Rereading this entry in Brian Jacques' Redwall series was an interesting experience. I used to read this series of rollicking tales about the creatures of an idyllic Abbey threatened every now and again by a horde of evil searats all the time, mainly, it has to be admitted, because of the food, which remains ridiculously, calorifically, hypnotic:
Alternating between Bernard Bread, blackcurrant pie, summer salad, cheese 'n' nut flan, mintcream cakes and honeyglazed preserved fruits, she held her own with the best trencherbeasts.
I don't even know what mintcream cakes are and I want them. I've heard these books described as "vegetarian propaganda" and I think that is just about right.
Plot-wise, though, the book feels a bit muddled in its messages. This particular entry sees a young mouse washed up on the shores of Mossflower country with no memory of where or who she is. Having whacked a threatening seagull in the face with a knotted rope, she meets some hares who take her to Redwall Abbey, where she finds out that her name is Mariel and that her father Joseph is being held captive by an evil searat named Gabool the Wild. (I promise, all of this makes vastly more sense if you're familiar with the series.) She swears to go rescue her father, and she and some of her friends embark upon a Quest for the subtly-named Isle Terramort where Gabool dwells.
It's exactly as melodramatic as it sounds.
But the real problem with Mariel is an ideological one. Jacques wants his characters to be peace-loving vegetarians; but he also wants them to be able to whack things in the face on occasion. This leads to interesting rationalisations, like "It's OK to whack this evil snake on the head because it's trying to eat us, but we can't kill it because every creature has a right to life." Which is all well and good on its own, but runs into problems when it's considered in conjunction with the moral that goes: "It's OK to kill searats because they want to kill us and then every single other living thing ever." Well, what do you think the snake wanted to do?
I couldn't bear to rate this lower than three stars, because of the nostalgia factor, and because the food really is awesome. (Actually, I think the food may warrant an entire star on its own.) But, and I hate to say it, it's really not the best thing ever.