Nostalgia Review: Redwall

This marks the first of three reviews on books that I read growing up that really influenced me, either as a writer or as a person. This week, I want to introduce you to the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. 

These swashbuckling adventures feature globetrotting adventures with epic stakes tackled by cute, furry protagonists. The world is a dangerous place when you’re three inches tall.  In the world of Redwall, heroic mice, squirrels, and otters battle monstrous cats, owls, rats, and snakes. 

The setup facilitates reinforcing positive, encouraging themes. It doesn’t matter how small you are or how great the odds, goodness and cooperation win out over selfishness and bullying. That might sound a little after-school-special for some readers, but Redwall’s unabashed positivity is a feature, not a bug.

From 1986 until his death in 2011, Brian Jacques released 22 tales in the series. Although their themes of the value of community and good triumphing over evil shine through consistently, different editions do tackle their own unique sub-genres. For example, Mattimeo is a coming-of-age tale. Books that focus on the hares, such as Lord Brocktree and Salamandastron read like historical wartime fiction. And, of course, you get healthy doses of epic fantasy in the sub-series related to Martin the Warrior – The Legend of Luke, Martin the Warrior, and Redwall.

The Basics: 

Title: Redwall
Author: Brian Jacques
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Hutchinson (UK), Philomel Books (US), 1986

Spoiler-Free Summary: 

In the series-launching volume Redwall, we see the eponymous Redwall Abbey besieged by a murderous army of rats, weasels, and stoats led by the merciless tyrant, Cluny the Scourge. The fate of the peaceful abbey and its kindhearted inhabitants rests in the paws of a young mouse named Matthias. Matthias must unravel the mystery of the legacy of Redwall’s greatest warrior, in order to gain the strength and courage to liberate his persecuted Abbey. 

Why this book might be for you:

You can’t find a more empathetic, underdog protagonist than a friendly mouse standing up to an army of carnivorous bullies. If that doesn’t make you want to leap out of your reading chair and take a stand, nothing will. 

For all its fuzzy exterior, this is no soft tale. Redwall is sword-swinging, dungeon-delving action from cover to cover. There is a significant meat on the bone for the mystery enthusiast, and uncovering the Abbey’s lost history is key to the Redwaller’s success. 

Why this book might not be for you: 

First, this is young adult fantasy, so be aware of the target audience before you crack that spine. 

If you have no heart, this book might not be in your wheelhouse. Ok, I kid. The whole premise of this might/might not be for you format is that art is subjective and one man’s “yuck” is another man’s “yum”. 

Jokes aside, there is a certain lighthearted spirit to Redwall that may not appeal to fantasy fans who prefer a little more bite and shadow in their sword-and-sorcery.

I have not published one book, much less 22, so I cannot imagine the creativity and discipline it takes to tell that many tales in the same universe. However, a fair critique of the series as a whole is that the more you read, the more clearly you see a similar formula recur from book to book. Even so, In middle and early high school, I read the first 17 of these, up to Rackety Tam, so that did not deter me personally as a young reader.

Where can you find more?

You can find more at Brian Jacques’ Amazon author page, or at the series page of their current publisher, Penguin/Random House.

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