The Long Patrol
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.

I’m calling it right now: The Long Patrol is one of the best books in the Redwall series. I am so happy that this series has been holding up, and I am particularly pleased that this specific book is exactly as good as I remembered it being. As a more general note and yes I have spent actual time thinking about this, I have always thought that I would want to be a squirrel if I got dropped into the Redwallverse, but now I’m thinking I might have to change my answer to Badger Lord. Lady Cregga tends to have that effect.

The Long Patrol picks up several seasons after the events of Pearls of Lutra. The villain du jour is the Greatrat warlord Gormad Tunn, or it would be if he hadn’t marched his army, known as the Rapscallion horde, to the mountain of Salamandastron. Following a humiliating defeat at the paws of Lady Cregga Rose Eyes, so named for the Bloodwrath that turns her eyes pink, the Rapscallions give up on the damn mountain and find a quiet place to sulk. Gormad dies of his wounds, leaving his two grown sons – Damug Warfang and Byral Fleetclaw – as his heirs apparent. Per Rapscallion tradition, Damug and Byral are pitted against each other in a fight to the death over leadership of the horde, but Damug rigs the fight and emerges as the new Firstblade of all the Rapscallions. Determined to leave Salamandastron behind, he convinces the Rapscallions to burn their badly damaged fleet and seek their fortunes on land rather than by sea. The horde doesn’t get off to the best start, but Damug manages to get his way, though he also faces insurrection, incompetence, and attempted assassination from his officers. Eventually he sets his sights on Redwall Abbey, envisioning an easy target that will allow him to establish himself as a landed warlord, and begins to dream of renaming the Abbey “Fort Damug” and enslaving the woodland creatures. Meanwhile, Cregga sends out regular patrols in search of Gormad and his horde, but grows concerned when the Rapscallions fail to resurface. Knowing that 1,000 vermin are roaming the world unchecked, she sets out from Salamandastron at the head of an army of 500 hares, intent upon finding and destroying the surviving Rapscallions.

Several leagues removed from both Salamandastron and the Rapscallion horde, the young hare Tamello “Tammo” De Fformelo Tussock grows up longing to join the Long Patrol, the warrior hares who serve the Badger Lords of Salamandastron. He finally gets his chance when his mother convinces the squirrel Russa Nodrey to escort him to Redwall Abbey, where she knows he stands a decent chance of connecting with the Long Patrol. That meeting comes sooner than anyone expects, as Russa and Tammo run into one of Cregga’s Rapscallion-tracking patrols en route to the Abbey. Tammo’s dreams seem to come true when he meets the gallant Major Perigord Habile Sinistra and the pretty healer Pasque Valerian, but they also run into hard reality when he learns that actual war is a lot less romantic than he had originally thought. Nevertheless, he befriends the small patrol, whose members include giant Rockjaw Grang and con artist Midge Manycoats, and together they all continue on their way to Redwall. Their journey is pleasant in terms of company, but it is also marred by increasingly nasty incursions from a band of lost Rapscallions who were separated from the main horde in the immediate aftermath of Gormad Tunn’s ill-fated attack on Salamandastron. Their skirmishes end abruptly in one final battle, in which Russa gives her life to protect an orphaned badgerbabe from the marauding vermin. The grieving Long Patrol unofficially adopt the badgerbabe, whom they name Russano in Russa’s honor, and carry him with them all the way to the gates of Redwall.

Redwall is, of course, largely unchanged since Pearls of Lutra. Tansy Hedgehog, Craklyn Squirrel, and Viola Bankvole still serve as Mother Abbess, Abbey Recorder, and Infirmary Sister, respectively, though they are now middle-aged. Arven, who in the previous book was a mischievous squirrelbabe, has become the Abbey Warrior, while one of his best friends has become the new Foremole. While the Abbey was more isolated in the past, in the present day it is frequently visited by a rotating set of friends, from the Guosim shrews to the local otter crew to the hares of the Long Patrol. However, its current situation is not entirely ideal: the resident moles recently noticed that the Abbey’s south wall has begun to sink into the ground thanks to the underground remains of the lake that the woodlanders used to drown Kotir long before the Abbey even existed, and things only grew worse when a storm toppled a tree containing an irate Little Owl. The wall is now currently broken and still crumbling, and one of the kitchen cabinets has been turned into a temporary nursery by the displaced owl, Orocca, and her husband Taunoc, who – at the point that the Long Patrol arrive – have just become parents to the chicks Nutwing, Nutbeak, and Nutclaw. Amidst the cheerful chaos caused by the newly hatched chicks and the latest Redwall feast, Major Perigord warns the Abbey leaders of the Rapscallion threat and pledges himself and his hares to the Abbey’s defense.

Defending Redwall is easier said than done, but – with a little hint from the spirit of Martin the Warrior – Midge Manycoats realizes that he can redirect the Rapscallions’ trajectory by manipulating Damug Warfang. To this end, he and Tammo disguise themselves as vermin and infiltrate the Rapscallion camp, posing as fortune tellers. With Rockjaw Grang and Taunoc acting as messengers between himself, the Abbey, and the rest of the Long Patrol, Midge convinces Damug that a great victory awaits him if he bypasses the Abbey itself and instead faces its army on a pre-chosen field. Despite the success of their mission, Tammo and Midge just barely get away: they are almost caught by a gang of Rapscallions who aren’t quite as enchanted with their mystic act, and Rockjaw sacrifices himself to give them enough time to join the battle for Redwall. The odds appear to be stacked against the Redwallers during the first half of the battle, but their fortunes are completely reversed when Cregga and her army take the Rapscallions by surprise. While the Long Patrol and the woodlanders smash the vermin army to pieces, Cregga grabs Damug and drags him over the edge of a cliff, putting a decisive end to the line of Gormad Tunn.

In a journal entry after the main story, Craklyn reveals that Abbess Tansy commissioned a set of gold medals to be awarded to the surviving Redwall army, made from the treasure recovered from the ruins of Kotir; she also notes that the south wall is currently under repair, and that Cregga has become Redwall’s new Badger Mother, a position left vacant since the passing of Auma. The sword wounds Damug gave her have left her permanently blind, but she is learning to see through her other senses, and she has discovered a new purpose in raising and educating the baby Russano. (Believe it or not, Martin predicted this when he was giving the Redwallers heavy hints about the direction they should take with Damug and his horde. Actually, Martin was surprisingly straightforward in this book. Maybe he got tired of watching everyone struggle to decipher the obscure rhymes upon which he relied in earlier times of trouble. Or maybe he just got tired of my bitter complaints.) Several seasons after Craklyn’s epilogue, the adult Russano leaves Redwall with an escort of hares and travels to Salamandastron, where he is welcomed as the next Badger Lord.

I have really struggled to summarize this book and I’m not sure why, because it’s no more complex than any other Redwall book. Regardless, it remains one of my favorite books in the entire series, which is really saying something when so far each successive book has become my new favorite, except Outcast because fuck that book and maybe also The Bellmaker. Part of my love for this particular era of Redwall history stems from my overwhelming love for Cregga, both before and after she becomes Redwall’s most badass badgermum. Yes, she has a slight anger problem, but she’s still my favorite Badger Lord. I’m so glad I’ll get to see her again in Marlfox and Taggerung. I also adore Russa, who is one of my favorite squirrels, and I wish she had made it to the end; but on the other hand, she goes out in style and takes a bunch of vermin with her, and I can’t imagine her going any other way. I love Russano’s formal introduction at the end, in which he reveals that he carries Russa’s walking stick as his preferred weapon. His name and his weapon are such perfect tributes to her; I wouldn’t change them for the world.

If there is one thing I would have removed from the very crowded roster of Long Patrol characters – well, really more like two things – it is Lousewort and Sneezewort, two low-level rats in Damug’s horde. Lousewort is big and stupid and friendly and Sneezewort is small and stupid and mean, and I don’t think they really added much. I mean, I kinda like Lousewort, if “like” can be used as a synonym for “feel sorry for,” but the pair of them are so clearly there for comic relief that I feel like the story wouldn’t have suffered if they’d been swapped out for sexy lamps. Their story is one long comedy of errors, and it ends with them running for their lives after letting Tammo and Midge escape the Rapscallion camp. There really is no purpose to Lousewort’s sudden elevation to the title of Rapscour, or his struggles with Hogspit, a weasel Rapscour who bullies him mercilessly. I don’t even think they needed to be replaced by anything else; they’re just kind of a waste of space. I am also slightly uncomfortable with the tone of their relationship, which is supposed to be humorous but comes across as mean-spirited. I would have liked it better if Sneezewort had actually acted like a friend, rather than a tiny bully taking advantage of Lousewort’s equally tiny IQ.

Having said that, I don’t really care about Lousewort and Sneezewort, so their awkward relationship wasn’t enough for me to knock any stars off the book. My one real complaint, though it’s more of a cautionary note, is that you cannot read this book on a day you haven’t eaten anything unless starvation is the vibe you’re going for. I finished the book at two in the morning, which was an absolutely fucking terrible idea because I then spent the next thirty minutes looking up shrimp stew recipes on Pinterest. And of course this is a note that applies to most Redwall books, but this one was particularly hungermongering. Next thing you know I’ll actually be trying to make the watershrimp and hotroot soup those dang otters love so much. I have absolutely nothing to say in my own defense, except that the book made me do it, and – as usual – I’ll see you in the kitchen.