All images © David Petersen.
The second collection of MOUSE GUARD is just as wonderful as the first one, as it continues the story of a group of mice that act much like tiny people in a mediaeval setting, living in hidden, underground towns of various kinds, loosely associated under a leader in the central town, and protected by members of the Mouse Guard, warriors and messengers, travelling often between the towns, even in the depths of winter. Book 1 of the series told how a traitor mouse and his followers had depleted the food stores of the mice in some of the towns as an act of rebellion, and that is making this winter a very difficult one. Teams of Guard mice have been sent to outlying towns from their headquarters in the capital Lockhaven to try to resupply the capital, which is on starvation rations. The narrative follows some of the mice from the last book, and once again Petersen draws and paints a world of great beauty and great danger.
This battle with a giant, hungry owl (in mice perspective) is only one of the perils the Guards must face. Another comes when they fall into a vast, abandoned underground kingdom of tunnels and arcades, all beautifully drawn and constructed in mediaeval style architecture, where a colony of bats now live.
It’s interesting to consider the artistic choices Petersen makes in the way he draws his characters, particularly the mice. They’re fantasy mice, with bodies constructed more like little people than real mice, but if you made a line and put the early Mickey Mouse on the left end, and a completely realistic mouse drawing on the right end, Petersen’s would fall much closer to the latter, perhaps just to the left of Beatrix Potter. Yet, he distorts the images further by enlarging the heads and almost never showing the mouths. This has the effect of making the mice cuter, almost the way Hello Kitty compares to a real cat, and perhaps reflecting the appeal of baby mice. The characters in the book don’t act at all babyish, though. They’re fierce fighters, and some have downright grumpy and pugnacious personalities. It’s an unusual combination, but somehow it works. And the rest of the world they inhabit is very realistically drawn, though with an artist’s eye for beauty even in the most dangerous moments.
I have to admit I find the characters hard to tell apart at times, and that makes the story a little harder to follow, but overall I had a great time reading and looking at this book. The writing is quite good, the characters believable, and the story gripping and inventive. No sitting around the fire for these mice, there’s danger and adventure at every turn. I still have some problems with the font used for the mice’s speech, but I’ve gotten used to it, I guess, it didn’t bother me as much this time. The one used for the rabbits (which the mice ride like horses!) is a much better choice.