Mariel of Redwall
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.
Hell’s teeth. At this rate I’m not going to be able to point to my favorite Redwall books anymore, because I swear every book I reread becomes my new favorite. (With that being said: I’m coming for you, Lord Brocktree. I suspect you will still be my favorite. Well, one of them, anyway.) I am so glad I decided to reread the series in its entirety, because my childhood opinions of these books really did not do them justice. I have no idea why I remembered Mariel as dull, but it may be because I only read it once or twice.
Mariel of Redwall picks up midway between Mossflower and Redwall. The founders of the Abbey are long gone, and Redwall is mostly built, except for the belltower, which is still a work in progress; likewise the tapestry that will become the centerpiece of the Great Hall. In the present day, the Abbeydwellers are led by Abbot Bernard with assistance and advice from blind Simeon, an herbalist and healer, and badgermum Mother Mellus. At this point in Redwall history, the order of Redwall is still made up of mice, but the Abbey teems with other creatures, including otters, hedgehogs, moles, and squirrels. In the absence of either a belltower or a bell to go with it, the Redwallers make do with a hollow log, which is manned by Dandin, a young mouse directly descended from Gonff the Prince of Mousethieves. He was raised in the Abbey and grew up alongside his more serious friend Saxtus, also a mouse, and a number of other young creatures, including squirrels Rufe Brush and Treerose and hedgehog Durry Quill. Though Saxtus is more interested in scholarly pursuits, Dandin craves adventure, and finally gets his wish when a rough-looking mousemaid calling herself Storm Gullwhacker turns up at the Abbey gates.
Across the sea and far to the north, less pleasant developments are brewing. On the island of Terramort, the self-styled searat king Gabool the Wild holds sway over the current generation of searats. From his seat in Fort Bladegirt, he sends his crews on frequent expeditions for treasure, food, and slaves, but has a bad habit of skipping out on the bill. (Also, not sure why I was picturing him as small and fat when he’s supposed to be huge and fit.) His minions recently hijacked a ship called Periwinkle, which has since been renamed Crabclaw, and either killed or enslaved its crew members; and they also brought back the giant bell Periwinkle was supposed to deliver to Rawnblade Widestripe, badger lord of Salamandastron, along with its maker, a mouse named Joseph. Gabool is entranced by the bell and has been trying to coax Joseph into building him a belltower to go with it, but all such efforts have failed thus far, and he threw away his only leverage when he flung Joseph’s daughter Mariel into the sea with a heavy rope around her neck. When his final attempt falls flat, he grows tired of the game and pushes Joseph out a window, down to the sea below. This doesn’t come even close to solving his problems: the bell develops a distressing habit of ringing itself when nobody else is in the room, and Gabool’s captains simmer beneath his tenuous command. Mutiny finally erupts when the rat Graypatch steals the ship Darkqueen and escapes Terramort with a crew of other deserters, and, though Gabool keeps control of the remaining crews, his grip on reality begins to slide. As he descends into paranoid madness, the bell becomes almost like a living thing, driving him further from reality and alienating him from both minions and slaves alike.
Meanwhile, Mariel washes up on the shores of Mossflower country, but wakes up with her memory completely gone. Not knowing her name or where she came from, she names herself Storm and takes the rope that was knotted around her neck as her primary weapon, naming it Gullwhacker. She soon meets a trio of Salamandastron hares (Colonel Clary, Brigadier Thyme, and the Honorable Rosemary, affectionately called “Hon Rosie”), who hire an insanely paranoid squirrel named Pakatugg to escort her to Redwall Abbey. However, she and Pakatugg quickly fall out, and she makes the rest of the journey in the company of Tarquin L. Woodsorrel, another hare who was more or less banished from Salamandastron on account of his habit of warbling about his love for Hon Rosie. Though Mariel comes to love the peaceful Abbey, her buried memories are reawakened by an ominous poem recited by Saxtus, and, knowing that her father is still on Terramort, she sets out to rescue him. After a nightly visitation from the spirit of Martin the Warrior, Dandin joins her, bringing the sword of Martin, and Tarquin and Durry tag along as well. Their journey leads them all the way to the shores by Salamandastron, and then to the deck of the Waveblade, formerly commanded by Gabool’s captain Orgeye but unintentionally commandeered by Lord Rawnblade after he singlehandedly massacred Orgeye’s crew. Rawnblade has a few scores of his own to settle with Gabool, and he sails them all to Terramort. Here they unexpectedly meet up with Joseph, who survived his fall and co-founded the Terramort Resistance Against Gabool (Trag), recruiting slaves who either ran away or were discarded by the searats. They almost come to blows over which one of them should be allowed to personally kill Gabool, but the matter is taken out of their paws when Gabool is killed by Skrabblag, his own monstrous pet scorpion.
Back at the Abbey, the very peaceful summer is disrupted when Graypatch and his crew sail up to Mossflower Woods in search of a snug place to call home. They capture Pakatugg when he tries to steal from them and terrorize him into leading them to Redwall, but all their attempts to conquer the Abbey are thwarted by the Redwallers. Things get worse for the rats when Clary, Thyme, and Hon Rosie arrive: not only do they stymie the one effective strategy devised by the rats, they help the Redwallers steal the rats’ oarslaves. The matter is finally decided when the hares, knowing that they have no other way of driving off a hundred well-armed rats, embark on a suicide mission to kill as many rats as they can while the remaining slaves are escorted to Redwall by Rufe Brush, Treerose, and Oak Tom, another squirrel who lives in the area. Of the three hares, only Hon Rosie survives. While she is brought back to the Abbey, Graypatch splits his seventeen surviving rats into groups of six and sends them in different directions in the hopes of finding their abandoned ship and returning to the sea. This last desperate hope is pulled out of his claws when he is speared by a vengeful Oak Tom; the other rats, unaware of their leader’s death, wander into the more dangerous parts of the forest and are killed in other ways. None of them makes it out alive. With the rats out of the way and peace restored, the Redwallers clean up the Abbey in time to greet Mariel and Dandin as they return at the head of the Trag army, bringing with them the great bell that will come to be known as the Joseph Bell. Shortly after their return, Rufe Brush climbs up to the roof of the Abbey and straps the sword to the weathervane as directed by the spirit of Martin the Warrior, where it will remain until it is rediscovered in Salamandastron.
I really don’t know what was wrong with me when I estimated this as a two-star read. I loved this book. All of the Redwall books are woven with a skillful humor, but I think Mariel might be the funniest of the four that I’ve read so far. This is by far my favorite scene out of all of them:
“It was a tunnel! They got six slaves out through a stinkin’ tunnel!”
Bigfang strode about, nodding his head knowingly. “So, a tunnel, eh, mates – that’s how they did it. Prob’ly got some of those squirrels to do their diggin’ for them. I thought so!”
Graypatch grabbed Bigfang by the nose. Digging his claws in tightly, he twisted with cruel ferocity.
“Moles, muckhead, not squirrels! Moles, d’ye hear me?…Now up on yer claws, the lot o’ yer. Spread out an’ get searchin’. They can’t have gone far. I want ’em back, dead or alive!”
Clary, Thyme and Rosie appeared, just outside the clearing. “I say, slobberchops, you shouldn’t’ve twisted the poor chap’s hooter like that. He was right, we did use squirrels!”
Additionally, while the first three books featured exclusively male warriors, Mariel is the first female warrior to appear in the series, and she is a badass. I have read far too many books with female protagonists who were supposed to be smart but were actually quite stupid, and it makes a nice change of pace to have a female character who is as brash and impulsive as some of her male counterparts while still being smart as hell. If she sometimes leaps without looking or thinking, this isn’t blamed on her femininity: the male warriors do the same thing. In general I love Jacques’s characters, who are endearing without becoming soppy. They tend to fall into in-universe archetypes the more the series develops – the fate-ordained warrior (either male or female), the charming mole companion, the gentle-hearted Abbot or Abbess, the badgermum who can soothe a wailing Dibbun while twisting a searat into a pretzel, the smooth-talking butt-kicking hare, the roguish otter warrior – but I wouldn’t call them boring, even if they are a bit repetitive. The repetition does not bother me because this is exactly what I want from my Redwall books, and this is what keeps me coming back again and again. It’s pure comfort reading. I don’t care if I meet twenty-two otter Skippers, all of them exactly the same. I wouldn’t leave any of them out for the world.
Now: I have to admit that although I am looking forward to starting The Bellmaker, I am glad that there are a couple of books standing between us because I know Mellus is going to die the next time I see her and I am very unhappy about that. Badgermums should not be allowed to die. They should all live forever and ever and ever and make a little badgermum club that protects the Abbey and chases down naughty Dibbuns. (Speaking of Dibbuns, I would love to know how Jacques came up with that word, because it is adorable.) That’s still in the future, however, and in the meantime I’ll have Salamandastron and Martin the Warrior to keep me busy. I actually did reread Salamandastron more recently than any of the others, and I feel very confident saying it’ll probably be my least favorite until I get to Outcast of Redwall, though with the way this reread has been going who even knows anymore. I guess I’m about to find out.