The Legend of Luke, by Brian Jacques

January 22, 2012 at 15:30 (Adventure, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Mediocre Books) (, , , , )

5/10

This book is deservingly titled: since the publication of Martin the Warrior and Mossflower in particular, the character of the almost mystical Martin has hovered conspicuously in the background of every one of the Redwall books, and the temptation to provide exposition for this noticeable enigma plainly became too great to be ignored any longer.

The danger in writing prequels is that any light shed on tantalising and mysterious characters with dark or exciting origins usually ends up destroying everything that made those characters interesting in the first place. Martin the Warrior skated perilously close to this, turning the Tall, Dark Stranger from Mossflower into a simple escaped slave with an attitude and a rusty sword. Nobody wants to know where Clint Eastwood’s “man with no name” went to school, and nobody wants Darth Vader to be a whining eight-year-old child. Nobody wants to meet a teenage Falstaff or see Moriarty out on his first date. Nobody wants to see Big Brother as just “one of the guys” working his first job, or read about Atticus Finch’s first trials. Although Martin the Warrior was a good book, Martin’s character was unarguably damaged.

It is surprising then, that in a probably ill-advised foray into legendary beginnings and unwanted exposition, Jacques manages to create a compelling and genuinely epic genesis for Luke. The spectre of the ancient ship in the air, the revisiting of ocean tales for the first time since Mariel of Redwall, the fitting apotheosis of Luke in the final climactic chapters of his story and the introduction of a truly excellent villain all combine to make the title of this book no shallow boast.

“She was a huge sinewy creature, with unusually black shining fur that glistened in the sunlight. Though wounded and scarred in several places, she heaved and bucked against the ropes, sending vermin sprawling, baring strong white teeth at them.”

-The Legend of Luke

Legend of Luke is the last of the Redwall books published before Brian Jacques lost his brilliance; the final book before the series saw marked decline in quality. It is more than ever a transitional book when considering its own layout. The entire “legend” is told in the second section of the story, with the first and third parts taken up by an insipid, repetitive and utterly derivative quest-to-find-the-legend. The quest includes characters poached from Mossflower and Mariel of Redwall (most noticeably) as well as such foolish innovations as the invention of the sail-car. Yes, an automobile. It seems that Jacques had the germ of a good story that he was unable to sufficiently lengthen, and that he bookended with a hurriedly scrawled and painfully juvenile piece of padding. For that reason alone, this book clearly marks the end of the quality (found in the second part) and the beginning of the trite and sloppy (found in the first and third parts). For that reason also this book is difficult to recommend, and should only be explored once the earlier books have been exhausted.

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