Author: Brian Jacques
Published By: Philomel Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I’m one of those people who simply can’t pass up a bargain when it comes to books. When the local Stop & Shop began selling off hardcover books at ridiculous prices to make way for new inventory, I couldn’t help myself. Hardcover books for just a little over a buck a piece? Who wouldn’t take a look? Of course, sometimes when such a sale takes place, one often finds that the books are less than desirable in content, but I am happy to say that such was not the case this time. I was actually able to find High Rhulain, the 18th novel in the Redwall series of novels by Brian Jacques. Having read the novel Salamandastron, the fifth in the series, I knew I was going to enjoy this one.
The Redwall novel series is a fantasy series which features woodland and other creatures in anthropomorphic fashion. Thus, otters, ferrets, cats, birds, moles, rats, etc. all exhibit very human characteristics, can talk, cook, create weaponry, read, etc. High Rhulain focuses on the plight of the otters on Green Isle. The otters there have been terrorized for years by evil cats, most specifically Regis Felis, who has enslaved them, feeding them very little, forcing them to work very hard and heaping brutality upon them.
Although there is some sign of resistance in Green Isle, it is very small - just a band of fierce fighting otters led by Lortho Shellhound, the last of his clan. Lortho is cunning and possesses great leadership qualities, but he alone couldn’t possibly defeat the huge cat clan led by Regis Felis. Lortho needs help and, far away, in the Kingdom of Redwall, is the only beast who can aide him in the quest to free his people. She is the Tiria, High Rhulain, Queen of the otterfolk on Green Isle…except she doesn’t know it. Tiria is happily living her life as an ottermaid in Redwall Abbey, wondering where her life will take her now that she is old enough to have such cares.
Oblivious of her destiny, a chance encounter with an injured bird and a battle with the local vermin to save his life sets the ball rolling for an adventure that will take Tiria on the adventure of a lifetime, out of the Abbey, across the sea, to the mountainous region of Salamandastron and, eventually, to Green Isle, where her people await the legendary return of the High Rhulain.
The Redwall series is actually aimed at a younger crowd of readers, mainly those of ten years and up, but, just like the Harry Potter series of books, the Redwall series is easily enjoyable by anyone of any age. Fantasy is the name of the game and I found it quite interesting that although certain fantasy elements, such as kingdoms, warriors and animals with human abilities and characteristics, existed, others such as magic did not. With the exception of the random appearance of a ghostly vision or a dream foretelling the future, the Redwall series is devoid of all forms of magic.
High Rhulain is an excellent adventure that I found to be even more enjoyable than Salamandastron. Having read that novel several years ago, I was surprised when many of its elements came back to me as I read High Rhulain. The heroic characters in the novel are incredibly enjoyable, especially the quirky ones like the librarian squirrel and the recorder mouse. The goose’s speech reminded me of that of Yoda from Star Wars and that’s always enough to elicit a smile or two from a reader. The villain characters are either exquisitely evil as in the case of Regis Felis and his clan, or incredibly stupid and harsh as in the case of the band of rats Tiria comes across as they torture the osprey that starts her on her adventure.
There has been some controversy over how Brian Jacques assigns characteristics to animals as a whole. For example, all of the cats in this novel are revealed to be cunning and conniving evil creatures. All of the rats are despicably stupid and villainous vermin. Whereas all otters are considered fierce fighters of a loyal and heroic nature. Hares are a silly, ravenously hungry bunch who will fight to the very end with a ferocity known worldwide. Squirrels, badgers and mice often exhibit a great deal of intelligence and are also heroes in the Redwall novels.
In some people’s opinion, Jacques doesn’t allow for differences within species, thus creating stereotypical characteristics for each animal species in each novel. To those people I have one thing to say - lighten up! This is a book series created for children and, although I am sure that Jacques will accede to a great amount of diversity within each race in the world, it may just be a bit simpler for children to read a book with one specific species as being evil and one as being good. It’s a simpler way of separating good guys from bad guys and is not meant to make a social statement.
I, for one, am going to take High Rhulain for what it was meant to be - a terrific fantasy novel with tons of adventure, action and intrigue with a bit of puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. High Rhulain is a book that fantasy lovers of any age can enjoy. It has inspired me to check out other novels in the Redwall series to expand my knowledge of the creatures of Redwall Abbey and beyond.