Martin, a traveling warrior mouse, is accidentally caught up in a war between the wildcat Tsarmina, who rules over Mossflower Wood, and the gentle woodland creatures starving under her rule. The creatures have formed a resistance group, but most of them are farmers or weavers who lack the experience needed to fight Tsarmina’s army of stoats, weasels, and other assorted nasties. Once Martin joins the resistance, they may finally have a chance to win their freedom and drive Tsarmina out.
I loved Brian Jacques’ REDWALL series as a child, and re-reading Mossflower as an adult was a very nostalgic experience for me. It’s been long enough since I last read the first few books of the series that I don’t remember exactly which characters make it to the end of the novels and which heroes get noble deaths. I did, however, remember the massive number of enemies that are slaughtered without a second thought, while the deaths of sympathetic characters are more evenly spaced and given more weight.
Mossflower has more female characters than its predecessor, Redwall, which is good to see, though many of them are placed in domestic or supporting roles while the majority of the male characters take part in battles and epic quests. I’m also uncomfortable with Jacques’ insistence that there is a clear dichotomy between “good” animals (prey: robins, squirrels, mice, otters, etc.) and “bad” animals (predators: foxes, weasels, wildcats, etc.), which he has used as a running theme for every book I’ve read in the REDWALL series. (Full disclosure: I’ve read most, but not all, of the twenty REDWALL books.) There’s usually a casual mention of a “good” predatory creature, which in Mossflower is portrayed by the wildcats Gingevere and Sandingomm, but that hardly feels inclusive. Even as a child, this felt odd to me, and it feels no less odd as an adult.
There are some pacing issues here, as well. A chapter might include three or four points of view, each taking place at a different point in time, which was slightly confusing. It’s sometimes difficult to tell whether events are occurring simultaneously or in a sequence. The dialogue and concepts are simplistic, written to a specific audience, and the hero-villain dynamic is very clearly delineated. However, Jacques does write heroes and their battle scenes well, with enough detail to make events clear to young readers without becoming too gory or gruesome.
At heart, these are fun books with clear moral messages about good triumphing over evil and the benefits of living in a positive community. They’re a great way to introduce children to commonly-used fantasy tropes and the wider possibilities of the fantasy genre as a whole. I recommend Mossflower and the rest of the REDWALL books for 5th-graders and older, including their parents.
Redwall — (1986-2011) Publisher: When the peaceful life of ancient Redwall Abbey is shattered by the arrival of the evil rat Cluny and his villainous hordes, Matthias, a young mouse, determines to find the legendary sword of Martin the Warrior which, he is convinced, will help Redwall’s inhabitants destroy the enemy.
Tribes of Redwall — (2001-2004) Publisher: The Tribes of Redwall series takes an exciting new look at the wealth of clans– the badgers, the moles, the shrews — that make up the legendary life of Brian Jacques’ best-selling series. In this first guide, readers can learn about and celebrate the hidden world of the badger Lords and the badger warrior spirit. In the tradition of Redwall Map and Riddler and Redwall Friend and Foe, the packet features a detailed 16-page booklet, complete with a wealth of information on badgers, several puzzles, and a quiz to test the knowledge of Redwall fans old and new. Also included is a stunning full-color pullout poster illustrating the badger heroes and heroines profiled in the booklet. Complete with an introduction by Brian Jacques himself, Tribes of Redwall is a must for any Redwall enthusiast!