Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mistmantle Chronicles

Mistmantle Chronicles: Urchin of the Riding Stars

This caught my eye on the bookstore shelves, with its pleasing whiff of Redwall and its cover picture of a warrior squirrel on coastal rocks surrounded by sea urchins and starfish. I was half hopeful and half expecting to be disappointed by it, but the opening sentences passed the test, so I sprang for it. It turned out a lovely and satisfying story, which both male and female readers should enjoy, definitely and unabashedly inspired by Redwall, but like a welcome cousin. The similarities -- the peaceful animals of the English forests and waters, treacherous animal enemies, the agrarian setting, the utter nastiness of the villains, the triumph of good over evil -- are familiar. But after the book is finished, it's the differences that make the book memorable in its own right.

The differences come in subtle variations on the basic elements. In details, such as the magnificent swans. In Redwall birds are similarly exotic -- neither friend nor foe but other. But it's the particularity of Swans that shines in the memory. In motifs, like the classification of species. Redwall's creatures are sorted into good and bad by species. The only play on this is in Outcast of Redwall and Taggerung, where an infant of a good species is raised by the bad or vice versa. In Mistmantle, there are heroes and villains within species, most notable squirrels. In settings and ecology: Mistmantle coasts include starfish and sea urchins, and falling stars light up the sky. Original images like these and the swans' approach to Mistmantle burn into the memory.

In short, this first volume is highly recommended. I think I'll look for # 2 and #3 now. I have to learn Urchin's destiny and find out how Padra and Arran fare.

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