Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: Mossflower

I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much I enjoyed Redwall, the first of Brian Jacques’s fantasy novels that I had ever read. In comparison, I did not enjoy its prequel Mossflower quite as much, which was disappointing.

Although the second novel that Jacques wrote about his woodland creatures of Mossflower County is certainly full of action and adventure, I could not take seriously the threat posed by the self-involved cat Queen Tsarmina and her incompetent army of rats and stoats. Although he was a rather stereotypical villain, at least Cluny the Scourge was not laughable and his plots were not as easily ruined by bungling troops. There are a few more serious and gruesome battles between different woodland creatures and Tsarmina’s forces, but since most of the fights are brief and the efforts of the rats and stoats are usually fairly absurd and unsuccessful, these battles were not enough to create the feeling that the woodlanders were truly in peril. Tsarmina and her forces seem more like a nuisance than a danger. Of course, some might find the more light-hearted tone of Mossflower enjoyable, but part of what I really enjoyed about Redwall was the combination of the adorable woodland creatures with the truly sinister villains.

Additionally, the characters were not as well-developed in Mossflower as they were in Redwall. I found myself very drawn to the aspiring warrior mouse Matthias in Redwall, who had several quirky little traits and adorable moments before he grew into the confident hero of the novel. In Mossflower, however, Martin the Warrior is not nearly as distinctively developed, and although I wanted to feel an affection for the main character of the novel, I found myself much more fond of Gonff, the self-proclaimed Prince of Mousethieves. Making up little ditties before, during and after each adventure, the joyful and musical little mouse was much more adorable and interesting than his companion Martin.

As for many of the other characters, there were so many mice, otters, squirrels, hedgehogs and ferrets running around in this novel that it started to feel as though Jacques was just enjoying the sheer size of the world he was building and his growing cast of characters – and consequently he did not have time to imagine and describe any of them in any great detail or depth. There are a lot of potentially really interesting characters and plot elements in Mossflower – Boar the Fighter and his mysterious ability to “see what is written,” the otters, Gingervere the cat, “the Mask,” the sea rats – but Jacques tries to cram so many creatures into the novel that we don’t learn enough about any one of them to really get attached to them.

Similar to how Jacques jumps too quickly from one character to the next, he also jumps from one event to the next in Mossflower. Although the quest that Martin and his band undertakes – the journey to Salamandastron – certainly involves many adventures, I didn’t find any of them as involving as the much more well-developed unraveling of the riddle and resulting quest for Martin the Warrior’s sword that Matthias undertakes in Redwall. I was intrigued by the initial riddle that the group had to tackle to determine the route to Salamandastron, but it turned out to be far less complicated and interesting than the search that Matthias had to carry out right within the abbey.

This is not to say that there is nothing enjoyable about Mossflower – I was still somewhat entertained by the novel and I enjoyed Redwall, so I’m not ready to give up on the series yet. I can see why kids would enjoy the many adventures and quick pace of Mossflower. I hope that Mattimeo and Mariel of Redwall will be more well-developed, though.

This post participates in my Focus on Fantasy Reading Challenge... join me in reading fantasy literature this summer!

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