The staple of Brian Jacques Redwall series has always been a shamelessly straightforward version of adventure. The villains are cruel and ambitiously evil, while the woodland folk are kind but determined to keep their peaceful way of life, even if it means a war. Jacques uses animals for characters, and you can predict their demeanors by their species, an element of symbolism that is very easy to understand.
The Rogue Crew, completed shortly before the prolific author’s death earlier this year, may be the last book in the series. Jacques died while writing Pondicherry, and it is unknown if it will be published posthumously. However, whether or not there is another tale in the saga, The Rogue Crew exemplifies Jacque’s classic style.
The title refers to a group of war-hardened otters from the High North Coast who are the only hope of defeating the feared Razzid Wearat, a bloodthirsty pirate with a secret weapon: a ship that can traverse both land and sea! The perspective is split among several groups, which is used to create suspense when the audience knows what the characters do not. There are many twists and turns on the way to a predictable, but entertaining, conclusion. If the book falters, it falters where the series has; at this point, the formula has been well-tread and, while the individual characters are charismatic, the plot feels hackneyed. I wish that the narrative was more complex than the traditional good and evil story, and closer to the first books of the series which charted out a complex history.
By the same token, what the book does best is what the series has always done best. The descriptions of nature and landscapes are poetic and epic in scale. Each character’s dialogue is written in a transliteration format, so that if read aloud, it would reflect a distinct dialect or inflection. This emphasizes the feel of an oral story, which is true to the series’ origins. Jacques created the characters when he told stories to children at a school for the blind.
It is never wise to read a Redwall book on an empty stomach because it seems that each chapter includes a decadent description of food. If not eating, then the characters are singing merrily, another trademark. I challenge the reader to sing these songs out loud and find their rhythm. When I did so I appreciated them more, instead of feeling inclined to skip past.
As a die-hard fan of the series I was pleased, as should all those who love Jacques’ lucid and adventurous style. If you’re a newcomer, I recommend the originals, when the story was fresher, but the style just as good.
Evan is a learning teenage writer who’s ambition is to become a film director someday, but not until he’s published a few books first. In the meantime, he spends his time playing drums in his jazz band 3 AM Groove, writing for the school paper, building sets on stage crew, and trying to perfect his 100 greatest movies of all time list. He does not like long walks on the beach.