It may behoove you to read the previous book in this series, Mariel of Redwall
Continuing a theme that’s been developing for a number of books now, Jacques takes parallel narratives to extremes in this latest installment of the famed Redwall series.
I think perhaps Salamandastron, the mountain inhabited by a Badger Lord and his army of hares, has been mentioned in just about every Redwall book so far. Jacques likes furious badger lords only slightly less than he likes warrior mice, apparently. But this is the most badger-focused novel yet, featuring no fewer than four simultaneously-living badgers, and several more historically. Unfortunately, while the hares are perhaps one of the most enjoyable races in Jacques’ universe, the badger/hare/Salamandastron dynamic is pretty two-dimensional. Badger lords, served by hares, have always ruled the mountain, or so we’re told, and continue to do so pretty much only because it’s always been done. Unlike Redwall, which is in the middle of verdant country, Salamandastron is in the middle of a dry and hot region, and so holds little real appeal, other than it sits at the center of a lot of searat travels. So, every so often, an otherwise benevolent badger lord will get a bug up his arse and go into berserker rage out in the beach, taking down scores of enemies with his superhuman strength.
This, as happened in Mossflower, is one part of the plot in Salamandastron; I’m not afraid to tell you this because it’s as much a part of the badger species as evil is to stoats, rats, weasels, foxes and ferrets; as much as a gruff and tenuous benevolence is part of many birds of prey; as much hares are wisecracking warriors with bottomless stomachs. This is important because Salamandastron toys more than ever with a theme that is simultaneously the most interesting, the most frustrating, and the most oft-criticized aspect of the Redwall novels: creatures are typecast, invariably. You’ll find some shades of grey; for instance, selfish hermit squirrels or shrews more combative than usual. But vermin are always vermin, even when you think they might turn out to be good. Early in this book, two vermin fleeing the band of another merciless tyrant find their way to Redwall, where they—despite 100% statistical evidence that they will cause harm—are let into the abbey, fed, clothed, and left to their own devices, to a certain extent. Initially, they seem to enjoy the place, and live in relative peace, although they soon kill an abbey member by accident, steal the sword of Martin the Warrior, and flee. You’ll see this same kind of inevitable fulfillment of stereotypes even more prominently in The Outcast of Redwall, a few books down the line.
The escaping vermin are pursued by two young abbey members; their original vermin horde tries to invade Salamandastron; a young badger, Mara, and her hare friend, Pikkle Ffolger, go off questing; Redwall Abbey suffers a sudden plague called Dryditch fever; an otter and a baby dormouse go questing to find the only known remedy and meet a lot of birds along the way. Jacques really stretched himself thin trying to maintain this many distinct plot threads, and I could really tell in places: many of the items felt more perfunctory than normal, and I had to resist the urge to skip paragraphs or entire pages, knowing inevitably what would happen.
Ultimately, I think Salamandastron is one of the weaker Redwall novels, especially among the earlier ones; Jacques seems like he was phoning in this one, throwing his trusty tropes into a bag and swinging it at a wall until it was good and messy. It’s not bad, but as one entry in a long line of good fantasy novels, it rather pales in comparison to its siblings.