The Redwall Series
You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers for the entire series. Every Redwall review can be found here.
2023 was quite the year, mostly because I finally did what I’ve been threatening to do since 2021 and reread the entire Redwall series. To be clear, I had previously read every book in the series, but I’ve never taken the whole thing back to back. And let me tell you: it isn’t necessary to read the books in any particular sequence because each installment is a standalone story, but it really enhances the experience. I am, of course, a nerd, so I love catching all the references to other stories and characters, particularly when we’re in one of the five sequential sets.
The Redwall series is a sweet, adorable, and sometimes shockingly violent chronicle of the history of Mossflower Woods and the amazing foods its inhabitants eat, complete with regional specialties. We have been west of the woods to pay our respects to Salamandastron, the dormant volcano that has served as a fortress for Badger Lords and their loyal hare warriors since time immemorial, and we have seen the northeast coast through our visit to Fort Marshank, ruled by a tyrant stoat. We see the beginnings of the redstone building that will become Redwall Abbey, a beacon for those who need shelter and a rich temptation for those in search of plunder, and we follow it through countless seasons as its community expands and evolves. While every book is its own self-contained story, a number of these stories overlap, and can be organized into five primary arcs. I’m sure I’m not the only lunatic to go through the series cover to cover with a fine-toothed comb, but as far as I know I am the only one sitting here talking about it, so let’s start by identifying the major timelines.
1. Martin the Warrior
Everything begins with the story of Martin, a northern warrior mouse who goes on to become one of the founders – and later the guiding spirit – of Redwall Abbey. You could technically argue that the series begins with Lord Brocktree, which precedes Martin’s era and goes into the founding of the Long Patrol, but, since that has nothing to do with the Abbey and the Abbey is kind of the point of the series, I’m not counting that. As the series goes on, Martin reaches the status of a god in Redwall lore, especially as his spirit continuously monitors his beloved Abbey and reaches out to selected characters in times of crisis. During his arc, however, he is still an ordinary mouse with a killer sword.
Depending upon your sorting criteria, you could also include Outcast of Redwall, which doesn’t fit into any other arc: Martin is long gone, but he is still alive in the memory of Bella of Brockhall, who far outlives her friends from Mossflower.
2. Abbot Saxtus
This is, in my opinion, the dullest of the five arcs. Looking at it again, I have no idea why I thought the Saxtus arc dragged on forever. It certainly has a lot fewer books than I was expecting. I obviously have gone on at significant length about my grievances with these books and will not repeat them here, but Saxtus is a dull fellow. Dandin isn’t particularly interesting either, which should come as no surprise given that I have never been invested in the family Gonff.
3. Matthias the Warrior
I love Matthias.
4. Abbess Tansy
The Long Patrol remains one of the best books in the series by far, but I have to admit that this arc mostly just makes me impatient for the next arc.
5. Lady Cregga
MY FAVORITE. 100000000/10, I have no notes, this arc is perfect, or it would be if Cregga didn’t bloody die. Nevertheless, Lady Cregga Rose Eyes is one of the best and most memorable characters in the series. I am so glad we get to see her murder vermin even after she’s lost her sight. It’s a bit inconvenient, but it doesn’t slow her down one bit. She can still cut a bitch, or a searat.
Sequence of Books + Recommendations
I suspect I would have found this series nearly as overwhelming as the Discworld series if I had come to it as an adult. However, since I discovered it as a child and grew up reading it, all I can say to anybody experiencing Redwall-related confusion is buck up. That being said, I do love making lists and I’m great at making tables, so I have three possible TBRs for the ambitious reader who wishes to familiarize themselves with the entire series.
Now: This is a 22-book series, which is a pretty hefty commitment. I bought the entire series as a matching set on Amazon because I happen to have a job, a credit card, and zero self-control. However, Redwall books are pretty easy to find at secondhand stores, though obviously it’ll take a lot longer to get all the books together, and they also tend to be library staples. I do feel obligated to mention that my copies are reprints published by Firebird, and whoever was editing these things was making too much money for the job they did. There are typos and continuity errors, some more major than others – my favorite is still Killconey the ambiguously gendered ferret – and High Rhulain has The Bellmaker‘s spine. As far as I know that’s the only mistake on the covers, but that is seriously embarrassing for whoever was on QC duty.
NOTE 1: If you only want to try one book to see if you like the vibe of the series I would start with Redwall and Mossflower yes both of them MARTINDAMMIT I AM MAKING MYSELF WANT TO READ THESE THINGS AGAIN
NOTE 2: For the time-strapped, the cash-strapped, or the merely impatient, I don’t actually recommend every book in the series. My favorites are marked in the publication column with an asterisk. I will recommend reading all of the books for the purposes of completeness. I do not recommend High Rhulain under any other circumstances.
NOTE 3: Do not read these books while you’re hungry.
All in all, and despite the obnoxious disappointment that was High Rhulain, this was time and money well spent. I love this series, and it has held up reasonably well. Unfortunately, adulthood has a way of ruining things, as I have noted in some of the individual reviews. I wasn’t expecting the series to be perfect, which it certainly isn’t; even so, I don’t care for the consistent and automatic villainization of the vermin characters. I get that children tend to prefer clear morals and value judgments – good vs. evil, love vs. hate – but providing an unambiguous villain is not the same as saying that all vermin are evil. While there are vermin who are not evil, such as Blaggut and Romsca, these are few and far between, and the vast majority of the verminous races are unequivocally accepted as inherently bad. Even when the good Redwallers take in down-on-their-luck vermin, as they do from time to time, this rarely works out, and usually ends with at least one of the adopted vermin doing something flagrantly wicked. This got particularly bad in Outcast of Redwall, which is in some ways one of the weakest books in the series, though it is redeemed by the presence of Sunflash and Skarlath. Now if only Skarlath hadn’t fucking died.
And, though this became less intrusive as Jacques really leaned into the animals-only world of Mossflower, the physical scale of the world is not clear. Sometimes the animals seem like they’re the size they would be in our world; other times they seem like they’re supposed to be human-equivalent, the way they are in the Shady Hollow series. I am satisfied with the explanation created by myself and my brother – that is, that the animals are animal-sized but living in a world that is itself sized as if the animals were human-equivalent – but this is almost certainly not what Jacques intended. I think it is more likely that the animals were animal-sized to start with but gradually became more and more human, at least as far as the scale goes, as Jacques wrote more stories and published more books.
This shift is also apparent in the lifespans of the animals, which seem closer to human lifespans, even as the characters move away from the Christian undertones of Redwall and begin to embrace Martin the Warrior as an in-universe deity. Time in this series is measured by season, but each season is treated more like a year. Passage of time is not one of Redwall’s greatest strengths, which is understandable considering all of Jacques’s energy seems to have gone into the epic Redwall feasts consumed on an almost daily basis. (Which, you know, I’m not mad about.) Still, I would have liked some sense of the amount of time between books and the animals’ longevity, particularly the badgers. Google tells me wild badgers have been known to live up to 14 years, but this is an outlier, and the average is closer to four to five years. This would mean a lifespan of 16 to 20 seasons for the average badger who is not Never-Say-Die-Cregga. Meanwhile, wild mice live an average 12 to 18 months, which would mean a lifespan of about four seasons. So how long do any of these characters live, exactly? The animals talk about “countless seasons” having passed, but it has never been clear to me if this is supposed to mean 20 years or 100. And if they have been bopping around for centuries, shouldn’t their technology have updated at least a little bit?
The funny thing is that I know I don’t mean that, even as I’m typing it. I don’t want a single thing to change in this world. I want these animals to live sweet, happy, completely sustainable lives, enhanced by some truly amazing food. Every now and then they have some problems with vermin invasions, but overall they’ve got it pretty much made. I don’t want them to start building cities, discovering electricity, inventing personal technology. They are perfect the way they are. A while ago I said I didn’t care if I was in for 22 identical stories with identical characters, and I stand by that. It’s true that the stories are all largely the same, with different struggles and a few names changed. But that doesn’t bother me, because I come to the Redwall series for the comfort of knowing exactly what I’m going to get. I will read about mushroom pasties with onion gravy for five straight feasts in a row. Give me what I already know, I love it. I will never get tired of it.
Ultimately, and despite some concerns I had earlier about Martin’s religious influence on the descendants of the original Redwallers (and my general antipathy towards organized religion), this series fucking slaps. It isn’t so much a lesson on the world of Mossflower as it is a stroll through history, side by side with a warrior mouse who never grows old in the hearts and minds of his spiritual descendants. I am so glad I finally sat down and reread it, and I am glad I was organized enough not only to write up my thoughts on each and every book, but to publish them all in the space of a year. If I am remembered for nothing else on the internet, let me be remembered for my unhinged rants about mice and badgers and hares and ferrets and searats and stoats and metaphysics, the keystones of a ’90s childhood. Let them say I lived in the time of Cregga, breaker of vermin. Let them say I lived in the time of Martin the Warrior.