About a month ago, for some reason I started thinking about the Redwall books. I had only some hazy memories of reading and enjoying them as a youngster. I’m not sure why I felt such an urge to read them again, but I found the first 16 of them for $20 on eBay, so I went for it. Now that I’ve read the first ten books, I’m actually not sure how many of them I read back in the day. Several of them seem vaguely familiar, but I don’t have clear memories of any of them except for the first book, Redwall. However, I think it’s possible that I’ve discovered where my subconscious affection for badgers originated.
The Redwall books take place in a land inhabited solely by animals. Most of the adventures center around an abbey called Redwall, a haven for peaceful creatures who desire to help others. Most of the books are somewhat formulaic in that there is always a pack of bad animals (aka vermin) attacking the good animals who are forced into battle in self-defense, despite their normally peace-loving natures.
World-building is overall solid, although I’m still left with a few questions, mostly regarding things like size. Do these creatures live in a completely alternate world where mice are like human-sized, and everything else (like trees and rocks) are based from there? Or are they actually mouse-sized and trees are just humongous? Questions like this pestered me a bit throughout my reading, mostly because of who I am as a person haha
There’s also the question of clothes, which the Redwall animals do wear. I was honestly against this – mice wearing sandals? This seems far more ridiculous than mice that talk, read, and write. I ignored most of the references to clothing. In my imagination, the animals were a bit more animal-y.
I was also left with some questions about carnivorous creatures. Basically the good creatures are small herbivores – mice, squirrels, hedgehogs, moles, hares, etc. The bad guys are larger creatures that are frequently carnivorous in real life – rats, ferrets, weasels, stoats, foxes, etc. For some reason badgers, although they eat small rodents in real life, were added to the good column. Birds are hit or miss. In the beginning, there is an implication that owls, hawks, and other birds of prey are dangerous. But in later books, there is a very casual attitude towards birds – in a couple of books, owls are just hanging out being friendly with everyone with no questions asked. There wasn’t a lot of continuity with the whole who-eats-whom question.
But for the most part things hang together. If you’re looking for books where bad guys get redeemed, these are not for you. The bad creatures are invariably bad and the good creatures are invariably good. These are the kind of stories where the bad guys get badder and the good guys get gooder – there is basically never any kind of crossover between the lines – in the almost 4000 pages of Redwall I read, only two bad creatures were somewhat redeemed.
These are books for somewhat younger readers – they’re usually in the children’s section, and I would put them probably middle grade – and they do tend to be rather formulaic, but for the most part it works. I was still pretty invested in how Redwall would be saved this time around. These books jump around a bit in the timeline, although the last nine books (there are 22 altogether) are all in order. I’ve been reading them in published order, which is my normal default, although they would be interesting to reread in chronological order someday. In the meantime, I found a timeline online to help me keep things straight!
Below are a few notes on each of the books individually. I’m beginning to get a bit burned out on them, so I’m taking a break and doing some other reading for a while, but I do definitely want to finish the series soon. I have to say that these books are also killing my reading goal on Goodreads! I was three books ahead when I started, and now I’m three books behind!! Time for some short and snappy fluff reads!
Redwall – 3.5* – published 1986
This is one of those books where it’s kind of obvious that the author wasn’t necessarily expecting to write 21 more books in the same world. In that way, I allowed a decent amount of leniency when things didn’t exactly match up to some of the later books. (I.e., at one point all the vermin are riding in a haycart pulled by a horse – which apparently doesn’t speak/isn’t intelligent – basically the only animal I’ve discovered to date that fits that description in this world.) I think in some ways Jacques wasn’t sure whether or not this was happening in our human world, or in a separate world with no people. The rest of the series seems pretty firmly set with no people.
Anyway, there was a lot to like about this book, although I did keep feeling a little confused that Matthias, who is supposed to be the warrior hero, never really seemed to be around when the actual battles were taking place! Jacques isn’t afraid to kill characters off, and Redwall seemed filled with a lot of deaths just to keep things interesting. I think I must have read this book more than once in the distant past, because it definitely seemed the most familiar out of all of them.
Mossflower – 3.5* – published 1988
It’s possible that part of the reason I enjoy these books is because Jacques is really good at naming stuff. The name Mossflower just makes me happy every time I see it. The second book in the series is set far in the past from the original story. In Redwall, we are introduced to the fact that one of the abbey’s founders was a warrior mouse named Martin, whose likeness and legend are embroidered into a tapestry in the Great Hall. In Mossflower, Jacques takes us back in time to Martin’s arrival in Mossflower country and the events that led to the founding of Redwall.
Overall, this felt like a tighter, more cohesive story than Redwall. The different strands wove together better, although there were definitely some slow spots. The characters felt a little more individualized as well, instead of just being different kinds of animals. There is also a lot more badger lore in this story, and the badgers are my favorites so hard.
Mattimeo – 4* – published 1990
In the third book, Jacques jumps back forward in time, setting this story as a chronological sequel to Redwall. Here the story focuses on Matthias’s son, Mattimeo. The story was much sharper and more connected here. Jacques likes to have multiple stories taking place in multiple places, which sometimes works and sometimes just feels like two stories. In this book, things actually worked together cohesively. I liked the connections back to Redwall and some of those events.
Mariel of Redwall – 4* – published 1991
This story is set sometime well after the events of Mossflower but way, way before the events of Redwall. Here, the abbey is completed for the most part, but has not yet received its beautiful bell that plays such an important role in Redwall. The story focuses on a female character for the first time – Mariel is intense and determined, and I really found her to be a believable character. While the overall pattern of this story was pretty predictable, there were some great characters in this story that kept it from being to repetitive.
Salamandastron – 4* – published 1992
Set sometime after the events of Mariel, but still well before Redwall, this story focuses on badgers and the great badger mountain of Salamandastron. While I really enjoyed this one, and loved the badgers, it felt like Jacques cheated a little bit by never explaining how one of his main characters got from the introduction – parents murdered and left to die as a tiny baby – to living in Salamandastron. I was really looking forward to getting Urthstripe’s story and then… I never did!
Martin the Warrior – 4* – published 1993
This story is set before Mossflower and basically the story of Martin’s early life. I really, really liked this one a lot. I knew that things were going to end badly for Martin and Rose, because in Mossflower Martin arrives alone and never mentions Rose, but I got genuinely choked up when she was killed, even knowing that it was coming. A lot of times Jacques tends to get a bit lazy in his writing – various types of animals have a “type” rather than individual characters coming through individually. But in Martin there were a lot more individuals instead of just species, an it really heightened the emotional involvement I felt in the story.
The Bellmaker – 4* – published 1994
For his seventh book, Jacques created a direct chronological sequel for Mariel. At the end of that book, Mariel and Dandin set off questing, and they have been gone several seasons at the opening of The Bellmaker. The Bellmaker himself, Joseph, is Mariel’s father. Martin the Warrior, who throughout the series tends to appear to residents of Redwall in times of trouble via dreams and visions, visits Joseph in a dream and tells him that he needs to set off and find Mariel because she’s in trouble. Meanwhile, Mariel and Dandin are far away, getting entangled in a battle against – you guessed it – a pack of vermin.
This is one of the very, very, VERY few instances where Jacques allows a vermin animal to become something more than just an evil puppet creature, and it was one of my favorite aspects of the story. However, this was also a book where Jacques’s tendency to give characters some obnoxious speech pattern to separate them from the rest of the pack comes through strongly – Rosie the hare was completely annoying Mariel with her tendency to laugh (which Jacques constantly writes out along the lines of “WAHAHAHA HOO HAR!”), and she was just as annoying in The Bellmaker. Like I get it, Rosie has a loud laugh. Oh my gosh.
Outcast of Redwall – 4* – published 1995
I really had trouble rating this one. The majority of the story is not, in fact, about the outcast (Veil), but rather about a badger named Sunflash. I really, really enjoyed Sunflash’s journey, which is why I ended up with a 4* rating for this one. However, I basically hated Veil’s story, which honestly wasn’t even necessary to the rest of the tale, and felt like an entire opportunity for Jacques to emphasize his pattern of nature over nurture – once a vermin, always a vermin. Veil is never presented as a sympathetic creature even a little, which meant that Bryony’s love and defense of him felt completely strange. Spoilers for the rest of this paragraph – in the end, Veil saves Bryony’s life at the sacrifice of his own, which is apparently somehow supposed to make him feel like a redemptive character. However, since he had actually locked Bryony in a cave an left her to die like two chapters before, I found him hurling himself in front of her to take a spear for her to be simply unbelievable. Throughout the story Veil always choose the selfish route and always blames everyone else for his problems. He is full of hate, spite, and cruelty. He murders two other creatures as an act of petty revenge! His final act of saving Bryony’s life made absolutely zero sense with the character Jacques had created.
However, I enjoyed Sunflash and his story so much that it redeemed the rest of the book for me, so I still ended up with a 4* rating in the end, especially since Sunflash and his mother are reunited in the end – that just really made me so happy.
Pearls of Lutra – 3* – published 1996
This was definitely my least favorite out of the series so far. The plot was incredibly choppy and dragged a great deal. While there is some level of coincidences/convenient help from ghost-Martin in all the books, here it felt like the only way things moved forward was thanks to convenient coincidence or a helping hint from Martin’s spirit. Half the book was spent chasing after some of the children of the abbey (seriously, I was so over everyone having to wandering around looking for these obnoxious little ones!), and it just never felt like the different stories came together. Also, this is the ninth book. In the previous eight books, all of the vermin warriors have been male, with the exception of a few crafty vixens, who were more seers/witch-type characters than actual warriors. But suddenly, half the vermin fighters are female! I’m not sure why this bothered me, other than it felt like it didn’t match everything else that Jacques had built in the previous books. Chronologically, this book does take place after Mattimeo, so maybe the vermin culture is just becoming less patriarchal as time passes??
The Long Patrol – 3.5* – published 1997
I really should have stopped with Pearls, because I feel myself getting a little burned out on these, but I hated to stop with the book I had liked the least. The Long Patrol was better than Pearls, but I’m not sure if it was genuinely not as good as some of the earlier books, or if it was just because I wasn’t feeling it! While I did enjoy the hares, the story felt slow in this one. It was also extremely strange to have a female badger with the Bloodwrath – again, something that throughout the earlier books was emphatically a male badger characteristic. It may have felt more natural if we were given any kind of backstory for Lady Cregga, but we aren’t. It also felt like a sudden geographical upheaval in the world, as previously the coastline has always been to the west, but in this story some vermin attacked Salamandastron on the west coast and then somehow ended up shipwrecked… on the east coast that didn’t even exist in earlier books?? I’m quite keen on maps, which Jacques includes in the front of each of his books, but the sudden appearance of an eastern sea confused me, especially since I thought there was a lake there in Salamandastron.
I’ve greatly enjoyed the Redwall books so far (for the most part), but am ready for a break. However, I definitely intend to finish the series in the future, although maybe not the next twelve books all in one go!