Yet another fantasy series gets discussed today, and yet another series that I’ve been bringing along since early adolescence.
As an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy in English living in Buenos Aires as a teen, there wasn’t always as much variety as you might expect from a typical bookstore in the US. There were usually a few books in English, and, if one was lucky, one or two would be genre books.
That situation was exacerbated when on summer holiday in Uruguay. Punta del Este in the early nineties was the place to be in you liked electronic music or enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the highest element of the upper crust, but it wasn’t exactly a bibliophile’s paradise. I guess no place on Earth is perfect.
But there was a bookstore, and over the years I bought a number of books there that I might not have purchased if there had been a better selection. Sometimes they were real turkeys (Spinrad’s Russian Spring comes to mind), and sometimes they were the beginning of a lifelong read (it was here that I first encountered the Deverry series).
The last genre book sitting on the shelf that summer was a strange item which had a mouse with a sword on its cover: Brian Jacques Mossflower. I had serious misgivings about this thing… it wasn’t really the kind of book I would normally have approached. Despite being about 400 pages long, it seemed more like something for kids than for a teen who didn’t know enough about the world to understand that he wasn’t cool and worldly.
So I read it and… It wasn’t half bad. In fact, I found it spectacularly refreshing. You see, Jacques, liberated by the fact that his characters were assorted rodents and other small mammals, massacred more of his dramatis personae than anyone I had been exposed to at the time. Only recently did George R. R. Martin dare to do it at the same scale with human characters.
Well, maybe not at the same scale. Martin is in a league of his own regarding character killing (although he seems to have calmed down remarkably in recent books) but Jacques is by no means sugar coated. While you could pretty much bet that the young mouse who found an ancient sword somewhere was going to survive and thrive, some of the other good guys were usually toast. And Jacques also took time to build up the motivations and personalities of the bad guys so that, when they inevitably perished in the epic bloodbath that ends each book, one would feel for them.
Since then, this series has been on the changeup / back burner list. I buy the next installment every once in a while and end up reading one of these every couple of years or so. I’ve gotten as far as Marlfox, which is pretty much par for the course: a fun read which doesn’t necessarily break any new ground, but which entertains with action and suspense. Perfect for when you’ve been reading the classics and need a break.
Also, nice wholesome old-school violence for those who think their pre-teens and young teens are getting a little obsessed with vampire sex. Young readers need balance, after all.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose latest novel is a fantasy romp set in ancient Greece entitled The Malakiad.