Published by Philomel, 2007 (originally published 1987)
Hardcover, 352 pages
Genres: adventure, animals, children's fiction, fantasy, science fiction, YA
Synopsis: Redwall Abbey is the home of a peaceful order of mice, dedicated to providing comfort, shelter and assistance to those less fortunate. Cluny the Scourge is a vicious and greedy rat determined to turn the Abbey into a castle for himself, as well as a headquarters from which to direct his future conquests. Enter Matthias, a young mouse raised at the Abbey who is training to join the order. While he dearly loves Redwall and the gentle creatures who raised him, he dreams of being a warrior, of battles and of glory. When Cluny and his army attack the Abbey, Matthias sets out to find an ancient sword once carried by Redwall's hero from ages past, Martin the Warrior. With this sword Matthias hopes to turn the tide of battle and save Redwall and his loved ones from slaughter at the hands of Cluny and his rats.
My review: I love this book. I know it's a children's book and almost 25 years old and everyone but me has probably already read it. But I just have to say how much I love it anyway. This series is one I've been meaning to read since I first discovered it on the library's shelves at age 8. How has it taken me this long to get around to reading it?? Oh well, better late than never, right?
First of all, I adore the characters. Matthias is lovable and you can't help but pull out your "Go Matthias!" banner every time he gets into trouble (which is quite frequently); Abbott Mortimer is the gentle and wise counselor we all wish we had (who I also refer to as "the original Dumbledore"); Constance is the feisty badger with a big mouth who always has her friends' backs; and Brother Methuselah is the oldest inhabitant of Redwall, a scholar and keeper of records, who defies his age by helping Matthias in his quest to find the sword of Martin the Warrior. These are just a few of the charming characters from Redwall Abbey and surrounding Mossflower forest who it's inevitable you'll be quite attached to by the end of the book. There are quite a few definitely-not-charming characters in this book as well, who add dimension and contrast with the defenders of Redwall. I was honestly surprised by how truly evil Cluny the Scourge is, feeding off of the pain and misery he inflicts on those around him. Being most often classified as Children's Fiction, I expected a nasty rat but not one who is so blatantly cruel. I'm glad he isn't a namby-pamby villain, though, because that would have annoyed me to no end as well as potentially ruined the book's flavor and plot. Also, this book does not represent a simplistic world composed of "good" and "evil"; instead, it consists of many shades of grey, and characters do not always make choices consistent with their assumed status of "good" or "bad". In addition, there are multiple villains, each being a "villain" for different reasons; one of them is such simply because his perspective and way of life is different, in conflict with that of the rest of the woodlanders'. I appreciated these subtleties, especially since children's literature tends to be full of rather worn out, overly moralistic and cliched perspectives on good and evil. This was refreshing and one reason, I believe, that this book can be enjoyed by such a wide range of readers.
This book is most certainly an adventure story with the reader frequently switching perspectives between Cluny and his army, Matthias and his quest, and the Abbey's defenders. I greatly enjoyed the style of narration; it keeps things moving, though doesn't switch perspectives too quickly, and gives enough detail to really be absorbed into the story and its environment, though not so much that a young reader will feel overwhelmed. Some people have remarked that they don't like the slightly meandering story line, but for me, it is reminiscent of The Hobbit and quite delicious. I love the little side adventures and details that are not strictly "relevant" to the plot because I feel they add to the overall mythology of Redwall, which is very important if you're going to go on and read the rest of the series. This is a book that can truly be enjoyed by readers of all ages, as well as the perfect selection for reading aloud. I hope to acquire these books sometime soon and enjoy them again in future, perhaps with my son, who I will make sure is acquainted with Redwall Abbey and the many adventures that concern it at a somewhat younger age than I am now.
Let me know what you think of this book in the comments below; I love hearing other people's perspectives and insights! Happy reading!