The eighth Redwall book is the critical moment where the series faults – which are many, and present from the beginning – finally pull it down. Jacques provides us with some exciting fight scenes and an exotic setting by way of apology, but the story is a mess. The villain’s motives make no sense, a huge number of pages are inconsequential to the story, and the heroes get helped by author’s convenience so often that they seem to have Brian Jacques on pager.
The setup is good. Several valuable “Pearls of Lutra” are brought to the Abbey and hidden by a mutinous vermin, who then dies, leaving their location unknown. The vermin’s friends come looking for the Pearls, and when they can’t find them they abduct the Abbott of Redwall and hold him to ransom. Mattimeo’s son and a group of friends give chase to the retreating vermin, and their search for the Abbott takes them to the tropical island of Sampetra – controlled by the tyrannical pine marten Ublaz, who needs the pearls to accomplish…what?
If there’s any significance to the Pearls, it’s not explained. They’re not magical pearls. There’s quite a big deal made about the mice of Redwall looking for the Pearls (cue 10+ tedious chapters of mice deciphering clues), but exactly what this will accomplish is similarly not explained. They have no boat, and no way of getting the Pearls to Ublaz. The Pearls are a MacGuffin but they feel curiously out of place in this book. The kidnapped Abbott is what propels the story forward, never mind a pointless search for buried treasure.
The Sampetra scenes are fun, with the warring and realpolitiking between Ublaz’s warriors being more interesting than the main story. Jacques writes the most interesting villains in the world, while his heroes are boring.
The fights are, as usual, well done, but the heroes have it too easy. A dreadful thing called “plot immunity” is in play here, with Jacques not wanting to kill or hurt any of his named characters, so he has them fight stupid, ill-prepared, unsuspecting dolts. Where’s the tension? Is one of the main characters even going to break a nail in this quest? A boy scout troup could have rescued the Abbott.
The characters make nonsensical decisions, get jerked this way and that by careless yanks of the plot, and the result is a story that doesn’t make sense. There’s no point in the mice collecting the pearls, I have no idea why Ublaz even wants the pearls, and plan to rescue the Abbott only works by writers’ fiat: Jacques stacks the deck so that they can save the day by lucky and unlikely fluke.
The Redwall books that came after this resemble the gag in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the king keeps building a castle and it keeps collapsing into a swamp. Jacques never recovered his old power until the day he died, and his most famous series decayed into something almost unreadable. To be honest, even the early Redwall books aren’t that good. They’re best read when you’re a child – so that you don’t notice all the parts held together with Sellotape.