Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Brian Jacques

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
by Brian Jacques
Recommended Age: 12+

The author of the bestselling Redwall tales brings us this series of adventures of a boy and a dog, wandering the world, ageless and unchanged while the world changes around them.

The starting point of the story is the legend of the Flying Dutchman, a ship said to be cursed to sail the oceans of the world for all eternity, its crew condemned to an eternal living death, because of a few choice blasphemies uttered by their captain. The angel who imposes the curse on the crew, exempts two of their number - a boy who, fleeing for his life, stowed away on board; and a big black dog. Instead of battling against the seas without hope, forever, the boy and the dog are given the freedom to roam the world, the ability to understand any language (and the boy, to be understood in them too), and a command to help people in need to rise above their problems.

Their first mission: to help and comfort a lonely shepherd in Patagonia (the southern tip of South America). Their second mission, in an English village at the turn of the 20th century, takes up most of the book. Together with their English friends, young and old, young Neb and his dog Den (a.k.a. Ben and Ned) must help solve a mystery, and find a buried treasure, to help a sad old lady and a group of children save their historic town from hoodlums and developers.

It's a charming story, and it looks like it could be the beginning of another successful series... [EDIT: I was right. Further books in this series include The Angel's Command and Voyage of Slaves.

The Redwall series
by Brian Jacques
Recommended Age: 8+

At this writing, the popular British storyteller has given us 15 tales of the friendly beasts of Redwall and the Mossflower woods. Filled with colorful characters, warm camaraderie, rollicking adventure, charm, mystery, a love of good food, a love of children (of all species), and a love of nature, these are at the same time "comfort stories" you can cuddle up with and read to your children, and tales of peril, courage, sacrifice, and (occasionally) gore and violence, that may send shivers up your spine.

I recommend reading at least one or two of the Redwall-Mossflower books. You may find, after that point, that they all tend to be the same story told over and over again. If you find that to be the case, read no further. But you may find, as I did, that Redwall was a lovely place to visit, no matter how often you return; and its unchanging charms embrace you like a warm blanket, time after time. The Redwall books can be read in any order, since even the order they were published has no relation to chronological order. Any of them would be worth your while! In brief:

Redwall, the story of young Matthias the mouse, a clumsy, dreamy novice in the Redwall Abbey built and inhabited by the friendly creatures of Mossflower Wood. But when danger rears its rodent head, in the shape of Cluny the sea rat and his band of land pirates, Matthias rises to the occasion. Inspired by the spirit of Martin the Warrior (a mighty mouse who helped found the Abbey), Matthias leads the mice, squirrels, moles, hares, and other good creatures in resisting evil at all costs.

Mossflower relates the story of Martin the Warrior, a brave young mouse who joins with Gonff the mouse-thief to throw off the tyranny of a dynasty of wildcats and other associated vermin, and free the hedgehogs, hares, badgers, moles, mice, squirrels, and what have you. This is the story of how Martin came to Mossflower Wood and how the foundations of Redwall came to be laid.

Mattimeo tells how a wily fox and his vermin band kidnap Matthias the mouse's rebellious son, Mattimeo, leading a rescue party away from Redwall just when another group of outlaws has their eye on the Abbey. Mariel of Redwall is the story of the daughter of Joseph the Bellmaker, whose bell would later be such an important part of Redwall Abbey, and how she escaped from pirate sea-rats and led an expedition to rescue her father from the dread Isle of Terramort.

Salamandastron focuses on the mountain forge-fortress of the perilous hares, commanded by a line of Badger Lords, poised on the seashore to defend Mossflower and its neighboring lands from enemies by sea. Martin the Warrior relates the very beginning of the adventures of the mouse who would later lead the Mossflower creatures to victory.

The Bellmaker tells how Joseph the Bellmaker and a small party of Redwallers travelled far to the south to rescue Joseph's adventurous daughter Mariel and her friends. Outcast of Redwall is the sad tale of a foundling ferret, and the true-hearted mousemaid who raises him as her own. When Veil has been banished from Redwall Abbey, and his faithful foster-mother Bryony follows him in his search for his warlord father, hoping Veil may rise above the bad blood that seems destined to taint him.

Pearls of Lutra tells the story of Tansy the hedgehog, who sets out on a quest to solve an ancient riddle, leading to the isle of Sampetra, the court of an evil pine marten named Mad-Eye, and his cold-blooded lizard army. The Long Patrol is about how a young hare learns the meaning of courage and duty, as the Salamandastron hares risk terrible slaughter to draw a vermin horde away from Redwall.

Marlfox tells of a band of dastardly sneak-thieves who, by stealth and deception, make off with Redwall's precious Tapestry--and how two young squirrels, a shrew, and a water vole face deadly peril to take it back. The Legend of Luke shows us Martin the Warrior Mouse, searching for evidence of his father's fate.

Lord Brocktree tells how a badger lord and his perilous hares defend the land against an evil wildcat and his vermin horde. Taggerung is about how prophecy, murder, and kidnap turn an innocent otter infant into the adopted heir of a vicious vermin leader - and whether the nobler ties of nature can redeem someone trapped in an evil fate. And hottest off the press is Triss, the adventures of a warrior squirrelmaid.

UPDATE: I evidently wrote the above review around 2002, the year Triss came out - and though I bought it, I have never been able to bring myself to read it, or any other Redwall book, since then. Maybe the mood will take me some time. When it does, I will have my work cut out for me, because the further books in this series include Loamhedge, Rakkety Tam, High Rhulain, Eulalia, and this year's Doomwyte. There are also any number of associated reference books, including a Redwall Cookbook!

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