Book Review: Nostradormouse: Come for the Pun and Stay for the Poetry

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Nostradormouse by Chris Tinniswood was one of those pleasant surprises buried in the wealth of less appealing (to me) literature that is available free on Barnes & Noble’s Nook.  At first I laughed it off for the pun of the title, but I ultimately decided that there could be no harm in giving a go to a free book.  Opening it, I was mostly intrigued by the poetic, linguistically beautiful, and grammatically clean (a rarity in self-published books) prose.  Nostradormouse stylistically reminded me of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series with its high language, anthropomorphic woodland creatures as protagonists in a high fantasy setting, and multiple third person narrators, but Nostradormouse focuses on myth and legend where Redwall focuses more on the history, the battles and important people who influenced the world, and Redwall has very active characters and adventuresome plots while Nostradormouse is quiet and mystic in its tone.  There may be something akin to T. A. Barron’s The Lost Years of Merlin in Nostradormouse’s prose too.

Each chapter opens with a prophetic poem.  I’ve tried to write these.  They are difficult.  Tinniswood’s flare for them speaks to his credit.

Nostradormouse’s real hitch to being published in a traditional manner would be its refusal to conform to any genre.  It’s clearly middle grade, clearly high fantasy, but it is not an adventure story—not really.  It could be best described as a creation myth (the myth of the seasons), but it is so much longer, (104 pages of text) and so much more detailed (particularly with regards to the interior character details) than any other creation myth that I’ve read (mostly ancient Greek and Roman sources, but also Gilgamesh, The Bible, and Paul Goble’s recent publication, The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi; almost all of these focus on the myth’s effect on the world rather than the character’s reactions to the events of the myth).

Apart from that are a few questions that should be asked by an editor of Tinniswood, mostly as regards the two characters who really seemed to disappear after a prominent entrance: Find and, more importantly, the fish for whom the hazelnuts of wisdom were intended.

By eating a hazelnut from a magical tree of wisdom, Nostradormouse gains the knowledge of Find, the omniscient creator god who appears at a woodland pool to bring knowledge into the world.  Nostradormouse uses his knowledge to heal and ultimately follows it along the road of destiny to free the seasons from a different magical tree in the center of the Great Wood.  Along the way he foretells the future of those whom he encounters and, in a frequent but not yet overdone fantastical cliché, names the creatures that he happens upon, underscoring a “language as power” trope that fits well with Nostradormouse’s tone.

Nostradormouse’s power comes from listening more than from speaking or writing or reading, however.  He is a relatively passive creature, an arm of Find more than a creature who shapes or enacts his own destiny.  He leaves before he can be profusely thanked and seems to keep ahead of his reputation.

If you are a glutton for poetic prose and gentle mice, this is a book you may want to check out.  If you’re looking for a swashbuckling action/adventure, skip it.

***

Tinniswood, Chris.  Nostradormouse.  Los Gatos, CA: Smashwords, 2009.  Nook.  12 March 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Chris Tinniswood, Smashwords, or Nook.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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