And Then I Read: MATTIMEO by Brian Jacques

© Brian Jacques, illustration by Troy Howell.

The third book in the Redwall series continues  the story of the first published book, “Redwall,” but some years later, with Matthias, the warrior mouse hero, now getting older (though still a strong fighter), and many of the characters from the first book now parents. Mattimeo is the son of Matthias and Cornflower, and something of a spoiled favorite in Redwall abbey, always getting into mischief with his friends, and causing trouble for his parents. There has been peace in the Abbey since the battles of “Redwall,” and the group of animals from many species who live and work there together have been lulled into complacency. A grand feast day brings a troup of traveling acrobats to the Abbey, led by a masked fox. The Abbey folk welcome them, little knowing that Slager the fox has an evil plan in place to steal away some of the children of the Abbey to be his slaves. Slager’s plot succeeds all too well; Mattimeo and his friends wake up chained and are soon on a long forced march south where Slager has further plans for them.

Of course Matthias and his comrades go in pursuit of the slavers, but the fox always seems to outsmart them, and they can’t catch up to rescue their stolen children. The journey takes slavers and rescuers alike through perilous lands and into unexpected dangers and battles. Meanwhile, at the Abbey, a new threat arrives: a raven from the north, General Warbeak, and his band of crows, rooks and magpies, swoops in on the poorly-defended Abbey, occupies the roof and attics, and begins a campaign to conquer the building and occupants from the top down. The Abbey animals are soon barricaded in the basement, trying to fend off this new threat. Constance the Badger is their only fearsome fighter, and if they’re going to survive, they’ll need a clever plan. Help may come in the form of riddles and mysteries from the past, if they can figure them out in time.

A good read from start to finish, with lots of action, entertaining characters, and a well-developed plot. Like the first two Redwall books I’ve tried, there are some things it’s best not to think about too hard. The animals in the story are anthropomorphized, often acting more like people than animals, but still with aspects of their animal nature. It’s a delicate balancing act, and Jacques wobbles unsteadily at times. For instance, the size difference between a mouse and fox makes it hard to believe even the fiercest mouse could threaten a fox (or his band of weasels and stoats) in battle. And there are story elements that aren’t explained well, such as all the things the Abbey folk eat that are made with cream and butter, but no mention of any cows. Some other kind of milk, perhaps, but it’s not made clear.

If you can overlook that sort of thing and just go with the story, and think of the animals as largely human, it works well enough. And Brian Jacques is certainly a good storyteller, expanding his world considerably here, both in space and time, in ways that are fun to read. Recommended.

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