Tag Archives: Redwall

Book Review: A Good Cast Triumphs in Taggerung

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I was introduced to the world of Redwall long ago and grew up with my mouth watering for candied chestnuts and deeper ‘n ever pie and strawberry cordial. Brian Jacques (RIP) has a flare for description that I have always admired and continue to admire. No one writes a feast like Jacques, and he paints such beautiful pictures of the country in which his novels take place, pausing with his creatures beside a river to describe the flora and fauna, the flight of a dragonfly and the drape of wild strawberries down the sharp embankment into which the river cuts to create a sheltered ledge (I’m inventing my own landscape now rather than quoting or describing any of his, but you get the idea).

I’ve read and remember reading fewer of the Redwall novels than I would have thought. There are apparently 22, and I am now certain that I’ve read 5 of them, though I think I’ve read more that I’ve forgotten.

Jacques’ view of the creatures of Redwall and the surrounding country is starkly divided into good and evil. Badgers, hares, mice, otters, moles, squirrels, hedgehogs are good—just inherently, irrevocably good, as this tale proves. Rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels, foxes are irrevocably, inherently bad—cruel and viscous, the Orcs of Mossflower Country, though they are given far more personality and character than Tolkien ever gave the Orcs. I tend not to enjoy such stark divisions of good and evil (“the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters”), but I admit that rarely it is nice to escape into a world where a creature’s nature and alignment is possible to determine from a glance, to be given the excuse to think less, emphasize less, and still be able to be on the side of right.

In this novel, the otterbabe Deyna is kidnapped by the leader of a vermin clan and his father killed because Deyna is prophesied to be the Taggerung, an unmatched and unmatchable warrior, the most feared throughout all of the vermin clans known collectively as the Juska. Deyna is rechristened Taggerung and is raised as the clan chief’s son, but though he grows into an impressively strong and skilled fighter, Tagg refuses to kill. (Because of this I think too little is made of his first kill of an anthropomorphized creature later in the novel, admittedly a weasel who attacked Redwall, was hunting him with intent to kill, and hurt his own clansmen, including his chief, but early in the novel, Tagg refuses to kill one of the vermin members of the clan that raised him, beginning his banishment and his adventures, so one would think that this weasel’s death would still weigh on his conscience. Before even that he does kill an eel that is terrorizing a shrew clan, but the eel is more animalistic than humanized.)

This novel rambles more than some of the others in this series, perhaps because it has multiple protagonists in different parts of Mossflower Country as well as the regular competing plot that follows the villain. The book follows the life of Deyna, though it focues on the time after his banishment from the Juska, his long and roving return to Redwall Abbey. Having been banished from the Juska clans as a fifteen-seasons-old otter, he is hunted by his clansmen, meets a plethora of amusing families of voles and shrews and hedgehogs and one ebullient mouse named Nimbalo the Slayer, who becomes his travel companion and best friend. Meanwhile at Redwall, Deyna’s sister Mhera is trying to unravel a riddle that will determine the next abbot or abbess of Redwall. Honestly, there are several times I thought that the story ought to have come to an end (though if I’d thought about the series’ formula, I ought to have known that I would have to wait for an epilogue by the Abbey Recorder). Deyna’s story wrapped up quite well by the time that he was healed and back at the Abbey, Gruven’s story had not, and Jacques decided to end both plots and end the Juskarath before closing the novel.

The cast of this audiobook, though, sells the story, singing whenever necessary, with unique voices and accents appropriate to the character and species of each beast—and I was willing to follow them through whatever escapades Jacques had concocted. The “full cast” is not given nearly enough credit for their work—in fact, I can’t find their names anywhere on the case for this CD set—and I want to know their names. Jacques himself does the narration, which I always appreciate because you know then that you’re hearing this story as the author intended, each line precisely nuanced and inflected as he would have wanted and each word pronounced correctly.

The audio recording itself is probably a full 5 stars, but the story itself is merely a three.

****

Jacques, Brian. Taggerung. Recorded Books Productions, LLC-Haights Cross Communications Company, 2003. Audiobook, 11 CDs.  First published by Redwall Abbey Company Ltd 2001.

This review is not endorsed by Brian Jacques or any of the full cast of this audio recording, Recorded Book Productions, LLC, Haights Cross Communications Company, Redwall Abbey Company Ltd, or anyone involved in the production of the book or audiobook.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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

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Click to visit the author's site, for links to order, a preview , the story behind the story, and extra features.

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.