Book Review: Redwall

Mamma Bear Book Review

*A bear trundles in with a book under one, fuzzy arm*
 Brian Jacques' Redwall series is likely one of the most read furry classics and is a well-loved saga that I'm afraid to say, did not win me over nearly as much as I'd hoped. Most reviews are split on this one and I knew that going in, but I did my best to read with an open mind. In fact,some of the things reviewers said originally seemed ridiculous to me, until I read the book. More on that later.

Redwall is the first book in Jacques epic series of wayyyy too many books. That's personal bias, folks, because I like a nice round trilogy, or at the outset maybe a series of five. Sue me. I have commitment issues.

In this book an abbey of rodents is besieged by the ever so evil rat, Cluny the Scourge. Thanks to a prophecy and a legendary tapestry, the tiny mouse, Mathias, is thrust into a journey that allows him to step into the mouse hero, Martin The Warrior's shoes and save the day.

Before you holler at me about spoilers, let me say that the fact that Mathias will inevitably save the day is really never in doubt. This was probably my most glaring complaint about Redwall. There is absolutely no sense of danger or urgency. Despite the fact that Cluny is the vilest most dastardly villain who ever bore fur, the few quirky non-violent characters inside the walls of Redwall Abbey never really seem to be in any real threat. Which, of course, has a way of killing any tension.

Now if that was the only thing wrong with Redwall, I'd probably forgive it. It is, after all, a book for young readers, and  I promise I tried my best to come at it with that in mind. I have nothing against kids' books, as you'll see when I get around to my review of Warriors 1, Into the Wild.

For me, the charm of a children's' book usually lies in the characters and the whimsical feel of the storytelling. Redwall just never got there for me. It was formal and stiff and slow and just had no magic to it. A few of the characters did stand out--the badger Constance and the young squirrel boy, the plucky rabbit, etc. but  even these individuals seemed to live on the surface of their specific stereotype.

Which gets to the really weird thing. I'd read in reviews that the way Jacques handled species in Redwall was racist. I swear on my tail I thought that was the nuttiest thing I'd ever heard. But about halfway through the book I started to get a really uncomfortable feeling. Really uncomfortable. It took me awhile to realize that it was in fact this underpinning of racism in the story that was giving me the heebie jeebies. I know. Weird as hell, right?

But it's there.

And it's not just that "all mice are good" and "all rats are bad" and "ferrets are sneaky villains" and "bunnies and squirrels are good." All of those things are annoying and in my opinion, bad world building. BUT.... the racism in Rewall is more about how the characters act. Even the heroes. And that's where it totally lost me.

Mathias is vile to the sparrow he captures. Of course he is. Sparrows are worthless, vile, insipid creatures that you can't even understand. Right? They all deserve to be kicked on, right? I mean, they're just sparrows.
Everyone in the book acts like a racist booger, and not only did I have trouble choking that down, I'm not sure I want my kids reading it. Which is weird for a kids' book. I mean, I'd have to take the time to explain to them how these characters that they might just love are not good people really. And we should never, ever emulate them... and wait a minute, isn't that the point of heroes?

So, I'm sorry to say, Redwall, gets a sad three stars from me. And it really had to fight to earn those, but it was cute in places.

So, apart from a few likable souls, I found the characters pretty flat and fully defined by their species. Cluny was likely the  deepest soul in the book, and had some really likable villain moments.

World-building: The Redwall world has issues. For one, scale is really really wonky. Sometimes the badgers are huge compared to the mice and sometimes they seem identically sized. Also, it seems like there may be humans in the world at the start, but by the end, you're pretty sure he changed his mind. 

The pace was steady, but the lack of tension killed it for me.  I just never got concerned at all for the characters, and the villain, despite being so feared, seemed absolutely inept at every attempt he made to succeed. 
Redwall is a furry classic, and much loved by a lot of readers. I suspect if I'd read it young, I might have felt the magic they did. I also worry that if I'd read it young, I'd have been influenced poorly by the sort of creepy racist undertones. So, shiny... maybe for some, but I'm not really seeing it. 



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