, but it also feels like there isn’t a lot new here. Mildly recommended.