Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Latest 'Redwall' engrossing journey

By Sara Pearce
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Moonlight shafts pale through the pines. Apple sponge puddings steam on tables laden with pastries, breads, salads, stews, teas and wines. Javelins, swords, spears and knives are raised in battle. And the war cry Eulaliiiiaaaaa rings out above forests, fields and sea.

        Welcome back to the absorbing world of Redwall, home to the brave creatures of Mossflower Wood, Jukka's Pine Grove, King Bucko's Court and the mountain fortress Salamandastron — and their creator, award-winning novelist Brian Jacques.

        Like the finest of the dozen predecessors in this best-selling series, Lord Brocktree finds cruel beasts threatening the peace-loving residents of the region.

        This time, it's the fierce wildcat Ungatt Trunn and his endless hordes of blue-tinged rats overrunning Salamandastron. Long gone are the mountain's young warrior hares. After years of peace, the only residents are aging hares and Stonepaw, their Badger Lord (“We follow our comrades in peace and war,/The hare is a perilous beast, we know,/But who commands, who makes our law?/The Badger Lords, 'twas always so!”).

        Loyal Redwall readers will have an inkling already of how the story ends. They also will find familiar the jaunty rhymes and rollicking songs sprinkled throughout the book. And they'll recognize the usual tug of war between good and evil, as well as the use of intertwining storylines.

        Yes, there is a formula. But it is how the characters meet up and meet their end that draws readers back time and again. As in every book, the getting there makes for a marvelous tale full of unforgettable characters.

        Lord Brocktree is a focused and valiant leader. Ungatt Trunn is a fierce and merciless enemy. We expect that. It is the array of supporting players who continue to dazzle. Early on, we meet:

        • Dotti, a confident haremaiden and self-described “fatal beauty,” whose singing is as pleasant as fingernails scratching a black board.

        • Jukka the Sling, a big, rough-looking squirrel who commands her own tribe and wields a mean slingshot.

        • Fleetscut, a former warrior hare who barely escapes the siege and tries to roust reinforcements.

        • The feisty 'ogbabe Skittles, who provides comic relief as he befriends Lord Brocktree.

        There are dozens more, not all of them nice but each as completely drawn and full of surprises as the complex subplots. That's Mr. Jacques' secret: he is an old-fashioned storyteller. His tale is layered and detailed — and it twists as tightly as the winding corridors and hidden passages of Salamandastron, until readers are completely immersed in his world.

More "Redwall'

               As with every Redwall book, threads connect Lord Brocktree to earlier titles (in this case, Mossflower, Salamandastron, The Long Patrol). You needn't have read previous books to enjoy this one but if you want to bone up on Redwall lore quickly log on to www.redwall.org, Brian Jacques' personal Web site. It is well organized and chock full of cool features from a gallery of portraits of major characters to a Q&A with Mr. Jacques.

        A more portable primer is the new Redwall Friend & Foe (Philomel/Putnam; $8.99), a poster and booklet combo modeled after 1998's Redwall Map & the Redwall Riddler (Putnam; $8.99). The full-color poster features illustrations of “fiends and favorites.” The booklet contains sketches and bios of Redwall heroes and friends, and “villainous vermin,” as well as puzzles and a quiz.


               By Brian Jacques

        Philomel Books/Penquin Putnam; $22.95; 320 pages

        Ages 8 and up


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