It may behoove you to read the previous book in this series, Mattimeo
One thing I’ve noticed about Brian Jacques is that he’s not afraid of strong female characters, and in fact Mariel of Redwall was the first book of the Redwall series to feature a female lead, but it is certainly not the last (as we shall eventually see).
I never cared for Mariel of Redwall when I was a young boy. Perhaps it was because the sword-wielding Dandin plays consistent second fiddle to the knotted-rope-swinging Mariel, which I thought was decidedly lame. Everybody knows the formula, I thought, for such fantasy tales: the sword-wielding male is always the lead, and the attractive female with the weak bludgeoning weapon is always in the back, providing both a romantic interest and a physical foil to the strong males.
I can appreciate the story more this time around, and for several reasons. First of all, I’m not so blinkered and pig-ignorant as to only care about males swinging large swords1 in my stories anymore. Second, Jacques is really starting to develop his archetypes for hares, who in the Redwall universe are fearsome warriors that serve the badger lord of Salamandastron; they have tremendous appetites, talk with exaggerated British accents, and get more flippant the more worried that are. Since Jacques tends to favor mice as the main warriors in his stories, the hares are usually relegated to a supporting role, but Redwall books are really made by an ensemble cast, and Mariel of Redwall really starts to see that develop—Jacques fleshes out his archetypes, however circumscribed, and builds out the history of Redwall. This story takes place before the eponymous book and sometime after Mossflower. The “Joseph Bell” of the original novel is in Mariel… being shipped to its original owner, Rawnblade the badger lord, when it and its maker, Joseph the Bellmaker (not the mention his daughter Mariel), are captured by searats led by the fearsome Gabool. Various and sundry plots turns happen which eventually led a beleaguered Mariel to Redwall Abbey, where she befriends a number of the more petulant inhabitants and adventures with them to find her lost father and kill Gabool.
It’s all rather standard Redwall fare at this point, really, the exception being that (a) the main character is a woman (mouse) and (b) alert readers can really see Jacques’ art improving, this book no exception. One change that I’ve noticed is that the “quest” portion of the book (in this as well as in Mattimeo) takes up far more focus than the “homefront” portion—that is, when searats attempt to invade Redwall Abbey, just as when an army of ravens tried in the previous book, this plot thread is almost an afterthought. There are always a certain number of warriors in Redwall, despite its ostensibly peaceful mission, and they always manage to fend off the schemes and tricks and direct onslaughts of the invading army with, it seems, very little effort. This is in stark contrast to the original Redwall, when the invasion was not only dire, but front and center, forming the greater part of the narrative. Jacques tries, I think, to create more complex stories, but inevitably ends up dividing the same constant mass of plot among more parts, diluting the efficacy of each.
Don’t take that as too harsh a criticism: Mariel of Redwall is not only a good book in its own right, but another strong step in a long, progressive evolution of Jacques’ writing and the Redwall canon. I recommend this as strongly as I recommend the rest, even if I prefer others to this one, relatively speaking.
- Granted, this was the crux of my interest in Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII[↩]