Wednesday 30 September 2020


Once upon a time, there was a place full of inn-ablers. One of them dearly wanted to get The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart but couldn't, to the hilarity of his mildly cruel friends.

It was around this point that we became obsessed with the word Bone.

Basically just mandatory at this point

We put it into book titles. Into random quotes. Into images. Into, in fact, everywhere a bone can be put... legally and ethically. After all, a bone, for those of us living lives of the utmost purity, has several durrrrty slang connotations. I know, I know, shocking.

In fact, I suggest anyone who has somehow stumbled across this blog post while being of such mindset, or otherwise of a nervous disposition, should leave now.

Now, being the sort of wrong 'un I am, I started wondering what happened if you went through entire series replacing words with Bone. Picking individual titles for hilarity is too easy (personally I think The Long Way to a Small Angry Bone didn't get nearly enough love from my peers) - we need whole series. And not just one. I needed to find the best.

A gentleman of my acquaintance (I am allowing him to stay anonymous, but he may claim credit if he wishes) beat me to the punch with the obvious one

Lord of the Bones

Fellowship of the Bone
The Two Bones
Return of the Bone

This is all solid bone stuff, but surely it can get better than that? My initial thought was the Serpentwar Saga by R.E Feist - might as well be called the Bonewar Saga with a name like that anyway - from which we get

Bonewar Saga

Bone of a Dark Queen
Rise of a Merchant Bone
Rage of a Boner King
Shards of a Broken Bone

Rage of a Boner King is the tentpole (tee hee) of this series, but all convey... interesting... mental images, except for Shards of a Broken Bone which more a description of medical fact, or sometimes your takeaway if you get it from a good place. Never trust a chef who puts you not choking ahead of more flavour. I am satisfied this is a good contender, but the best?

Note: Generally, I am trying to avoid sticking bone into words, or using anything other than Bone or Bones, as it makes it too easy. But, if it's really funny, I know what I must do.

Now, when I cast around for more possible good 'uns, another obvious one was suggested straight away

Bone of Ice and Fire

A Game of Bones
A Clash of Bones
A Storm of Bones
A Feast for Bones
A Bone with Dragons

A Game of Bones is a straight up porn parody title. And A Bone with Dragons is probably the subject of some fic too. But... I find myself a little disappointed. The naming structure here makes everything feel repetitive. Which, in and of itself, is why this is so difficult. Well. "Difficult". Staying in the theme of big classic blockbuster series, let's move onto something that changes its titles up a little bit.

Bone of Time

The Bone of the World
The Great Bone
The Bone Reborn
The Bone Rising
Bones of Heaven
Bone of Chaos
A Crown of Bones
The Path of Bones
Winter's Bone
Crossbones of Twilight
Bone of Dreams
The Gathering Bone
Bones of Midnight
A Memory of Bone

This one does get a bit repetitive after a bit, but I think the first few are very solid, if a bit boastful. The Bone Rising is definitely worthy of a wry smirk. And it closes strong with A Memory of Bone, which is indeed a great solace at times. Still, it goes on too long. Besides, this is all men. Are women incapable of appreciating a good bone? Only if one is very puritan! Maybe their book titles aren't ridiculous enough? But no, I can think of a few solid ones.

The Bone Flame

The Ninth Bone
The Bone Twins
The Poison Bone

There's some very active people in Jen Williams' world it seems. And if the depths of the internet doesn't find someone referring to themselves as The Bone Twins, I will be quite surprised. Note - I don't actually need evidence of this.

Bone Traders

Bone of Magic
The Mad Bone
Bone of Destiny

Once again, a tad on the boastful side. But all solid options from Robin Hobb. Or Robin Bone as I should now call her.

Alas, I couldn't think of another female author with good bone potential of the top of my head, so I turned to a series with a lot of ladies in, including one who'd appreciate this sort of humour...

The Witches Bones

Wyrd Boners
Bones Abroad
Lords Bone Ladies
Carpe Bone

Wyrd Boners just makes me laugh. Carpe Bone is indeed a good thing. But my favourite here is Lords Bone Ladies, a description of what good things happen when you think a little outside the box here, and also just really a lot of human history.

While I'm on a Pratchett kick, what about the boniest of them all?


Bone Man
Bone Music
The Bonefather
Thief of Bone

Surprisingly not as good. Well. Not that surprisingly. Mainly kept here for The Bonefather.

However, shortly after this, the winner occurred to me. And I am very sure this is the winner, although I would be delighted to hear of other candidates in comments.

Narnia Bonia

The Lion, The Witch, and the Bone
Prince Bone
The Voyage of the Dawn Bone
The Silver Bone
The Horse Bones His Boy
The Magician's Bone
The Last Bone

I started thinking about this series after realising that The Lion, The Witch, and the Bone was very eyebrow raising indeed. The Voyage of the Dawn Bone is a poignant tale about the fate of morning wood. But, the title leading the charge, the one I almost pussied out of including, is in fact, of course...

The Horse Bones His Boy.

Just not a lot to say about that. Except for maybe 'No' and 'I'm Sorry'.

So there we have it. Some of the greatest fantasy series for substituting the word bone in the titles. I will now spend a prolonged time asking what is wrong with me.

Sunday 27 September 2020

A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark

Followers of this blog (and my other various postings around the internet) will note I'd mostly abandoned reading new books for quite a while. There was no particular intent to do so but, once observed, I felt little need to deviate from the pattern. New books - even those I'd been interested enough in to purchase - held little appeal compared to finding new and deeper meaning in the books I'd already read. But the other day, I decided I was ready to try something new and modern again. No sooner than I'd done so and listed some of the unread kindle books I owned than a gentleman of my acquaintance urged me to read A Dead Djinn in Cairo.

So I did.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo is, as best as I can, the first novelette from P. Djèlí Clark. It is set in, unsurprisingly enough, Cairo, in a never-was period in the early 1900s after a mad genius has breached the lines between realities, allowing djinn and other mythological creatures into our timeline. The result of said breach is a chaotic although in some ways improved world - Egypt is a world power but supernatural disturbances are common enough that Egypt requires special investigators in its Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities.

And the story opens with one of those special investigators, Fatma el-Sha’arawi, staring a djinn who has died in peculiar circumstances.

The best part of this is the worldbuilding. The world itself sounds simple enough - early 20th century Cairo with suddenly added supernatural elements - but the conceit crackles with power in Clark's hands. Almost every page (electronic format) is enlivened by some little detail, some half-formed image of this world. If Clark were to write a travel guide to his vision, I would read it.

Unfortunately, none of the other elements of the story here connected anywhere near as strongly with me. They weren't bad, but they weren't great either. The storytelling voice was sprightly and fun, but a little bogged down in exposition. Yes, I know that sounds like a contradiction. Perhaps better to say it was a tale of two styles - sprightly and fun in the narrative, but frequently losing that when switching to exposition, with the loss being more obvious for the contrast.  

The plot was gripping enough but as a mystery, it suffered a little for being obfuscated by the worldbuilding to begin with, and then suffered a little more for the shape of the plot becoming transparent a bit earlier than I'd have preferred. As a way of allowing the characters to show of their bad selves, I thought Fatma spent a bit too much time being led around by the nose and a bit too little making great jumps herself. These feel like harsh observations; there is, after all, only so much space to tell a story in a novella. But I felt what I felt.

With hindsight, I can't help but think that the worldbuilding that I enjoyed probably contributed to the parts I enjoyed less, because it took up a lot of page space. Clark lays out most of a fantasy conceit big enough to sustain a series here; of course he can't tell a convoluted or revolutionary detective story here. Having thought about it in these lights, I have no complaints. He went hard after a particular element and it created an entertaining story. That is more than enough.

All that said though - I am a lot more excited to see Clark's ideas in a novel sized format like his upcoming A Master of Djinn than I am to read another such shorter installment such as The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Friday 25 September 2020

Redwall Readthrough - Mariel of Redwall

The Redwall readthrough continues here with Mariel of Redwall, a jump in chronology back to shortly after Mossflower. 

For those who don't know, Redwall is a series of children's fantasy books by Brian Jacques famous for its use of anthropomorphic animals, good vs evil, and regional British dialects. It was hugely popular when I was a young 'un (the first book was published in 1986, the year of my birth); I do not know how popular they are now, nearly ten years after Jacques' death and the posthumous publication of the last book in the series. I probably discovered them when I was around 10; I was still joyfully enjoying being able to take the latest release from my uncles' bookshop for free in my late teens.

Obviously I am no longer in my teens, but now I am going to read them all again and share my thoughts. So far I've found my opinions haven't changed that much since I was young - if anything I enjoy more elements - and it'll be interesting to see if that continues with Mariel of Redwall, a book I remember being fond of.

Mini-Review: On a dark stormy night, a rat pushes a mouse into the raging sea. The rat is Gabool the Wild, King of Searats, a ruthless and violent corsair. The mouse wakes up on a shore, robbed of her memory but ready to fight anyone to survive. Friendly hares from the Long Patrol direct her to Redwall - where Storm Gullwhacker remembers she was born Mariel, and she has a score to settle with the rat who stole her father's bell and took her slave. The journey from Redwall might be long and treacherous, but she has good friends and a burning hatred with which to guide her steps.

But she is not the only one thinking to settle scores with Gabool. Rawnblade, Lord of Salamandstron, can feel his destiny approaching. Gabool's slaves dream of freedom. But perhaps most dangerous of all are Gabool's own captains as his madness descend - and those captains will spread that danger all over the west coast, including to Redwall.

What do I recall thinking at the time: As a kid, I thought this was a very solid book, but not quite top tier. Not entirely sure but, despite some great moments, it didn't fully connect.

What do I think now: I would like to update younger me's opinions by saying a third of this is truly excellent, a third is very good, and there's just a few bits that don't hit that bring the whole thing down. I think part of that is due to a more grown up, darker tone that doesn't always jibe with the dafter shenanigans.

Best Thing: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk to you about the Long Patrol. 

The Long Patrol is the force of hares stationed at Salamandastron, using that as their base as they patrol around the countryside making sure no good creature comes to harm. We've seen fighting hares before but this is the first view of them as a true organisation, and the first time a group of them gets the lead role. And they're really rather magnificent in it, both in word and in deed. I'll freely admit I'm a sucker for their idealised British upper class at war ways and humour, but they walk the walk with their unswerving willingness to protect those less able when a crew of sea rats fleeing Gabool find Redwall. The book's best scenes and most emotional moments belong to them.

Other great moments include the race to Terramort (funnier than it sounds), Gabool chewing through the scenery (and his henchmen), Mariel as a character, the fight with the lobster, Treerose struggling to flirt with Rufus, a non-snobby vole, and Oak Tom. Dunno why a funny fat squirrel amuses me, but it does.

Worst Thing: It's not bad per se, but I've only put a couple of things from Mariel's quest in Best Thing and when the main plot of a book isn't one of the best things about it, that's kind of an issue. There's no sense of character arc to help the scenes stand out, and the scenes do need that help. I repeat that they're not bad, they're okay to more than okay, but they're not great. And if it ain't great, I get irate. It doesn't help that the main quest is saddled with Tarquin L. Woodsorrel, a hare of particularly questionable musicianship. Well done to Jacques for selling his indifferent skills with rhyme and verse, but in terms of readability, that means unless you're giggling along with Jacques at how bad Woodsorrel is, it's basically a very accurate shot to the foot.

Another thing is the way Saxtus' opinion and understanding of the hares slid around depending on what Jacques wanted us to feel, rather than building on what the character had said. Very convenient and inconsistent. 

The ending suffers from everyone and their pet lizard turning up to dogpile Gabool. I've talked about my enjoyment at watching team evil getting its head kicked in again and again, and not making everything about the desperate last stand, but if it's too easy for the heroes, then where's the fun? We get Rawnblade is coming, but having a ready made resistance movement pop up in the last quarter of the book is Deus Ex Machina. Throw in a vital last minute vision from Martin and this is one of the worst endings despite being a well written battle. 

Hero Watch: Mariel achieves two interesting firsts here. She's the first female protagonist of a Redwall book, and she's also the first one who's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I wish we knew more about pre-book Mariel, so we knew how much was her and how much was a reaction to her experiences, but it kind of doesn't matter. Her force of personality is entertaining - her anger very understandable. Something I'd kinda missed (only kinda) until reading this is just how a little overjolly war and adventure is in Redwall. Well, not here. Mariel lives being a slave and it does her no good. Her rage will not be brooked. Between that and the Long Patrol, the series hits a level of darkness needed for it to function best.

Villain Watch: Gabool's a magnificent nutcase, bloodily efficient at his work one moment, mad and cowering the next. I can imagine a giant searat with teeth replace by emerald studded gold falsies would look totally intimidating and metal too. His descent into paranoia and madness is one of my favourite things about this book, as is his subjects' understandable reaction to realising their king sees enemies everywhere and deals with them accordingly. Outstanding death too.

Other Notes: 

1) I forgot to mention how it's a bit annoying that Treerose is criticised for being efficient. She's snippy with people, and criticising that is fair game, but criticising someone for being good at their job?

2) Speaking of squirrels, the portrayal of this species at least has moved a bit away from being very "you are what you are". Treerose is a superior little miss, used to being the best and getting what she wants. Rufe Brush is strong and silent. Oak Tom is missing a few acorns. Pakatugg is a bit of a mercenary bellend and even a bit of a villain early on. It's nice, and all of them are memorable personalities.

3) One of the issues with writing draft blogs in one go and redrafting them is sometimes you reach the end and wonder if what you wrote at the start is true. There's a lot of things in this book that didn't hit for me, including two of the most important parts in the main arc and ending. I think I'll stand by my original statement. I have probably overly talked up how much the bad matters and if I haven't talked as much about the good, it's me trying to tiptoe around spoilers. That said - this is a curate's egg, and just because I value the good more than the less good doesn't make it otherwise. This is a book saved from okay to meh by a side arc and three valiant hares of the Long Patrol in Colonel Clary, the Hon. Rose, and Brigadier Thyme.

Oh. And the Colonel is in charge, not the Brigadier. Not sure why you need two officers of that rank in a three hare patrol anyway. Yes, that did bug me as well.

Thursday 24 September 2020

Read as Thou Wilt: Kushiel's Dart Readalong, Part Four


It's that time again! We signed off last week with Phédre and Joscelin having simply the worst package tour experience ever in Skaldiland, but there's far too much book left for them to stay there. So what happens next? Let's talk about them with the help of some questions from Mayri at BookForager.

Waldemar’s old teacher Lodur calls Phedre “a weapon thrown by a D’Angeline god” and this changes how Phedre sees herself to some extent. How does this change the way you’ve thought about Phedre so far?

So... I've read the book. I've read the first two series. This is not new to me and not only has it already been shaping how I see Phédre, it's been shaping how I see those around her. Really curious as to how all the first time readers see this.

The first time I read this book, it didn't really register I have to say. I think it took until the third book to really sink in. And I'm not sure why. It's not like Phédre being a human weapon is new - it's what Delaunay has done after all. Maybe that's why?

In any case, my view of Phédre - possibly a bit spoiler-ific, although I think and hope not - is that she is indeed a weapon, a very specific and strange type of weapon. What Phédre does is invite people to take and take and break and break - her unnatural resilience and mingling of pleasure and pain means she can do that in a way almost nobody else can - and, in doing so, causes people to overreach and overtrust. That's what happened with D'Essoms but here, with Where's Waldemar, we see it made a lot more explicit.

Although not explicit enough for me to catch it the first time through.

Joscelin has broken all but one of his vows during the time he and Phedre have been in Skaldia. How do you feel about everything he has gone through? Everything Phedre has gone through? And the Prefect of the Cassiline Brotherhood’s opinion on these matters?

Honestly... feeling kinda bad for saying this... I don't really care? P&J's (I wonder if that's Carey's favourite type of sandwich) sojourn in Skaldia is my least favourite part of the book because I never really engage with their pain. I rarely do; I agree with Le Guin's quote about 
"the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain”, which seems relevant here. Intellectually, sure, what they go through is terrible - although in a lot of ways, formative and possibly full of hidden blessings. But emotionally, I just don't find constant pain interesting to read about. So... *shrugs* Bring them back to interesting things! I guess the biggest thing, and most interesting thing, is Phédre's finding of humanity everywhere, and how much it hurts to go against that with Harald the Beardless.

As for the Prefect... technically correct, if Joscelin has broken sacred oaths he needs to absolve himself and his spiritual superiors are the people to do it with, but said without heart or compassion. And not even defending him in person? Bit of a dick move that. Part of me wonders whether Joscelin was very popular in the Cassilines - getting sent to Phédre feels just the sort of dick move they'd pull with a kid they didn't have much time for. In summation, Prefect Rinaforte, you are a bit of a dick, sir.

Incidentally, if he was speaking with heart and compassion, I think he'd still urge Joscelin to come back to the order and seek spiritual healing, but maybe understand he has to see his task through.

A whimsical question: Phedre doesn’t seem to be able to lose or give away Melisande’s diamond. What do you think this stone’s eventual fate might be?

I think I remember the answer to this so I plead the fifth.

And a follow-on to that: all gifts in this story, god-given or otherwise, are double-edged swords. Discuss. 😊

Where's the double edge to the gift of shelter, trust, and love that Taavi and Danele give to P&J? A lot of what's given here comes with hidden thorns, but not everything, and I think the gift of friendship (bleurgh) is usually just full of goodness - see Alcuin, see Thelsis, see Cecile. 

What do you make of Ysandre de la Courcel now that we’ve finally met her? And what of her intention to honour her betrothal to Drustan mab Necthana?

Rather impressive. Maybe a little too impressive when we get to second thoughts but there we go, it's part fairy tale, enjoy the show. Ysandre knows what she wants, and what she believes in, and is willing to stick with it even when the tide's going the other way. I admire that. I admire her sense of even-handedness and justice. I think of all the secondary characters, I find her most impressive. 

Now that we know the whole of Delaunay’s story, has your opinion of him changed at all?

It's one hell of a thing to put so much on your own sense of personal honour, isn't it? But, in doing so, he's done an awful lot to avert a bloody civil war. 

In many ways, I said all I had to say about Delaunay last week. I still think he was a mostly good dude. And so does Phédre.

Finally, Phedre’s marque is finally complete. Do you think she is free?

Yes and no.

At this point in time, she is still restricted by Delaunay's loyalties, which she willingly carries forwards. Obviously the fulfillment of the bond is a marked improvement in her liberty, but free? How free are any of us? Loyalty - particularly loyalty born from love - is one hell of a drug.

Other Notes

Bringing far more scrutiny than necessary to the table, I've never been entirely sure at why the the Camaelines are so suspicious of P&J without a knowledge of the conspiracy that seems far too widespread to be sensible.

Not entirely sure why people brought P&J as Delaunay's murderers. Surely the whole point of the Cassilines is their loyalty is so legendary that saying one of them did it is just a laughing stock position to begin with? And in a people so in love with their own land, what riches could tempt them into exile - particularly when Phédre is likely to end up ridiculously rich anyway?

And while nitpicking, I'm not sure how the biggest Alban army you can bring across the channel is worth more than D'Aiglemort's support. I know why all of this is so - it's to make a better story - but nevertheless, nevertheless. This is the weakness of a story seeking constantly higher stakes - and also the weakness of a single PoV book, where PoVs that might make sense of this aren't used.

Wednesday 23 September 2020

A Time of Justice by Katherine Kerr

All this progress on the Redwall readthrough was making me feel like I was cheating on my other readthroughs, so let's get back to business and wrap up the second mini-series of the Deverry Cycle.

First Time

The horsefolk have started a war. It's up to Rhodry and his new dragon buddy, Arzosah, to end it. And maybe mete out a little justice on the way.

Something I've pointed out a few times in this series is that the titles are pretty to the point. Well, this book is fair concerned about justice. That's pretty obvious from the flashback that forms the first part of the narrative, in which a young pair of Silver Daggers named Rhodry and Jill stumble on a plot to murder a noble lord, and follow it all the sorry way to a murderer - a murderer Rhodry is sure he now recognises many years later, despite dispensing lethal justice himself.

That murderer is deep in the war for Cerr Cengarn of course. It's hard to work out who's in a worse position  - the beleaguered garrison, or the Horsekin standing in the way of the hammer that is Cerr Cengarn's allies. Which isn't a bad way to depict a war really.

Kerr shows the war from all angles, which I appreciate. As a result, we see all the terror and tension, all the brief glorious moments of elation. She shows a fine touch of depicting the politics of war too, with the will-they won't-they of some of the allies' faithfulness on both sides. The result of both is a page turner.

The pages are filled with emotion too. We've walked a long road with these characters and now we're in the hardest days of a war, not every character gets to survive - and those that do, they have lessons to learn. When it comes to fulfilling arcs and making memorable endings, A Time of Justice delivers. Spoilers to that will come in the second time section as per usual.

As for the rest of it, this fits into the standard Deverry mould - pseudo-Celticisim abounds, the characters act with a mix of pragmatic brutality and kind-hearted nobility, magic abounds in secret and has a sacred natured, and so on. Anybody who has got this far in the series knows what to expect.

And here the execution as is good as any point in the second quarter - the Westlands quartet - making this a more than worthy ending.

Second Time

So much to say. So little idea of how to say it. So much desire to not unload the good stuff right here at the beginning of spoiler country.

I guess I'll start with the idea that this is where the Deverry Cycle changes from one story to another. To reiterate, the original four books were the story of how the tangle between Jill, Rhodry, Nevyn and Cullyn finally became untangled. Time of Omens and Time of Exile solved some loose ends and expanded the world, but it's only with Time of War that the new story became clear. However, this being Deverry, strands overlap. As such, Time of Justice is not only the ending to that original Jill/Rhodry/Nevyn/Cullyn arc (or at least, an ending), but an ending to a series, and a transition from one story to another. It's a lot to fit into one book but here I think it works. The book doesn't feel busy but still has a lot happening, which in many ways seems ideal to me.

Without knowing what goes ahead - I do, but pretending I don't - I'd say the new story interests me, but hasn't totally grabbed me. The chance to find out more about the elves and dwarves intrigue me. I don't particularly care for the Horsefolk though, and the people of Cerr Cewnen lack the marvellously flawed and attractive nature of Deverry. I am currently working on posts about the dangers involved in expanding fantasy worlds; I think the Deverry Cycle makes a fine case for its inclusion there.

One new element that does work is Arzosah. I dimly recall - or think I do - not being that impressed Kerr had added a dragon back on the first read. How many dragons does the genre need? Arzosah is one of the better examples. A little alien, casually violent and malicious, yet often a source of empathy and frequently a source of wisdom, she's full of great lines and fits a good model of dragonkind to me. Best of all though, is the dynamic she's got with Rhodry. Letting us see Rhodry as the least bloodthirsty, and most powerful, person in a relationship is a good way to see the ways he has - and hasn't - changed. Him granting Arzosah her freedom is one of the most satisfying moments of the book, a truly worthy climax.

The other great ending - Jill's death in combat with Alshandra - is right and well placed, but cursed if I can remember details. Which is kinda sad, you know? Great deaths should be memorable. Something about this moment slips away from me.

Something else that has slipped away from me are Evandar and the Guardians, a fairly vital part of the plot that I have not mentioned all series long. Not once. Which is, in itself, its own comment. Sitting here, typing dispassionately, the tale of an entire race being reborn from plane of incarnation to another should be awesome. It's a fantastic fantasy conceit. And it never took here. Is that because I regarded it as a sideshow, a prop to the story of Dalla (one of my favourite characters for reasons I can't quite pinpoint), a distract to the story of Rhodry and Jill? Or was it because the Guardians themselves didn't capture me with their somewhat infantile take on alien non-comprehension? I don't know. 

They are important thematically though, as Imyril pointed out in the comments of the last one. They're a walking talking embodiment of the growth of personal responsibility from childish beginnings - which is probably why Kerr made them seem so immature. They're the race that never grew up, they're a host of Peter Pans, spirits that simply want what they want and don't think about the consequences. It's nothing personal, they just don't really know how - except for Evandar, most powerful of their breed. And even for him, it is a long road, full of misunderstandings and petulance. I should look his arc better than I do. But I don't. I do like the coda where he confesses his love to Rhodry and they have weird etheric sex, proving once and for all this series really is about the erotic adventures of Rhodry Maelwaedd. I really shouldn't be cheering for a series based solely on the author saying "yes, people have sex" but here we are. It provides a little balance to some of the less flattering examples of homosexuality earlier in the book too.

One final observation. This is a very good book. It's a good series. Do I feel the need to tell people about it the same way I do the original quartet? No. Because at the end of it, something vital has been lost. Daggerspell and its kin burned with the passions of its heroes and had a clarity equal to any felt in the halls of light between lives. That same force is not evident there. This is fine stuff, but not the same. And I have to say, I think I would like it better were it not have Deverry's name. 

But it does, and I don't. 

Thursday 17 September 2020

Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel’s Dart Readalong, Part Three


It's week three of the readalong, which means we've reached

a) The halfway point
b) Everything happening

That's right all you Dartheads - Carey has set the scene, she's baited the hook, and now she's cried havoc and let slip the dogs of drama. That means a lot of questions this from our host and question setter Zezee with Books and I for one approve. Let's get cracking:

Phédre slipped during her assignment with Melisande and mentioned that Delaunay is “waiting for word from Quintilius Rousse.” She believed this slip contributed to Delaunay’s murder, but Melisande assured Phédre that she’d already known that information.
Do you think Delaunay was right to keep Phédre unaware of his identity, motivations, and true intentions to prevent such slips on her assignments?

It's an espionage standard for a reason, isn't it? Not only does it prevent unwanted leaks but it helps the spy act naturally, because they don't have to conceal knowledge. And that's what Phédre is doing - spying. Keeping secrets from her is probably in both of their best interests most of the time. Of course, we've seen an incident where maybe it wasn't in people's best interest - does Alcuin press Bovare so far and nearly get killed if he's aware of more? Maybe yes, maybe no. I lean towards no. But certainly it can get them into trouble. 

My analogy for spies and secrets though is that it's like a goalie preparing to make a move based on the shooter's body angles rather than waiting for the shot, or making a move in chess based on what you expect your opponent's next move to be rather than the move they just made - sometimes you will be wrong and fail to stop them and look foolish; but if you wait to see the move unfold rather than anticipating it, you'll fail to stop them and will look foolish more often. You have to make the gamble with the information you have - and that information usually says keep the spy in the dark.

In any case, I'm inclined to believe Melisande that she already knew and that Phédre's feelings of guilt are more of a survivor's reaction than her fault.

Delaunay, Alcuin, and the entire household are murdered.
• What are your thoughts on the manner in which this happens (Melisande using Phédre; it occurring shortly after Phédre’s assignment with Melisande; unidentified soldiers committing this crime; entire household killed)? Do you think Phédre and Joscelin were lucky to escape, or is Phédre as unlucky as she believes her name to be?
• Do you think it’s significant that this murder takes place when Phédre has gained enough to complete her marque — that her guardian dies at the moment when she’s able to gain freedom from Naamah’s service, if she wants it?
• Do you think Phédre will be able to have her marque completed? Do you have any predictions of how her unfinished marque might affect her in the future?

Hmm. Last question first - I plead the fifth.

The second question is something I'd never considered before. I think this is mostly a moment of authorial convenience, but there are some deeper nuances. The confirmation that what lies between Phédre and Anafiel runs far deeper than indentured servant and bond holder - and that Anafiel Delaunay maybe hasn't stopped to think just how much devotion he's inspired in his wards. It doesn't seem to gnaw at Phédre that she's finally this close to freedom and just like that, she finally becomes a true slave, or at least not as gnaw as much as I'd have thought - but maybe that's the nature of Kushiel's dart. But mostly I think it serves the story and that Anafiel Delaunay joins a long line of of Chosen Ones parental figures murdered for the sake of a good yarn.

So, the first question... why not both? When you come down to brass tacks, having the ones you love most brutally killed will never be a point in your favour. Surviving it is. She has been grossly unlucky and lucky alike here, and I don't think they balance out.

• Is it just me, or are you also curious about this strong, compulsive attraction Phédre has to Melisande to the point where she can’t even think straight sometimes? What are your thoughts on this? Do you think Melisande is as drawn to Phédre, or is she simply fascinated by Phédre being an anguissette and what Phédre’s limits are?

There are few things more discombulating in life than someone who you think is really, really hot coming onto you hard - and Melisande is always coming onto 
Phédre. Always proving the point that one smile, one innuendo, is all she has to make to get into Phédre's head. And Melisande is really, really hot - both on the outside, and for Phédre, on the inside. Because Phédre knows Melisande can push *all* of her buttons.

As for Melisande and Phédre... as drawn? No. But more than simply fascinated. I think if it was just simple fascination, this would be a shorter book.

We get to meet the Skaldi!
• What were your initial thoughts when Phédre and Joscelin were handed over to them? Were you disappointed that Phédre did not try to fight like Joscelin did or aid him? Were you frustrated by her seeming to surrender or impressed by her quick assessment of the situation or didn’t care and wanted to the story to take a different route?
• What do you think of the Skaldi (lifestyle, culture, government, thinking the d'Angelines are barbarians, etc.) and how Gunter’s people treat Phédre and Joscelin?

Phédre makes the right call. There's no way they're winning that fight, but they might win the next one if they survive.

As for the Skaldi... well, here's something I've been thinking about since reading Maryam's musings on this. The map is Europe, and the correspondences are there, but they're correspondences to a fairy tale version using particular stereotypes. The Skaldi are in Germany's place, but they're not the Germany of the middle ages, they're a mix of the tribesmen Rome fought and the Vikings. The great Germanic migrations and invasions that reshape western Europe never happen here (although Germanic names are used throughout the book in countries they probably shouldn't have reached judging by what history they're given). Does this sort of European stereotyping from Americans bother me? Should I be bothered?

In any case... the Skaldi are Just Another Viking Expy. And look, I love Vikings. But despite this love, their existence as the one uncriticised fantasy stereotype makes me twitch a little. The elves vanish, the chosen ones are unchosen, the dreamland orphan worlds become more and more logical, but the barbaric brutes of the north somehow march on unnoticed. As a result, I'm less fond of them than I was, and don't really have any particular thoughts about the latest edition. There's some show of showing a deeper reality to the home life I guess?

Phédre's and Joscelin's treatment is interesting though. I am 'happy' that the grim reality of their situation isn't completely ignored. Joscelin getting thrown in with the dogs is the on the nose summation of their situation - they're just another form of animal here. The more Phédre and Joscelin demonstrate their humanity, the more the Skaldi soften their attitudes, but they're still not entirely human. And all of Phédre's "for a Skaldi" notes in her head suggests its not entirely one way. Hedwig's a good lady though.

Final grim note - Gunter boasts that if he wants a D'Angeline woman, he can just go get one. We see him ride off to go raiding. But we don't see any of the logical aftermath. No D'Angeline slaves. No near D'Angeline-pretty Skaldi. It's not a big thing I guess, but a small reminder that the worldbuilding here goes as deep as the immediate story needs to and no further. And yes, I know I just complained a little about people wanting their fantasy worlds to be super logical all the time.

Phédre and Joscelin’s relationship is slowly changing. This began before Delaunay’s death when Joscelin shared a bit about his background with Phédre and Alcuin, but the change grew by leaps when Phédre and Joscelin become slaves to the Skaldi.
• Do you have any predictions about where/what these changes will lead to?
• As their enslavement under the Skaldi persists, both Phédre and Joscelin seem to gain a greater understanding of the sacrifices their representative angels made. What do you think about the roles Phédre and Joscelin have to play in comparison to the acts of the angels they worship? (Phédre serves Naamah, who laid with strangers to protect and aid someone she loves; Joscelin serves Cassiel, who remained Elua’s companion despite having to turn on the One God to do so.)
• We’ve now gotten a couple scenes that show Joscelin’s badassery as a sword-dagger-wielding Casseline brother dude. Are you convinced of his abilities as a fighter? He’s also had to loosen his hold on some of his oaths to remain by Phédre’s side. How do you think that will affect him?

I plead the fifth again!

I'd never really thought about how they're living Naamah's and Cassiel's roles here. I think the big thing is that Naamah and Cassiel were angels and, while Carey's exact take on the nature of angels is illusive, possessed of a singularity of purpose beyond mere mortals. The sacrifices they made, while painful and huge in one sense, were also acts in line with their deepest nature in a way humans don't experience all that often. Phédre and Joscelin have a lot more doubts about what they're doing compared to the angels - or at least, compared to what they think the angels would have undergone. Or at least, they should do. Thinking about it, Phédre doesn't really seem to waver from her path here. Hate it, be humbled by it, but never wavers. A sign of Kushiel's touch on her? Incredible mental focus and willpower? An author putting the story before the character a little? Could be a little of the latter. I'm not a hundred per cent sold on Phédre reacting this way to this.

I am sold on Joscelin's ability to fight though.

We meet Waldemar Selig, the Skaldi who aims to unite all Skaldis and conquer Terre d’Ange.
• What do you think of Selig? Were you impressed?
• How did the way he was introduced in the story affect your impression of him when he does show up (first rumors mentioned every now and then of Skaldi joining forces under one dude; rumors of Skaldi movements indicating they have a leader; Phédre hearing stories of mythical proportions about the Skaldi leader; Phédre hearing his voice and peeking at him between tall Skaldi men; and finally seeing the dude and realizing he’s a tricksy one)? Did it increase your anticipation and curiosity about him?

Impressed enough I guess. He's not a paer tiger. But not impressed like I am with Delaunay or Melisande. He has the scent of the stock character to him.

There are lots of other stuff I didn’t mention, so share your thoughts on them too (all the politics, Hyacinthe, predictions fulfilled, etc.).

Ah Hyacinthe! Bless your foolish heart for thinking all that had to happen was your obstacles with Phédre disappearing and all would be well. Do you think she liked your high-handed assumptions, your placement of your culture's traditions above your relationship? Well not today me old petal.

I do want to say something about Delaunay. I knew, of course. But I didn't know the first time. I think it was a very masterful piece of plotting by Carey that.

I think on this read-through, I came across what I'd call a single defining trait of Anafiel Delaunay, his strength and weakness - his single-mindedness. He shows as this almost mythical figure, excellent in all disciplines, multi-layered and faceted, but at the core Anafiel follows one scent and is peerless in pursuit of that scent, but a little clueless outside of it. He has been marvellously clever and fantastically devoted in his oath to his long-lost love, but didn't pay enough attention to things he thought outside of it. Look at how he misjudged the feelings and emotions of Alcuin and Phédre. Look at how he misjudged Melisande, thinking her outside of his hunt. It seems a bit ridiculous with everything we know about her after the fact - her ruthlessness, her ability to deceive, her interest in the throne - but there we go.

If he reminds me of another fantasy character, it is - and recent events make me wish I could think of a better one - it is Dumbledore. Both are presented initially as wise beyond wise, superbly talented, incredibly interesting. As the story progresses, we see the human failings behind their talents, not to mention the questions arising from the heavy burdens placed on the very young. It's not unknown for readers to focus on the latter but personally I see a blend; his imperfections are not the entirety of his story for me. After all, even clever people make mistakes. I look at Anafiel Delaunay and I see a character who, by and large, tried to treat people with respect and honour. He asked nothing from Alcuin or Phédre that went beyond D'Angeline cultural boundaries. He put them in danger, but they lived in dangerous times - who knows who dies if the Lioness of Azalle and Melisande are left to play their games undisturbed? Ultimately, I still like him.

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Redwall Readthrough - Mattimeo

Onto book three of my Redwall readthrough with Mattimeo, the direct sequel to Redwall itself.

For those who don't know, Redwall is a series of children's fantasy books by Brian Jacques famous for its use of anthropomorphic animals, good vs evil, and regional British dialects. It was hugely popular when I was a young 'un (the first book was published in 1986, the year of my birth); I do not know how popular they are now, nearly ten years after Jacques' death and the posthumous publication of the last book in the series. I probably discovered them when I was around 10; I was still joyfully enjoying being able to take the latest release from my uncles' bookshop for free in my late teens.

Obviously I am no longer in my teens, but now I am going to read them all again and share my thoughts. I appreciated Redwall more and found Mossflower awesome, but how will I go with one of my least favourite Redwall books?

Mini-Review: The abbey is at peace following the events of Redwall but even in times of peace, there is trouble. Matthias' son, Mattimeo, is growing up headstrong and spoilt - hardly the material needed for the next Abbey champion. But that's okay - Slagar the Cruel has a score to settle with Redwall, and it involves Mattimeo not growing up in the abbey at all.

With Mattimeo kidnapped by the slaver, both father and son face a difficult struggle. Matthias has to track the wily beast to who knows where; Mattimeo has to find a way to protect his friends from the fate ahead of them. But perhaps it's the woman of the family Cornflower who has the hardest task - because with Redwall's defenders away, a horde of black birds strike!

What do I recall thinking at the time: This was flat out my least favourite Redwall as a kid. There was too much happening with the plot, Mattimeo was kinda annoying, the bird thing was the most random subplot ever and the climatic battle felt dull and confused. I think this might even be my first re-read of it.

What do I think now: Young me had a lot of valid points. Three major plotlines, one of which barely had anything to do with the others, is probably going to result in inferior plotlines and so it is here. None of them are truly gripping - the birds one is actually the best. It's got more going on than I credited it with but I still think it's pretty weak.

Best Thing: Let's talk birds. When the cat's away, the mice will play, but who will play when the mice are away? General motherfucking Ironbeak and his horde of ravens, crows, magpies and rooks, that's who. In particular, they strike when Warbeak and her sparra are gone. Now, okay, they're a bit weak sauce as they kept getting beat up by everyone, particularly Sister May the infirmarian, but the main way the Redwallers keep a lid on them is by a cunning ruse wherein the aforemention Cornflower dresses up in Martin's armour and pretends to be his ghost, with Constance the badger providing the gloomy warnings. It's genius and a lot of fun, and a nice example of a woman getting shit done without having to hit people herself or take her knickers off.

Other great things include - ... uhm... hmm... Slagar's original show was fun? I do like the continuity of a minor villain from one story surviving to become the big cheese in the next (Slagar was a fox called Chickenhound in Redwall). Wow, there's really not a lot else that's actually great. 

Worst Thing: There's nothing that particularly stands out as bad per se. I'm not sure why Warbeak and all the sparrows had to fly off to guide Matthias, other than to set up the unnecessary although cool plot strand. The final battle rings implausible in terms of the numbers Matthias and friends take on. None of the heroes or villains other than Cornflower and Slagar (well, a little) stand out as cool. The book isn't bad - it just isn't good either. It's flat.

I guess worst is Sir Harry the Muse, an owl who occasionally turns up to help (if suitably bribed with shrew baking) towards the end. He spends a lot of time talking in rhyming poems. Now, something I haven't really covered so far is just how much Brian Jacques loves a poem or song. Or even better, a riddle. They're everywhere. Part of the charm. But here it feels like a bug rather than a feature. The character basically exists for Jacques to insert short poems and they're not his best work. 

Hero Watch: I rarely criticise characters or plots for feeling generic - the search for the small differences is fun - but Matthias does feel generic. He's just a nice, honourable creature who'll move mountains for his family and stand up to any evil, in a proud but nor arrogant way. He's got 90% of the same DNA as any hero and I can't see what's exceptional about the remaining 10%. Mattimeo isn't generic but his arc doesn't feel that well nailed down - he's not that much of a spoiled brat to begin with (one really annoyingly bratty inner monologue aside) and isn't that wowing once he's supposedly grown out of it.

But lets give it up for Cornflower. Hero's wife, hero's mother, she's the type of character fantasy likes to forget - but her courage and ingenuity in standing up General Ironbeak save a lot of lifes and reveals a core of steel. She, ladies and gennelmen, is the real hero of this story. Her and Sister May. Or Sissimay. You'll see why if you read.

Villain Watch: I'm a little torn on whether Slagar is a great villain or not. On the one hand - great backstory, love all the cunning and showmanship. On the other hand - he's basically just a jumped up slaver with a small band of vermin, no great shows of prowess, and with a really cartoony sense of betraying everyone. It feels like the journey is the true adversary for Matthias and Mattimeo here. Pin me down and I guess he's okay.

General Ironbeak is a real doofus though, one moment hanging on his seer's every word, the next being all "no it can't be I don't want it to be". Also, let's be honest, he does have one of the worst fighting records of any Redwall villain. Something that I am beginning to "ho hum" about in the series is how many of the villains are built up as these great terrifying forces that in all honesty would struggle taking the skin off some broth. Ironbeak is one of them.

Other Notes: 

1) I guess I should remark on how Jacques had the villains hide out in the abandoned Loamhedge Abbey and the fun way it makes the world feel like a dynamic place with a history? It's smart worldbuilding for sure.

2) There's something fun about a series where the chronological order goes Second Published, First Published, Third Published (and fourth published will go before first iirc). It reminds me a bit of what Gemmell and Pratchett did in terms of filling out bits of their series as they saw fit - Robert Rankin to an extent too - and it's not something I've really seen outside British authors. Coincidence, or some small cultural tradition getting gently removed by chronological series?

3) Speaking of places inside fantasy - and this has nothing to do with the book - I noticed when browsing the very comprehensive Redwall fandom wiki that Jacques is in the vexing ranks of fantasy authors who have a beef with fantasy. To wit:

"I do not like the term 'fantasy'. It smacks of swords and sorcery and dungeons and dragons, and this is not at all the feeling of my books. I like to think of my books as old fashioned adventures that happened 'Once upon a time, long ago and far away...'; in fact, good yarns is how I describe them." (Undated Random House interview)

My beef with that (least important to most important) 

a) The snobbishness - "Ooh, fantasy's this thing, I don't like this thing, I'm not fantasy". Give over. If nothing else apart, if someone sticks a label on you, maybe think about what it really is, not what it "smacks of". Want to know how many old fashioned adventures and good yarns are in the fantasy genre?

b) The lack of gratitude - I'm imagining a lot of Redwall fans found their way to the series thanks to fantasy. I'm imagining publishers and booksellers took it on because they knew books like Lord of the Rings and Watership Down had established a market for books like this. Jacques sailed down a high tide that came from others' efforts - not taking away anything from his skill, 99% of good authors are in this boat and 99% of would be authors never make it to that boat - and those efforts were in the fantasy genre.

c) The lack of self-awareness - The most important single physical artefact in the series is, in fact, a sword. Creatures claiming or having supernatural powers are far from unknown - Mattimeo has Ironbeak's seer Mangiz, Slagar faking magic powers, and evidence of prophetic visions from Germaine; Mossflower has Boar's knowledge of his own fate; Redwall has the spirit of Martin the Warrior. Both Redwall and Mattimeo feature quests underground, and in Redwall, Matthias fights a giant poisonous snake i.e. a dragon. Everything Jacques says fantasy smacks of he has! He has in abundance! His books feel like fantasy by his own definition and that he didn't get that is just bemusing.

How people view the fantasy genre doesn't bother me that much; I have no huge need for it to be popular or respected, as long as there's a core who love it that I can find. The only real reason to wish for the genre's popularity is so that those involved got paid fairly, and if we dream of getting so popular we all get paid very well, I'd worry that the pay of our collective dreams would warp the creativity behind it. But insofar as it bothers me, and insofar as it bothers people I'd wish to be unbothered, statements like Jacques are irksome and unhelpful.

The bit that really bothers me is the complete lack of self awareness verging on hypocrisy. Swap out the mice, otters, rats, cats, foxes and snakes for hobbits, dwarves, orcs, elves, goblins and dragons and you have some of the most stereotypical fantasy the world has ever seen - so stereotypical it's actually rare. Obviously it's a big swap but one big swap doesn't take you out of a genre. Not fantasy because its old fashioned adventure? We built this city on old fashioned adventure. 

Jacques' work couldn't be more fantasy if he'd tried and if he'd spent less time being snobbish about the label and more time understanding the company he'd been placed in, he'd have probably understood. Maybe.

Anyway, sermon over. Tune in soon for the next installment - Mariel of Redwall, featuring our angriest protagonist yet.

Monday 14 September 2020

Redwall Readthrough - Mossflower

Well, book one is in the bag, which means we're now onto book two of the Redwall series readthrough (and where it all started for me) - Mossflower.

For those who don't know, Redwall is a series of children's fantasy books by Brian Jacques famous for its use of anthropomorphic animals, good vs evil, and regional British dialects. It was hugely popular when I was a young 'un (the first book was published in 1986, the year of my birth); I do not know how popular they are now, nearly ten years after Jacques' death and the posthumous publication of the last book in the series. I probably discovered them when I was around 10; I was still joyfully enjoying being able to take the latest release from my uncles' bookshop for free in my late teens.

Obviously I am no longer in my teens, but now I am going to read them all again and share my thoughts. I appreciated Redwall more for being older - will that be true of Mossflower?

Mini-Review: Before there was Redwall, there was Mossflower...

The good animals of Mossflower Forest suffer under the ever increasing tyranny of the Greeneyes family of wildcats, rulers of Kotir castle. The spirit of rebellion waxes thick, but they don't have the forces to take on a trained army. Into this comes Martin the Warrior, a mouse without purpose; a wanderer, a born fighter, making his way south from the homeland that chewed his family up. Captured by Kotir's forces, he makes a friend and a vow. The friend is Gonff, the irrepresible thief and jokester from Mossflower; the vow is that he will kill the wildcat Tsarmina after she breaks his father's sword.

Naturally, Martin becomes part of the Mossflower resistance. But with it being clear only a bloody defeat awaits the path of open confrontation, they come up with a new plan - Martin must quest for Salamandstron, legendary home of the badger lords, and bring home Boar the Fighter, Mossflower's most warlike son. But doing so only exchanges one set of perils for another, and Martin's destiny is calling.

What do I recall thinking at the time: I'm not a huge book cover guy but I think I need to share this one:

Look at how green that is; it's primeveal. Look at how metal that ship is (not that I even knew what metal was then). It promises awesome.

I loved this book. I found it fresh off of Lord of the Rings and Warhammer and a diet of my father's history textbooks and Shakespeare texts; I was primed for tales of drama and high adventure, of men daring all a man should dare, of heroes vs monsters, of the touch of the unknown and the creeping nature of the sacred. Mossflower fucking delivered and more. 

Let me share a little about me. I'm a child of London through and through but my grandparents weren't. They were children of the English shires, from Northumberland to Essex, and they lived close to it when I was growing up - in Oxfordshire, in Chichester, in the Isle of Wight. My holidays were spent there, particularly the Island, making up stories as I roamed through woodland and over down, or walking up and down the creek at Shalfleet before going sailing. Those were the homelands of my imagination, those were the places that I felt I had some ancestral link to (particularly the Island, where I am related to far too many people I'd never even recognise now). 

Mossflower tapped right into young Peat's cravings; it was hooked up to the veins. And the cover tells the full story as to why. 

What do I think now: I half-joked the other day on Twitter that it seems like my reader superpower is to still enjoy the books I enjoyed twenty years ago. So many readers, particularly in the fantasy genre, say "oh I grew out of this" or "wow, it didn't age well". This strikes me as sad. Read as thou wilt, beautiful people, but the more books you love, the happier you are - insofar as we have the choice, we should still love the books we once did. That's why I think what we have is indeed a minor superpower - my changes mutate, but I rarely abandon the strands of taste that once existed. That and I'm rather good at ignoring things that will bring me no good if noticed and no ill if ignored.

So when I re-read Mossflower, part of me was still that little boy, and I still thought it was awesome.

The more adult me has a few more reservations but really can't fault the book for what it looks like it wants to do. It's an adventure story told in broad strokes, a rousing tale of friendship and bravery against great odds, a paradise of great food and laughter and beautiful places. It's not quite as magical to old me but there's some fine set-pieces - the running battles between the Otters and Squirrels with the Kotir soldiers, the Gloomer vs Stormfin, the Mask, the final duel between Martin and Tsarmina - and I was never bored. There's some choices that don't make sense but hey, it's a kid's book right?

Best Thing: I've mentioned the Mask once, so let me talk a little more about this hero. The Mask is a reclusive otter who's abandoned the riverdog life of swimming with the crew and instead spends his time mastering disguises of all natures. When a couple of young woodlanders are imprisoned, this comes in handy. His infiltration of the castle and subsequent escape are some of the book's best moments, by turns entertaining and gripping. Plus - for all that I am down with the bloodshed - it's nice to see that not all problems need be solved that way.

Other great things include the badgers - Bella of Brockhall is just a lovely no nonsense lady, while I love the concept of the badger lords in their lonely mountain by the sea, a fortress of destiny existing only to protect the lands around them; Gonff dancing with a crab; the existence of Gingivere, the nice Greeneyes (and undoubted ancestor of the wildcat in Redwall), and first sign that species does not always equate morality in this world; and Gonff making thievery seem fun and cool.

Worst Thing: This might seem a little choosy after enjoying the merciless pummeling handed out to Cluny, but it annoys me a little how easy the Mossflower fighters find life once they get going. The reason for that is we're told how difficult it will be and how much they need Boar and actually, it turns out to be super easy. Barely an inconvenience. Authors, you can do pretty much anything you like, as long as you don't lie about it. And since I still love the story, let's be real, you can get away with lying too.

Also annoying now - Martin and friends getting caught by some vermin because they didn't set a sentry; Gonff making thievery seem fun and cool. My parents once told me to keep all talk of wanting to learn how to pick locks to myself when visiting a friend, as his cousins were visiting and their dad was doing porridge for knowing similar things.

Hero Watch: As might be expected from the origin story of the abbey and it's patron warrior spirit, Martin is a fully fledged force of nature from the beginning who just gets better and better. It's a bit like watching Supermouse really, with the same charms and limitations. Although I do like the flash of temper that sees him promise to kill a creature just for breaking his sword. Well. 'Just'. It's the culmination of a chain of disrespect and danger from Tsarmina, who suggests he should be killed first, so I do kinda see it. Even so, I think Martin's got a great career in gangsta rap coming post-Abbey ghosting. Gonff is a great sidekick though - a constant source of bad jokes and good ideas.

Interestingly, while we see Jacques' liking for splitting the narrative between questing party and those at home, there's no central heroic figure for those left behind in Mossflower. 

Villain Watch: In comparison to Martin - who sounds like he grew up in a very bad neighbourhood - Tsarmina is a naive, privileged, incompetent, vicious ninny who only gains command after her father passes (with a little help) and who pisses the situation up the wall like the waster she is. It's an interesting contrast that in a more grown up book would have been made a lot more of, but it still works in the kid's edition. In classic villain fashion she goes through a ton of henchfolks, and there's a touching moment when the last of them puts her life first. There is no reward. Poor fool.

Incidentally, a shout out to old Verudaga Greeneyes for calmly listening to a mouse threaten his daughter with death and basically going "well, that seems fair enough". It's not every father who realises Personal isn't the same as Important, or maybe that he accidentally raised something that deserves death.

Other Notes: 

1) I haven't really commented on this yet, but the appearance of the refugee mice from Loamhedge Abbey (and founders of Redwall) do prompt me to ask a few meaningless questions about a) Where all these abbeys and churches are coming from in a world that never ever mentions God or any other deity and b) where are all these big mice populations that pump out enough spare mouths to have a bunch of celibates? Or are they actually celibate - the novice Columbine marries Gonff and has kids after all. But none of the others do. I'm so confused. And will remain confused because ultimately Jacques was too busy telling the story, which is fair.

2) I sometimes get a little conflicted about the difference between the snarling hatred the hares, otters, squirrels, and other such martial woodlanders feel for the vermin, and their insistence on humanitarian treatment for them once it's over. But then I remember that's probably how British servicemen would have described their experiences with Ze Germans, which must have been a fundamental part in Jacques' view of war and conflict.

3) This book has a key part in my lifelong ambition to have a pet otter (albeit an ambition I appreciate will probably never happen). They're the coolest, matey.