Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review: Martin the Warrior

Martin the Warrior, by the late Brian Jacques, is chronologically second in the Redwall saga, following Lord Brocktree.  Of all the Redwall books I've read, I think in this one Jacques was exploring more advanced themes than in his typical work.  There are few of the wordplay puzzles and archetypal quests that draw young readers into his other books; instead, it is a tale of slavery and resistance, a serious meditation on the evils of war and vengeance, and definitely closer to a tragedy than a comedy, even with the light and humorous characters that populate it.

The story follows the hero mouse Martin, a natural leader, as he follows the painful path of a hero in his attempt to defeat the evil stoat Badrang, reclaim the stolen sword of his father Luke, and free his enslaved friends.  Along the way he meets Felldoh the squirrel, Brome and his sister Rose of Noonvale, and the faithful mole Grumm.  Badrang has troubles of his own trying to recapture the escaped slaves and hold onto the fortress of Marshank while Clogg, his old enemy, threatens to take it over.  There's also a troupe of travelling actors, a kind-hearted cartographic owl, and dangerous cannibal lizards, among many others.  The book suffers a little from a cast of thousands approach, so that it's hard to remember all the characters, but you can be sure they all have a role to play before the end.  This is an approach that will appeal to children who are proficient readers and enjoy exhaustive detail in epic form.  Jacques was inspired to become an author by reading the great epics, and he does not set the bar low for his readers.  Younger children can enjoy it as a read-aloud, as with all the Redwall books.  Especially if the reader can do the moles and other voices well!

The story of Martin is a prehistory to the events of Mossflower, before the founding of Redwall Abbey.  It also sheds light on the character of Martin, both a driven and a reluctant warrior, and why the peaceful Abbey, when it is built, is a metaphor for all that is good in a dark world.  Jacques wrote many books in this series: if you're only going to read three, this should be the third after Redwall and Mossflower.  Or you can attempt the great Redwall race and read them in chronological order along with me.  I might finish in a few more years!

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