This book is like episode 93 of the Simpsons, where Bart gets hired as Krusty the Klown’s personal assistant. He hears a janitor grumbling about how terrible showbusiness is, and Krusty says “don’t listen to him, kid! This is the place where dreams are made! Now go clean out my toilet!”
I was pretty hyped up for this book when it came out. A chance for Brian Jacques to put a bullet through the skull of his decrepit and aging Redwall series, and start out fresh with a new series…it sounded like a dream.
The first section of this book is great. Maybe it trowels on the melodrama a bit thick (the star is a poor, abused, disabled orphan), but we don’t get 30-page descriptions of food, so score one for the good guys! It’s about a 17th-century era boy who stows away on a ship along with a stray dog, and the journey that ends with that ship becoming the legendary Flying Dutchman. This is some of the best material Brian Jacques has ever written, and it compares well with the first Redwall book. The action is fast and furious, the atmosphere is unrelentingly tense, and even the characters are pretty good. Captain Vanderdecken was a real surprise, how he brutally kills several members of his crew but shows occasionally kindness to Ned. This rudimentary character depth is as foreign to Brian Jacques as Klingon. The Flying Dutchman ends up cursed by God, but Ned and his dog are saved because they were the only two innocent people on board. They are given supernatural long life and are sent into the world to do good deeds.
You should probably put the book down now, because you’re up for toilet duty and the last man forgot to flush. Brian Jacques immediately forgets all the cool stuff he had written so far and turns the book into a horrible Hardy Boys adventure mystery.
Ned and his dog end up in a turn of the century English village that is about to be demolished by some stereotypical rich candy-ass, and with the aid of some plucky village youngsters they must discover the secret behind…something. This was the part where I basically stopped caring. The transition from an awesome high-seas adventure to a cosy little Fantastic Five mystery jaunt was so underwhelming and disappointing that it caused me to
All of Brian Jacques familiar Redwallisms emerge here too. There’s stupid villains (here, schoolyard bullies) who are somehow the terror of the village despite the fact that they can’t find their ass with both hands, there’s the brave and principled heroes who do nothing wrong and are consequently as interesting to read about as the items on Brian Jacques’ grocery list, there’s the inevitable scene where the main character faces the villain, looks him in the eyes, and the villain is forced to look away because the intensity of his stare, the long and pointless descriptions of food…do I have to go on? We’ve been reading this crap across a score of Redwall books, and believe me, it’s not any more interesting when the characters are human.
It’s not that the story is bad so much as that he set us up to expect so much more. Why couldn’t the entire damn book be like the first part? The Redwall books were always like this. A few amazing scenes, and the rest of the book might as well have been written by a different person.