Brian Jacques

You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers for this book, as well as for others in the Redwall series. Other reviews in this series can be found here.

Only three books left to go. Part of me can’t believe I’ve made it this far, much less written a review for every Redwall book that I’ve read, and the other part is in mourning because all my favorite books are over and I’ll have to wait till next year to read them again. I mean, there are reasonable limits on how many times I can reread the Redwall series in a year. At this point, my one wish is that the final seven books had a clear sequence, the way the first fifteen did. I’m going on the assumption that they all run back to back after the events of Triss because there’s no reason to assume that they don’t, but it kinda bugs me.

In any case, Eulalia! is the next in the series chronology after High Rhulain. It begins with the abduction of the young badger Gorath by a golden-furred pirate fox named Vizka Longtooth, and the burning of his grandparents’ homestead. During the attack on the farm, Vizka assaulted Gorath with a mace and chain, leaving him with a large wound on his head, which soon crusts into an ugly scab. Trapped on Vizka’s Bludgullet and bereft of everyone he loves, Gorath swears revenge. At the same time, the aging Lord Asheye of Salamandastron is on the last legs of his life without a clear heir to take over the running of the mountain. Having received a prophetic dream indicating the existence of a suitable successor, Asheye instructs Assistant Cook Mad Maudie (the Hon.) Mugsberry Thropple, a troublesome young hare, to set out in search of the chosen badger in lieu of banishment from the Long Patrol. Though their purposes are very different, Gorath, the Sea Raiders who kidnapped him, and Maudie all set their sights on Redwall Abbey, where they hope their respective goals will be fulfilled. None of them realizes that Mossflower Woods is currently beset by a horde of large brown rats (called Brownrats) led by Gruntan Kurdly, a giant rat whose fondest ambition is to taste every kind of egg in the world.

Unbeknowst to all, Redwall Abbey is having troubles of its own: it has just had to expel one of its community, a thing it hasn’t done since the banishment of Veil in Outcast of Redwall. In this particular case, the expulsion is temporary: fed up with the young hedgehog Orkwil Prink, who is a compulsive and unrepentant thief, Abbot Daucus gives him a bag of food and tells him to make his own way. If he reforms himself, he will be allowed to return after a season, though a couple of the elders want to banish him permanently. Orkwil’s shock turns into a petulant resentment as he wanders away from the Abbey, first losing his food to a bunch of thieving magpies (the irony appears to be wasted on him) and then running afoul of a nasty-tempered water vole who not only tricks him into doing his work for him, but also drives him away with arrows. His lofty fantasies of finding a small, friendly woodland family to take him in never materialize; nor does any form of self-sufficiency. Eventually Orkwil blunders into a swamp – he really cannot catch a break – and is caught by a party of Sea Raiders led by Codj, the incompetent younger brother of Vizka Longtooth, who dub him “Orful Stink” and bring him back to their ship. Here he befriends Gorath, and they escape the Sea Raiders together, and finally manage to stumble their way back to the Abbey. Under the competent care of Infirmary Sister Atrata, Gorath loses his head scab and comes away with a flame-shaped scar, but his recovery is hampered by his struggles with the Bloodwrath.

Elsewhere, Maudie meets the Guosim shrews and makes herself so useful to them that they want to keep her (which is, funnily enough, exactly what Orkwil wanted to do when he was still plotting to get himself adopted by an entirely fictional family of woodlanders). In exchange for her services as a temporary chef, she asks Log a Log Luglug to take her to Redwall, and he agrees. Their idyllic journey takes an unexpectedly violent turn when they are almost waylaid by Kurdly and his Brownrats. They get a brief respite from a family of otters led by Barbowla Boulderdog and his wife Kachooch, but this, too, ends when shrews, otters, and hare are forced to flee the Brownrats with the help of a squirrel called Rangval the Rogue. While most of their party reaches the safety of the Abbey, Luglug and Maudie stay back to find a naughty runaway shrewbabe, and are caught by the rats. Luglug is killed during their dramatic getaway, leaving his son Osbil as the new Log a Log of the Guosim. Shortly after arriving at Redwall, Maudie sees Gorath and recognizes him as the badger she was sent to find.

The situation at the Abbey seems bad at first, but early fears that the vermin might team up prove entirely unfounded: the Sea Raiders get off to a terrible start with the Brownrats, and the two groups become so openly hostile that the Redwallers begin to hope they’ll finish each other off. Things get even worse – at least from the Brownrats’ point of view – when Gruntan gets himself killed while raiding a swan’s nest, leaving the dimwitted rats leaderless and unable to think for themselves. As the Sea Raiders and Brownrats warily circle each other, the Redwallers are joined by an elderly badger calling himself the Tabura (a title used by badger scholars) and his ward, a gentle badgermaid named Salixa. Knowing that Gorath must avenge his grandparents, the Tabura advises him to leave the Abbey to hunt Vizka down, but also cautions him against letting his Bloodwrath run wild. Salixa goes with him, and, besides being a calming influence, turns out to be a competent slinger.

Meanwhile, the nasty-tempered water vole, who was dragged into the fight and later adopted by the Redwallers, wears out his welcome and is expelled from the Abbey. His overwhelming sense of entitlement drives him to steal the sword of Martin the Warrior on his way out the door in recompense for the knife he lost during the earlier scramble, but his clumsy theft quickly takes a darker turn when he murders Sister Atrata before she can raise the alarm. Enraged by both the murder and the theft of the sword, Maudie, Orkwil, and Rangval set out to track the water vole down and recover the sword, but he dies long before they find him. The sword passes from the water vole to one of the Sea Raiders to Vizka himself, leaving a bloody trail as each successive owner is murdered by the next. After many a ‘nanigan, the three trackers run into Gorath and Salixa in time to help them defend themselves against the surviving Sea Raiders and Brownrats, who joined forces after Gruntan’s death. Their numbers are bolstered first by a small force of shrews and otters, then by a much larger force of woodland creatures led by Orkwil and Abbot Daucus.

Seeing the tide of the battle turning against him, Vizka tries to flee with his few remaining Sea Raiders, but is caught and killed by Gorath in a brutal showdown. With Mossflower rid of both Sea Raiders and Brownrats, Maudie loads the two badgers and her Redwall friends into the Bludgullet and sails them all to Salamandastron to report the success of her mission to Lord Asheye. Asheye is first elated to meet his successor and then bummed to realize that he is prophesied to die come autumn (I suppose he was picturing himself dropping dead the minute the leaves started to turn), but his depression turns to joy when he learns that his long-lost brother, the Tabura, is alive and well in Redwall Abbey. After stepping down, he travels to Redwall to spend his final seasons with his brother, thus fulfilling the prediction that he will never be seen at Salamandastron again. Gorath and Salixa start their new lives as the Lord and Lady of the mountain, and later have a daughter, Rowanbloom. The story ends with Rowanbloom eagerly anticipating her first visit to Redwall, where she will spend time with Asheye and the Tabura.

This is another book I didn’t remember at all, but I was pleased to find that the story is far tighter than it was in High Rhulain. I didn’t question the purpose of specific plot points, though I could have done without the theft of Martin’s sword, which felt rather last-minute and didn’t integrate with the rest of the story as smoothly as I would have liked. I wish the nasty water vole had been cut, or just that Orkwil’s journey had been handled with a more pointed irony. After the magpies, I thought his arc was going to be one endless comedic loop of him running into robber after robber after robber, and I was disappointed when he was only robbed once. I’m also not sure how I feel about Gorath’s arc. This is the first Redwall book to try to address the mental health angle of the Bloodwrath, in that the Bloodwrath has historically not been an indication that its bearer is in a great frame of mind, so I guess yay Gorath? If he can tap into his raw power without sacrificing his mind, that’s great and I’m happy for him. I think Salixa is a good influence on him, and I’m glad she’s there to show him a healthier path. But I also love the Badger Lords with their red-eyed wrath, and Gorath’s journey is just a little too cleanly resolved. These things don’t go away overnight. I don’t care if Martin the Warrior got involved, I’m not buying that the Bloodwrath can just stop on a dime if you only have enough willpower. (Loamhedge vibes, anybody? This isn’t the first time Jacques has tried to suggest that willpower conquers all, though to his credit he did try to integrate a more therapy-based approach in this case.)

On the other hand, I really loved Maudie’s journey from scrappy little nobody to regimental Colonel Cook and Caterer. Hell, I just love Maudie, who is hilarious and good-hearted and perilously brave, and definitely will not hesitate to start throwing hands if somebody criticizes her cooking. (I mean, that’s really on the fools who tried to offer her unsolicited feedback. It’s not her fault she had to punch a couple of them in the snoot.) She has to grow up so much during her travels, but she’s never obnoxious and she always does exactly what she thinks is right in the moment. I like her story better than the stories of comparable female characters – Dotti Dillworthy comes to mind, much as I love her – because she is never seen as helpless, frail, ladylike, or any of the other adjectives that frequently plague the other Redwall maids. Even if they’re not treated as frail by the narrative (and they aren’t), their stories can still be frustrating because they are grossly underestimated by their fellow characters. Now obviously this is always a set-up to knock the more dudebro characters down a peg, and I’m here for it, but all the same, I love that Maudie never has to earn her place in any battle. Nobody tries to take her away from the fight or shield her eyes. She just shows up, and it is taken for granted that she has a seat at the table. Nor is her talent in the kitchen ever used against her; it is treated like an asset rather than a display of feminine weakness, and no one ever makes the mistake of thinking that she can’t do anything other than cook. It’s so good.

Unfortunately, the writing in this book has shot straight downhill. While it is less repetitive than it was in High Rhulain, it is somehow more grating because of its excessive use of comma splices. Seriously, these things are driving me insane. I really thought I was going to go full Bloodwrath if I saw just one more comma splice, which does not bode well for the final three books because I seem to remember them suffering from the same problem. I do have to admit that this is yet another intensely personal problem, because I, too, used to think comma splices were the way to go, and long story short I do believe I have comma splice trauma. This is part of the reason this book, like High Rhulain, doesn’t quite fit into the overall vibe of the series, despite a passage towards the end that tries (stylistically) to compare Gorath to Orlando the Axe. The writing style is too different, and it’s jarring and off-putting. If this sounds a bit harsh, I will point out that I change my mind quite a bit, at least when it comes to my own writing, and this might not be a permanent aversion. In a future version of the world, the wheel might turn once more; the sun might shine, pigs might fly, and I might open my heart to comma splices again. Until that day comes, however, I’m going to be sitting right here, wishing that the final Redwall books were written more like their predecessors.