Josiah's Reviews > Taggerung

Taggerung by Brian Jacques
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Nov 07, 2011

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Read from November 07 to 14, 2011 , read count: 1

It turns out that denizens of Redwall Abbey aren't the only creatures who have traditions as to how they bestow leadership upon a deserving member of each successive generation. Changing the guard of leadership is never easy and always includes risks, and for a treacherous gang of marauders like the clan of Sawney Rath the murderous ferret, the process of selecting a new leader usually involves some backstabbing and bloodshed.

The Taggerung, as the clan's leader is always called, most often ascends to his high position by coup—that is, killing the old leader when he becomes older and more vulnerable to attack—but Sawney Rath has different plans for succession this time around. Consulting his seer, a fox named Grissoul who is endowed with second sight, Sawney finds that the Taggerung after him will have a peculiar mark on his paw. It is by this mark that they will know him when they find him.

At Redwall Abbey, one otter family is in a season of particular joy with the welcoming of a new otter babe into the fold. Deyna is a dibbun of which any parent would be proud, but tragedy strikes like the gleaming fangs of an unseen serpent when the babe's father takes him out for the ceremonial swim that marks the birth of every healthy new otter. Deyna's father is felled by the lurking Sawney Rath and his rogues, who were led to that spot by the visions of Grissoul to find their future Taggerung in the form of the tiny otter dibbun.

Even as the heartbroken residents of Redwall slowly come to grips with the loss of their two beloved otters, Sawney Rath sets to work on his protege, endeavoring to bring up the otter as a cutthroat killer and plunderer worthy of assuming and defending the Taggerung name. It's not easy, though; no matter how the cruel ferret tries to instill his ruthless philosophy in Deyna (whom his new "family" now calls Taggerung, or just Tagg for short), the otter has a conscience and a caring soul like any other woodlander by birth, and is resistant to character change even as he is being saturated by the nefarious values of the vermin clan.

When the inevitable break with Sawney comes, Tagg isn't a little dibbun anymore. An experienced fighter of sixteen seasons' age, Tagg has become a cyclonic force in terms of combat technique, a fierce battler capable of measuring up to the skill and savvy of any Taggerung who came before him. On his own and pursued by the menial yet merciless soldiers of Sawney Rath whom the leader has ordered to cut down his wayward "son", Tagg wanders off in search of an alternate destiny for himself. Maybe that destiny has something to do with the recurring dreams that have come and gone in his mind at night for most of his life, dreams about a giant redstone building filled with happy, loving creatures, and a lone mouse warrior who calls out to Tagg by a name he doesn't remember ever having heard. Maybe there's a real family out there for Tagg somewhere, one that will grant him acceptance in a way that Sawney Rath and his odious bunch of followers could never have done.

Continuing the creative renaissance begun with The Legend of Luke, author Brian Jacques turns from the days of old and steers us back to the current timeline of Redwall chronology, and in my opinion does the best job of that since the eighth book of the series, Outcast of Redwall. Most of the characters in Taggerung are new, but some old favorites have significant parts to play as well, most notably the badgermum Cregga Rose Eyes. Now the old, matronly overseer of Redwall's populace, Cregga had been a maniacal force of destruction against all vermin forms of life when she reigned as lord of the mountain stronghold Salamandastron, so possessed by her bloodlust that she actually left her home with a band of loyal hare fighters to search for sea rats to kill, an impetuous move that led to her downfall when she was captured and blinded by the enemy. So many years later, however, Cregga has become one of the the most valuable of all Redwall citizens, honored for her wisdom and inner strength and even her physical power, still to be reckoned with after all these years. To Redwall fans who have read all thirteen books leading up to Taggerung, Cregga will probably be the most important character in this fourteenth novel, for it is in her that the emotional continuity of the whole series so far finds its main outlet.

Every time I write a review of a Redwall book I talk about the masterfully expressive language with which Brian Jacques paints the canvas, and I must do so again here. His word selection is wonderful to a degree that I can hardly describe, and now that he is gone I'm sure our appreciation for the greatness of his body of work will only grow. No one sets the stage for the action of a plot through use of descriptive phrase quite the way Brian Jacques did, evoking landscapes of loamy forest pathways and sea travel on the roaring, foam covered waters, of the happiness of finally finding a place where one truly belongs and the sadness when a good friend's life is snatched away by the senseless evil of a reckless villain. We will miss the unique timbre of Brian Jacques's writing voice, of this I am certain.

I would probably give two and a half stars to this book, but if I had to choose between two stars and three, then three is a fairly easy choice for me. With at least eight additional books to the main body of the series that follow after Taggerung, I still very much believe there are important Redwall tales left to be told, and that this fantasy animal world created by Brian Jacques still has the potential in those future books to produce stories of deep emotional power and profundity. For that reason, I am sure to read them all, and I look forward to the experience.

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11/07 page 19
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