And Then I Read: THE OUTCAST OF REDWALL by Brian Jacques

OutcastofRedwallCover art by Troy Howell.

I enjoyed the first few books of the Redwall series, though I felt they had some major flaws, at least for me, things that took me out of the story. I gave up reading them a few years ago, but there are still two on my reading pile, and I chose this one for summer beach reading. My opinion has not really changed.

The story begins with a young badger held captive and being tortured by a band of evil ferrets and such led by Swartt Sixclaw. The badger escapes with the help of a young kestrel, Skarlath, and the two become friends, fleeing the ferret band together. The badger knows nothing of his background, and does not even have a name, but he and Skarlath settle on the name Sunflash for the bright yellow stripe on his head. Soon they meet a small group of moles and hedgehogs who take them in and hide them from Sixclaw and his band of marauders. Eventually Sunflash learns of his heritage and destiny as the lord of Salamandastron, a huge mountain fortress on the coast to the south, and makes his way there, where he is welcomed and trained by the warrior hares and other animals.

Meanwhile, at Redwall Abbey we meet the current generation of gentle animals, who are endangered by the approach of the evil army of Swartt Sixclaw. Sixclaw himself has craftily taken over an even larger band of warrior creatures by killing their leader, and now has a formidable army. He also has become a father, but cares nothing for his son, who is left behind after a mighty battle, and is brought to Redwall Abbey. There he is raised with kindness and given the name Veil, but his evil heritage surfaces as he grows, and eventually he is cast out of Redwall, though his caretaker Bryony and her friend Toggert, a mouse and a mole, decide to join and follow him, even though Veil rejects their company.

The army of Swartt Sixclaw eventually reaches Salamandastron where they battle the inhabitants and lay siege to the mountain fortress, and in the last part of the book, the personal battle between Swartt and Sunflash, as well as Veil, comes to a head.

So, my issues with this series are these: The animals are essentially people in animal guise, in a long literary and fantasy tradition, but they still have enough animal characteristics to make their interactions strange. Tiny mice fight alongside huge badgers with no mention of the size difference. Rabbits and mice are often fierce warriors. Animals that are predator and prey in nature are best buddies here, and all eat mostly plants, though with some fish, who are left out of the character roster. Accents and dialect are sometimes hard to understand, particularly the moles. Everyone is obsessed with feasting and food, and descriptions of food preparation are full of nonsensical made-up ingredients and silly food names. Descriptions of feasts are long and repetitious. Plot drives the narrative in ways that don’t make sense, even regarding the world itself. In this book, a large river seems to flow uphill toward the mountains in order to make the plot work, for instance.

When the action happens, the story is more interesting to me, and the characters are often well-developed and complex, but getting past all the above makes the books hard for me to get absorbed into. I think young readers may be more able to overlook or not notice things that bother me, and for them the books may well be enjoyed and even loved. I was less critical myself then!

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