Ring the bells of Redwall Abbey—there’s another chronicle of Mossflower Wood! For those not familiar with the series, the Redwall novels are set in a fantasy world inhabited by intelligent mice, hares, shrews and more. Each tale almost invariably involves a conflict between “good” animals and various evil “vermin”—rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets and so on. It’s a formula that fans adore, which Jacques has great talent for exploring in surprising variety.
The Sable Quean begins with an evil plot by the self-proclaimed “Sable Quean,” a black-furred weasel name Vilaya. Rather than storm the well-protected abbey, Vilaya sends her lieutenant, the vicious weasel Zwilt the Shade, to kidnap the “dibbuns” (or children) of Redwall Abbey. Her scheme is to ransom the children for control of Redwall, thereby capturing the entire realm without a fight. But Vilaya does not expect the arrival of Blademaster Buckler Kordyne and his friend Diggs, two soldier hares sent to Redwall with a gift for the current abbess. Naturally, the two heroes discover the plot, and set out to rescue the missing little ones—who are already proving that capturing the “dibbuns” is an entirely different thing from keeping them captive.
The Sable Quean stands on its own; you need not have read the series to jump into this one. Redwall lovers will delight in little tidbits from the other books woven throughout, while newcomers may have their appetites whetted for more. Jacques peppers his stories with unusual characters, and this is no exception, from the first ever “warrior mole” to an insane hedgehog. Some readers may find his dialects a challenge (mole speech is particularly obscure), and the frequent poetry tends to interrupt the action, though Redwall fans will likely enjoy these bits of woodland culture. Typical of the series, there’s not a lot of subtlety—the villains’ motivations are rudimentary at best—nor is there much character growth. But there’s plenty of adventure with engaging plot twists, as well as likable characters to delight fantasy fans young and old. In the end, The Sable Quean is an enjoyable addition to a popular series, and a treat for Redwallers everywhere.
Howard Shirley is a children’s writer and lifelong fantasy reader. You can visit his website at www.howardshirleywriter.com.