Although the young mouse Matthias has always lived in the abbey of Redwall, he does not seem cut out for cloistered life. A dreamer at heart, he longs to be a great warrior like the legendary Martin who saved Redwall from invasion years ago. However, Father Abbott reminds Matthias that Redwall is a place of peace and refuge. Little does Father Abbott know that Matthias’ courage will soon be tested by Cluny the Scourge, a rat that has terrorized the surrounding countryside and who is determined to take the abbey for himself. Matthias and the wise Brother Methuselah use an ancient poem to recover the sword of Martin to assist Matthias in battle. Matthias faces many setbacks in his search for the sword, but he perseveres. Fortunately, Matthias leaves the abbey well-guarded while on his quest. Indeed, his friends seem better suited than he to defend their home.
Redwall presents one growing trend in modern children’s books: the feminine warrior. It is the female inhabitants of Redwall and its environs who really save the abbey. The badger Constance, leader of the abbey’s defense, resembles a pirate with her coarse language and merciless attitude. Jess the squirrel climbs to a precariously high weather vane to search for the coveted sword, while her nervous husband wrings his paws and worries about her safety from the ground. Chivalry may not be completely dead, but it has clearly suffered a serious blow. Other female soldiers include Warbeak the sparrow, Guosim the shrew and Winifred the otter. The only truly feminine character in the story is Cornflower, Matthias’ romantic interest for whom he eventually abandons monastic life. (No harm done; he was too young to have taken any vows.) Attractive, Cornflower is an accomplished cook with a refreshing spirit of service. Unfortunately, she does very little thinking and is rather boring compared to the other characters. The male characters do think, but the only one who truly takes action is the villain Cluny. Even Matthias, the supposed hero of the book, has little personality.
Young readers will undoubtedly enjoy this action packed book with its simple plot and dialogue. Parents looking for strong role models for their sons and daughters may find Redwall disappointing.