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.

You ever get fed up with your own autofill spoiler mechanism? That has been my experience rereading this entire series, because these books are stuck good in my head and apparently I never forgot any of them. It’s like looking around corners with a mirror, only the spoiler mechanism is entirely involuntary, and I wish it would shut up and let me be surprised all over again. I was really, really, really hoping to buck the trend with Triss, which I thought I didn’t remember at all, but then I started reading it and found that I knew every twist, up to and including Plugg’s surprise amputation.

Triss dives deep into Redwall history with the discovery of Brockhall, the ancestral home formerly occupied by the family of Bella the Badger, abandoned during the construction of Redwall Abbey. It has lain quietly unoccupied while the Abbey has thrived over the seasons, and in the present day nobody ever has cause to think about it, though its existence is still generally known. In the absence of the woodlanders, Brockhall was taken over by the adder Berrussca and her three young children – Zassaliss, Harssacss, and Sesstra – who lived very happily until the day their home was invaded by the ferret king Sarengo and his crew of Ratguards. While Berrussca and Sarengo killed each other, the surviving Ratguards defected, along with Sarengo’s son, Agarnu, leaving the three young snakes orphaned and physically attached to each other by Sarengo’s mace and chain. With no other options, Zassaliss asserted dominance over his two siblings, and over time they have become a three-headed killing machine, though they are followed everywhere they go by the mace and chain, as well as the sweet, overpowering odor produced by their decomposing flesh.

In the present day, Agarnu has spent probably over half his life keeping as much distance between himself and Mossflower country as possible. After abandoning his father, he returned to his family’s fortress, from where he rules the remote northern island of Riftgard. The Royal House of Riftgard might have been larger at one point, but it is now limited to Agarnu and his two adult children, Prince Bladd and Princess Kurda. All three of them are so-called Pure Ferrets, pink-eyed and completely white-furred from their ears to the tips of their tails, but the resemblance ends there: Bladd takes after Agarnu in the fat/spoiled/lazy/useless departments, while Kurda is a gifted swordfighter made in the image of her cruel, bloodthirsty grandfather. Though the royal family does not keep any ships, they are served by their faithful Ratguards and an apparently endless supply of slaves – at least, they seem to be endless, based on Kurda’s willingness to slaughter them at random – and life on Riftgard is fairly idle if you happen to be a Pure Ferret. However, Agarnu has a deep, dark secret: he is not a true king, because Sarengo’s royal crown and pawring were lost during the ill-fated trip to Mossflower.

Wanting to solidify his rule, Agarnu orders the slaves to build a little ship to carry Kurda and Bladd to Mossflower, where they will retrieve both crown and pawring. His carefully laid plans come to ruin on the day of the launch, when a squirrel slave named Trisscar (“Triss”) escapes her death sentence and steals the ship with the help of her friends, Shogg the otter and Welfo the hedgehog. Stumped by their lack of a navy, the ferrets hire the Freebooting ship Seascab, captained by the fox Plugg Firetail, and set out in pursuit of the runaways. Unfortunately, Kurda and Plugg hate each other upon first acquaintance, and they spend almost literally the rest of their lives trying to undermine each other. While they bicker their way across the sea, Triss, Shogg, and Welfo struggle to survive aboard a ship with no food or water. They get a lucky break when they wash up on the shores of the aptly named Peace Island, where they are taken in by a community of friendly hedgehogs. The gentle Welfo decides to stay on Peace Island, but Triss and Shogg are driven by their promise to return to Riftgard to free the rest of the slaves, and, after an emotional goodbye, they continue on their way, dodging Kurda and Plugg the entire time.

Meanwhile, the young badger Sagaxus (“Sagax”) – son of Lord Hightor and Lady Merola of Salamandastron, and six-times-great-grandson of Lord Russano the Wise – runs away from Salamandastron in the dead of night, along with his best friend, the hare Bescarum “Scarum” Lepuswold Whippscut. With the help of sea otter Kroova Wavedog, they take to the sea in the Stopdog, named in honor of the searats hollering, “Stop, dog!” while Kroova was stealing their ship. The plan is to visit Redwall Abbey and then return to Salamandastron after a season or so, but their own inexperience leads to their capture by Plugg’s crew. Following an unsuccessful negotiation session, they are rescued by Triss and Shogg, and the five of them flee into Mossflower Woods. Though the vermin attempt to rally, the recapture mission does not go particularly well: the already strained relationship between the Riftgarders and the Freebooters grows more hostile when Plugg loses his magnificent tail to a sharpened stake planted in the River Moss by Kroova and Shogg, and finally hits its breaking point when a harebrained attempt to burn down the gates of Redwall ends with Bladd getting a cauldronful of boiling oatmeal dropped onto his head. The dramatic showdown between Kurda and Plugg is cut short when Plugg is carried off by the Brockhall adders, but this is not without its benefits: though she has only the briefest glimpse of the snakes, Kurda sees enough to realize that the middle snake is wearing Sarengo’s crown.

While the vermin struggle, Triss and her friends are welcomed into the Abbey, where they learn that Triss’s arrival has been foretold by the spirit of Martin the Warrior. As Martin’s chosen successor, Triss is allowed to take his sword with her when she and a party of Redwallers set out to track down the surviving vermin. What started as a quest to recover three slaves turns into a full-blown war against the snakes as both woodlanders and vermin close in on Brockhall, albeit for different reasons. Surrounded and badly outnumbered, the adders are killed by Shogg, Sagax, and Triss, while Kurda and two of her rats sneak out the back, abandoning the rest of the vermin. Victory is, as always, bittersweet: Shogg was bitten by Zassaliss during the melee, and he dies shortly after the battle. The grieving Triss quickly catches up with Kurda and challenges her to single combat, but even this is taken from her when Kurda falls on her own broken sword. With the threat to the Abbey neutralized, Triss embarks upon her next journey, this time accompanied by a handful of Redwallers, and by Sagax, Scarum, and Kroova. After a brief visit to Salamandastron, where they are joined by twenty Long Patrol hares, they set sail for the north to end the House of Riftgard for good. Finally, with the Pure Ferrets gone and all of her friends free to live as they choose, Triss returns to Mossflower and settles down as the Warrior of Redwall.

Rereading Redwall in general has been a rollercoaster between wanting to read each book quickly while also wishing they would last longer. I could not get enough of Triss, and I wish it had been about a hundred pages longer. Triss herself is such a lovable heroine, and she is backed by a solid cast. I love Sagax’s arc, and, as usual, I love all of the otters, particularly the current Skipper, who is directly descended from the Taggerung. That’s not to say that I loved every character, which I didn’t – Redwallers Malbun and Crikulus mostly came across as rude and thoughtless, as did Scarum, though he grew on me slowly – but the story hooked me from the beginning. I can’t say I really buy into the general premise that an inexperienced character can pick up the sword of Martin and automatically become a skilled warrior, but who’s to say that the sword doesn’t come with a built-in training program? Even if the auto-expert thing is a little questionable, I am more than ready to accept that Martin’s spirit guides the sword during times of need.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean Triss is free from criticism, because the continuity is getting progressively worse. I swear the map changes with every book, which is slightly irksome when the geography should be the easiest thing to keep consistent from book to book. A trip from the Abbey to the river ford (or vice versa), which in Taggerung takes about a day, is accomplished in a matter of minutes in Triss. This would be more forgivable if the book didn’t also have trouble with its own internal consistency. One of the biggest puzzles in the book is the unique writing system used by the Royal House of Riftgard, but, though the Riftgard script is not supposed to be used anywhere else in the world, it is for some reason carved into the stone that opens the back entrance of Brockhall. While it is possible that the carvings were made by Sarengo, this seems unlikely, given that his purpose was to plunder Brockhall. Stopping to carve entrance instructions on the door is a bizarre move for a burglar. Thus, it is more likely that the carvings were made by the badgers who built Brockhall, but, again, this makes no damn sense.

Am I being overly critical because I am upset that Shogg dies in an unfamiliar land just when his life was taking a turn for the better? Probably. I hate that he doesn’t get to participate in the liberation of the slaves. I hate that he and Kroova meet so briefly and are separated so quickly. I hate that he never gets to enjoy his hard-won freedom, and I really hate that I saw it coming. (See also: autofill spoiler mechanism. Speaking of that mechanism, I am also annoyed that it reminded me that Plugg was going to lose his tail; and it is the same mechanism that mixed me up when I read Salamandastron, because I was remembering Sagax’s runaway scene but attributing it to Mara instead of Sagax, and I was confused when it didn’t happen.) I will never not be salty over this death, which ultimately seems pointless, and I really think Shogg deserved better.

Yet even with all my bitterness over Shogg’s ending, this book was one of the easiest five stars in the Redwall series to date, and that’s really saying something. I think it might actually have supplanted Lord Brocktree as my all-time favorite Redwall book. This is a pretty surprising upset, given that Lord Brocktree has been my uncontested favorite almost since the dawn of man, but tastes do tend to shift over time. In a way I’m glad. It has been so many years since I read this series properly, and it was long past time for a change.