A New Redwall!
Brian Jacques is a joy to read. A onetime longshoreman from Liverpool, England, Jacques never intended for his adventures to be published. According to an article that recently ran in The Wall Street Journal (April 9, 1998), Jacques would read his unpublished Redwall stories to a group of children at a local school for the blind. Never in a million years did he dream that his stories would reach an audience of millions. Writing these frothy adventures is something that Jacques simply enjoys doing, and it shows. The language is vibrant, the characters are extremely well developed, and the action is brisk and exciting. Marlfox, the 11th delightful volume in the Redwall series, is certainly no exception.
Before continuing, let me make something perfectly clear. Even though Marlfox is the 11th Redwall volume, don't shy away from Jacques's latest simply because you haven't read him before. Each Redwall is a freestanding adventure. This reviewer had never read Jacques prior to Marlfox and enjoyed it wholeheartedly.
Now on to the story. Marlfox begins when the Swifteyes, a family of traveling squirrels, stop to take a break. When Janglur, the father of the family and an ace with the woodpipe, coaxes his lovely daughter Songbreeze to sing with him a tune, two savage beasts are -- without the Swifteyes' knowledge -- an attentive audience. The visitors are Marlfoxes, vicious ax-wielding vermin who many believe possess magical powers, while others discount them as only the stuff of legend. The Marlfoxes, brothers and sisters named Ascrod and Vannan, hear the melodious wonder wafting through the air and decide that they must retrieve this talent for their wicked Queen Silth, a tyrannical ruler who constantly nags her underlings that she must constantly be "surrounded by beauty."
In addition to being a deft musician, Janglur is also a cunning warrior. So after Ascrod and Vannan fail to intimidate Janglur into giving them what they want through speech, Janglur is far too prepared for the inevitable Marlfox strike. After both intruders are injured and disappear almost magically into the forest, Janglur alters his family's plans: It is on to Redwall to warn the others of the Marlfox presence.
Around the same time, in another part of the forest, a lighthearted group of stage performers known as the Sensational Wandering Noonvale Companions Troupe endure a similar experience and luckily escape their Marlfox foe. Florian Dugglewoof (don't ever call him a rabbit -- he's a hare) Wilffachop, the troupe's leader, decides that it's off to Redwall as well. Only if the good critters of Redwall stand together will they defeat their present and most evil threat.
Protected by the solid walls of Redwall Abbey, the Redwallers appear to be safe from any Marlfox invasion. But when Dwopple, a pesky little mousebabe who specializes in making trouble and driving Florian up the wall, is kidnapped by the Marlfoxes, war is unavoidable. As a fierce battle rages in which many are brutally slain, a sly force of Marlfoxes infiltrates Redwall Abbey and lifts the prized Redwall tapestry right from under the Redwallers' noses. Song, a Guosim shrew named Dippler, and a young squirrel named Dann feel responsible for the lost treasure, and after Dann sees a vision from the great Martin the Warrior, the three decide to go out on their own to retrieve their lost treasure.
Along the way Song, Dippler, and Dann make many new friends, are introduced to many new enemies, and face many challenging and deadly tasks. It's truly a wonderful and memorable ride. For preteens who enjoyed Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three and Mrs. Frisby And the Rats of Nimh, and for adults who adore Tolkien and entertaining fantasy in general, Brian Jacques's Marlfox is a must-read. Dramatic and sincere, generally light but at times dark and serious, the Redwall series is a modern-day classic, and I'll say it again, an utter joy to read. Like the Redwallers with their scones with honey on top, this is fantasy adventure that both preteens and adults will gobble up. Highly recommended.
Andrew LeCount, barnesandnoble.com