(I finished this a month ago and should have reviewed it back then, but I was more interested in diving into my next book than writing a review.)
Salamandastron follows multiple groups of characters whose paths eventually converge. The primary storyline starts at Salamandastron. Ferahgo, a blue-eyed assassin weasel, has set his sights on that place and is convinced that there is great treasure to be found there. He knows it’ll all belong to him if he and his band can manage to defeat Urthstripe, the great badger Lord, and his skilled warrior hares. Urthstripe, meanwhile, is distracted by family problems: Mara, his adopted daughter, has been growing increasingly rebellious and restless.
The secondary storyline starts at Redwall Abbey. Everything there is good food and celebrations, with occasional light punishments for scamps like Samkim the squirrel and his best friend Arula the molemaid, until a couple stoats accidentally do something horrible. Suddenly Samkim finds himself suspected of killing someone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, many of Redwall Abbey’s residents then fall ill with the dreaded Dryditch Fever.
This is the first Redwall book I’ve ever read. I had planned to start with Redwall, the very first book in the series, but my copy was used and fell apart in my hands when I opened it up. After a little searching online, I determined that I should be able to start with Salamandastron, the one other Redwall book I owned, without becoming too confused.
Salamandastron was given to me by a friend back when I was, I think, in middle school. If I had read it back then, I might have liked it more. Despite its copious amounts of (not explicitly described) violence and death, Salamandastron definitely read like it was meant for a younger audience - I’m guessing either the high end of the Middle Grade age range or the low end of the Young Adult.
Then again, who knows? Maybe the various accents in Salamandastron would have annoyed Younger Me too. The moles were definitely the worst, although the falcons and eagle occasionally gave me trouble too. Here’s an example that made me laugh bitterly - a mole saying he had trouble understanding an eagle:
“‘Och, these vittles are braw eatin’, Dumble. Ha’ ye nae mair o’ these wee veggible pasties the guid hedgepig lady made?’
Droony squinched his eyes until they nearly disappeared into his small velvety face. ‘Bohurr, you’m heagle do be a-talken funny loik. Oi carn’t unnerstan’ a wurd ‘ee be sayen, Dumble.’” (290)
Oh really. And how do you think I felt every time one of the moles opened their mouths? There were times I just gave up and skimmed certain characters’ dialogue. Why did Samkim’s best friend have to be a mole? ::sob::
I can totally see younger readers being drawn in by the anthropomorphized animals and action scenes. And food descriptions! This book was chock full of delicious-sounding food. Unfortunately, sometimes all that food and eating detracted from the story. For example, at one point Mara’s friend Pikkle took part in an eating contest. This was after he and Mara had nearly been eaten by carnivorous toads. Not to mention, Mara and Pikkle should still have been worried sick about what Ferahgo and his band might be doing to their friends and family back at Salamandastron. But no, figuring out who could eat the most hot spiced apple pudding was suddenly the most important thing.
This was part of the reason why the book read so young: serious stuff happened, but it didn’t seem to have as much emotional impact as it should. Several good characters died! At least one of them senselessly! And one villain’s fate was saved from being gruesome only because most of it happened off-page and none of it was described in detail. If the other Redwall books have body counts similar to this one, I don’t think it’d be too out of line to say that Brian Jacques is the George R.R. Martin of Middle Grade fantasy.
But, again, those deaths didn’t have much emotional impact. Beloved friends and family died, and characters moved on within a page or two and were soon back to happily gorging themselves on delicious festival foods.
Meh. I had hoped to fall in love with this series, but Salamandastron has left me with no desire to try more.
I couldn’t figure out how to fit it into the body of my review, but I wanted to mention it anyway: I have never seen so many characters practice such terrible weapons safety in a single book. Samkim liked to shoot arrows wherever, just for fun, and all the adults around him did was ground him and then worry they were being too harsh. And one character, an adult who should have known better, straight up stabbed himself (not fatally, but still) because he’d been playing around with a sword like it was a toy.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)