The Rogue Crew
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.
The Rogue Crew in a nutshell: Wearats are back. Nobody is happy about this.
Well, okay, it’s one Wearat. It’s unclear where he comes from, but Wearats as a species are supposed to be a demonic cross between weasels and rats and there aren’t too many of them, so if this particular Wearat isn’t related to the ones in Mattimeo and Loamhedge I’ll eat my hat.
Anyhoo, the Wearat of the week is Razzid Wearat, a trident-wielding sadist who – as is usually the case with vermin overlords – is loathed by his entire crew. His operation is headquartered on the Isle of Irgash in the warm southern seas, but he also has a ship named Greenshroud, with which he plunders Mossflower Country during a period later known as the Winter of Slaughter. After racking up both the booty and the kills, he sets his narrow eyes upon the High North Coast against the earnest advice of his seer, the vixen Shekra. Unfortunately for Razzid, the High North Coast is the home of the Rogue Crew, a clan of sea otter warriors led by Skor Axehound. Following a soul-crushing defeat, Razzid’s crew flees with their ship in literal flames and limps back to Irgash Isle, and that might have been that if Razzid hadn’t been almost fatally burned in the ship fire, or if Shekra had just had the good sense to smother him with a pillow. But, since she doesn’t, he recovers in time to observe that the ferret Braggio Ironhook has been busily resurrecting and upgrading the Greenshroud in an ambitious plan to usurp Razzid’s throne. Upon the completion of the ship, Razzid murders Braggio in front of the entire crew and reclaims his spot as the captain of the Greenshroud, making him the first creature in Redwall history to own a ship with wheels. With the memory of Skor Axehound still fresh in his mind, he sets out to avenge himself against the otters but later abandons this plan when Shekra manipulates his crew into setting their sights on Redwall Abbey, where they are confident they can murder their way into a comfortable retirement.
The presence of the vermin is first felt by Salamandastron when the Greenshroud takes to the land, using its wheels to mow down four young Long Patrol cadets in the dead of night. Lacking a navy with which to bring the vermin to justice, Badger Lady Violet Widestripe sends Captain Rake Nightfur, a black-furred, claymore-wielding hare, as an envoy to negotiate with Skor Axehound for naval support. (All right, not every black-furred creature is female. But they are still badasses.) Meanwhile, a young hedgehog named Uggo Wiltud – who frequently gets in trouble for stealing food, most recently a giant fruitcake that gave him indigestion – suffers vivid dreams of a ship with a green sail, but nobody in the Abbey is ready to believe him except Dorka Gurdy, the otter Gatekeeper. Recognizing the sigil of the Wearat, which Uggo saw emblazoned on the sail in his dream, Dorka consults with her brother Jum, who assures her (and a number of others) that the last known Wearat was killed by Skor Axehound. Just to confirm the Wearat’s death, he sets out from the Abbey to double-check his story with his Uncle Wullow, unaware that Wullow has been murdered by Razzid and his crew. As a character-building exercise, he drags Uggo along with him, but they don’t get far before Uggo is abducted by a local vermin gang. The only bright spot is that he meets a pretty hedgehog named Posybud (“Posy”), who was enslaved by the vermin earlier, and the two become fast friends, though Uggo can’t seem to shake his habit of giving up when the going gets tough.
The little hedgehogs’ situation gets better when Jum rescues them with the help of a quartet of seals, then exponentially worse when they are captured by Razzid’s crew. At this point in his conquest, Razzid is thoroughly lost, and he and his minions keep having to stop and ask for directions. Worse, his crew are mutinous, and only the promise of the Abbey is keeping them in line, as they plan to dispose of Razzid once they’re safely in charge of the Abbey. Their chance encounter with an actual Abbeydweller seems like a godsend until Uggo and Posy escape and make their way inland, finding assistance and shelter with the Fortunate Freepaws, a roving group of peaceful woodlanders led by a word-loving squirrel named Rekaby. Together with a couple of other Freepaws, including Swiffo, the youngest son of Skor Axehound, Rekaby introduces the hedgehogs to the local Guosim. Log a Log Dandy Clogs agrees to take Swiffo and the hedgehogs to the Abbey, but their travel plans are completely upended when the Greenshroud sails up the River Moss in the middle of the night, following directions from alcoholic hedgehog Drogbuk Wiltud, and massacres the shrews. In the aftermath of the slaughter, the survivors – including Dandy, Swiffo, and the two hedgehogs – adopt Drogbuk following his sudden escape from the vermin, and proceed to the Abbey on foot. En route they run into Rake and the Long Patrol, who have joined forces with Skor and his eldest son, Ruggan. Together they all get mildly lost as they try to follow Drogbuk’s drunken directions themselves, and quickly run afoul of a gang of foxes, whose leader kills Swiffo before getting killed in his turn by Ruggan. Hungry, tired, and grieving, the group eventually stumbles out of the woods and up to the Abbey, though not – as they had originally planned – in time to warn the Redwallers about the vermin.
After all that drama and loss, the final confrontation is a bit of a downer. The vermin use their ship to break down the Abbey gates, but are met by the hares and otters. During the ferocious battle that follows, Razzid and his cook manage to sneak around the back and break into the kitchens, where Posy takes up the sword of Martin the Warrior and stabs Razzid before he can kill Uggo (yes, really). When Razzid still fails to die, Jum turns up in time to break Razzid’s skull, thereby avenging the murder of his Uncle Wullow. Rake and Skor are disappointed to learn that Razzid died without their help, but they console themselves by fixing up the Greenshroud, renamed the Posy Gurdy in honor of Razzid’s killers, and then using it to carry them around the countryside while they hunt down the remains of Razzid’s scattered horde. Their mission completed, they return to Salamandastron, where they present Lady Violet with their new ship. In her later writings, Violet notes that she has formed a permanent alliance with the Rogue Crew, the better to protect both the shores and the seas. Skor and Violet have taken joint ownership of the Posy Gurdy: the Rogue Crew runs it on the sea, while the Long Patrol runs it on land. The book ends with a letter written by Father Abbot Thibb, thanking Salamandastron for its aid and inviting Violet and the Long Patrol to visit the Abbey.
So, final thoughts. This is the last book in the series, and, though I think The Sable Quean was better, The Rogue Crew still did quite well as an outro. The story is good, the characters are (for the most part) lovable, and the writing – though a little repetitive in places – is more of what I’m used to. However, I do think the pacing is a little off. In particular, I feel like some of the Long Patrol’s journey needed to be cut down. I didn’t really need the interlude with the matriarchal pygmy shrews, whose segment starts out funny but quickly descends into drugging, kidnapping, and domestic abuse. Swiffo’s death seems equally pointless, a quick diversion to add a couple of extra twists to the story. Nothing comes of his death, besides the dismemberment of the fox who killed him. What, then, was the purpose of killing him? Story-padding? For instant tragedy, just add blow darts?
I also find it odd that the Long Patrol and the Rogue Crew seem to lose their sense of urgency during the final leg of their travels. They start out in such a hurry to get to Redwall, but after a while they forget they’re supposed to be rushing and start taking their time, at one point stopping completely to interrupt a vermin feast. What happened to getting ahead of the vermin and warning the Redwallers? Other Redwall books have been watertight, but this one meanders more than it should. I don’t really see the point in all the Wiltuds who keep popping up like daisies, especially Twoggs Wiltud, who first warns the Abbey – in verse, because her warning was ghostwritten by Martin the Warrior – that danger is coming. Martin’s warnings have always been a bit arbitrary, but in this case I have no idea why he imparted his message to somebody who didn’t even live in the Abbey. Perhaps he was going for the dramatic effect; perhaps Uggo’s dreams were actually a warning from Martin, but he lost patience and switched to another messenger when Uggo was ignored. I don’t know, and Martin never explains himself.
As long as I’m pulling the book apart, I could do without Uggo, who is an aggravatingly stupid little beast when he wants to be. Will he never outgrow his need to be carried by everybody else? As much as I love this series, I’m kinda over the young-hedgehog-me-lad-who-needs-to-be-improved trope. (It’s always hedgehogs. Why is it always hedgehogs?) Not only that, but he remains a whiny, thoughtless quitter for most of the book, and is never decisively shown to have improved, like, at all. Even his one shot at glory ends when he drops the sword of Martin and almost gets himself killed by Razzid, right before Posy shoves the sword through Razzid’s back. During the introductory chapters I thought Abbot Thibb was a bit of a dick, given that he is the first Abbot in Redwall history to call one of his creatures stupid, but I get it now. And, while we’re on the subject of Thibb, the book never fully decides if he’s a squirrel or a mouse, and I am so done with the shitty editing in this series. He is introduced as a squirrel but is later mistaken for a mouse when he dresses up as Martin the Warrior, which would have been fine if he weren’t also referred to as “mousey” by one of his allies. This means that either everybody needs new eyeballs or Thibb undergoes a species change midway through the book. I mean, you can never tell with squirrels these days.
As to the villain: he’s fine. I think his journey, not unlike the Long Patrol’s, took too long; it takes him forever to get to Redwall, and his story is mostly fear and loathing aboard the Greenshroud. Unlike with previous installments, however (I’m looking at you, Bellmaker), there are solid motives connecting the heroes to the villain. There is a slight echo of Mariel of Redwall, in that there’s a long line of characters fighting over the opportunity to unalive Razzid. I didn’t remember this book particularly well and thus was hoping for an explosive showdown, which made the reality of Razzid’s death that much more disappointing. Sure, Jum has a loved one to avenge just as much as Rake and Skor do. But the thing is, Razzid’s death happens so fast and is witnessed by so few that it doesn’t really seem like an ending. Other books – Triss, for instance – have made use of a secondary villain or villains, who plays off the primary villain and gives the story a more rounded feel, but The Rogue Crew doesn’t provide one unless you count Shekra, which I don’t. She is never a serious rival for Razzid’s power, because he controls her so easily and puts down her attempted rebellion without breaking a sweat. After she gets caught, she goes on serving him like usual and doesn’t raise a fuss. Later she dies anonymously, one of many casualties in the final battle for Redwall. There is no flashy, showy end for her, and the time of the Wearat just quietly fizzles out.
My final, final thought: I have previously wished for a reformed vermin living peacefully among the woodlanders, which sort of had the potential to happen in Salamandastron and then got so close I could smell it in Pearls of Lutra. It appears I am destined to be permanently frustrated, because we almostalmostalmost saw this happen in The Rogue Crew, but we never got to see the results. I am referring specifically to the ferret Voogal, who is captured by the Long Patrol and eventually adopted by the Fortunate Freepaws. The last we see of him, Rekaby is promising that he will take him in and try to turn him around; then they both disappear and we never find out if Rekaby succeeded or not. This is a bit of a sore spot because I love Rekaby, an endearing SAT vocab nut, and I would have liked to see more of him and his vermin bootcamp. I am also disappointed with the disappearance of the cheerful stoat Crumdun, who has been head-trauma’d out of whatever brains he was born with but doesn’t seem like such a bad fellow. I’d even call him lovable, because he doesn’t try to hurt anybody and quickly comes to like his Long Patrol captors, who feed him regularly and treat him kindly. I’m glad that he manages to get himself to a place where he can live in peace, but would it really have been so terrible to bring him into the Abbey, or to rehome him with the Freepaws? Could I not have had just one vermin successfully integrate with the woodlanders? Why does there have to be such an unbridgeable gap between woodlanders and vermin when the drive of the series has always been friendship, forgiveness, and inclusion?
In conclusion – for the series as a whole as much as for this one particular book – there are certainly elements that have aged more poorly than others, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that Jacques has pulled off a remarkable feat. This remains one of the best, most consistent series I have ever read. While a lot of this admittedly has to do with my nostalgia for a far simpler time, this shouldn’t be taken as a strike against my judgment. If anything, I find that I now understand the books better, and I am glad I came back to this series as an adult. I am glad I didn’t let my preteen self have the last word on any of the books I disliked as a child. If there are some things that I wish could be better, there are more things that I still love as much as I did when I first picked up the series in middle school. The world of Redwall has such a comfortable, spellbinding quality to it, a magic that beckons me in as surely as the Matthias and Methuselah bells welcome all friends, both new and old. So what if the books take up 22 spaces on my shelf? I wouldn’t give up a single one of them for the world.