Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: Redwall

     Sometimes, you just need a sanity book. A book that doesn’t require you to think through tough concepts, a book that doesn’t leave you depressed or confused at the end, a book that maintains a lighthearted tone without being foolish. That is Redwall.

     It is summer, and peaceful Redwall Abbey is preparing for a celebration while the clumsy novice Matthias daydreams about older times when warriors defended the land. He’s young, he’s bored, and he wants to fight something, which pretty much describes every teenage boy ever. Unfortunately, his wish is about to come true.

     Y’see, CLUNY THE SCOURGE is on his way with his band of Vikings rats. (I use all-caps because I imagine CLUNY THE SCOURGE being voiced by BRIAN BLESSED.) CLUNY THE SCOURGE wants to conquer ALL OF THE THINGS, and when he stumbles across the well-fortified abbey with its abundant gardens, he finds he wants to conquer that as well.

     What follows next is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of siege warfare in a children’s book about talking animals. As CLUNY THE SCOURGE tries different ways to get in, he continually gets outwitted. Having nightmares about being pursued by Martin the Warrior probably doesn’t help with his sanity. Between that and a snake with the painfully obvious name of Asmodeus going around eating the villains to help out the plot, it appears that CLUNY THE SCOURGE is going to have a difficult time of it.

     Meanwhile, Matthias begins to find out he has a DESTINY. Despite being clumsy he is a good hand with a sword, and also he needs to find Martin the Warrior’s sword, which has been stolen by a Caligula-sparrow. (Seriously. Off his rocker.) With the help of a variety of wacky friends, he sets out on a quest while the Abbey is defended by a ragtag band of misfits.

     Okay, I’m starting to reference TV Tropes like crazy, and that’s because this is a very simplistic hero’s quest that just happens to be astonishingly violent. (Seriously, animals get crushed, stabbed, poisoned, burnt, and tortured. IT’S FOR CHILDREN.) The hero’s home is threatened; the hero discovers his destiny; the hero pursues his destiny into a symbolic entrance into the afterlife. (And Matthias’ experience in Asmodeus’ lair is only slightly less symbolic than Aslan’s death and resurrection.) And, while the tale itself was simple, I do wish the language did not sound so simplistic. In many places it sounded like a story written for very small children just learning to read.

     I was also confused by the Matthias-Martin connection. Okay, I get that Martin probably foresaw a warrior, but apparently there’s also a physical resemblance, so is Matthias a descendant, or is there some weird reincarnation-y thing going on? It will probably be explained in further books (probably).

     All that said, it was a ripping good yarn. The trend in books is to make the conflict very much gray vs. grey (there I go, troping again): both sides do very bad things, and it’s hard to know which person is really right. While this is often the way real life works, sometimes it’s pleasant to have one side you can completely root for, because sometimes the world works that way as well. 

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