This post will be split into two parts, a review and an analysis. The review part will be spoiler free where the analysis will give major plot points of the story away in examination. In this way people who just wish to read a review of the novel can do so without being spoiled. Please also not that this is the ONLY warning I will put in for spoilers so be advised for them in the “Analysis” section.
Author: Brian Jacques
Publication Date: January 1, 2001
Media Type: Paperback
Years ago, the vermin clan of Sawney Rath kidnapped one of Redwall’s own-a baby otter, destined to become their “Taggerung,” a warrior hero of ancient legend. But as young Tagg grows, he rebels against his destiny. The young otter journeys in search of his birthplace, a member of Sawney’s clan always near, out to destroy the deserter. With the feisty mouse Nimbalo, Tagg fends off the avenging vermin, but can he find his way back to the Redwall family from whom he was separated so long ago?
Before delving into the review, you have to understand the Redwall universe, which the Great Wiki explains nicely here. In a nutshell (which I’m sure the squirrels would love), it’s a world peopled, er, by anthropomorphic animals within an undetermined medieval setting. The main location is Redwall Abbey, which is a place of prosperity and peace ruled over by a benevolent Abbott or Abbess.
In the earlier novels, this was almost always a male mouse, but later ones made the position more equal opportunity in both gender and species. Most of the animals are capable of speech, and the stories are fairly consistent. The very first novel, which shares the same name as the series as a whole, has some inconsistencies compared to the rest. For example, I believe it is the only one where a horse appears in addition to implying a human populated village/town.
There’s very little magic in the Redwall universe despite it being classified as a fantasy. That status mostly comes from it existing in a sort of alternative reality without humans and having the fore mentioned anthropomorphic animals as characters. They are able to build, cook , sew, and do all sorts of things with their paws, which while named that, probably have the function and form of hands. The only potential magic comes in the form of seers (possibly) predicting the future and the spirit of Martin the Warrior coming to creatures in dreams and/or hallucinations. Martin is one of the main founders of Redwall itself, and his sword is so important it could almost be a character on its own.
Taggerung varies from typical Redwall fare as the meat of the story doesn’t take place at the Abbey, but rather concerns the vermin clan that kidnapped the titular character near the beginning as a babe. The point of view; however, does switch back and forth between the happenings at the Redwall and the more exciting adventures of Deyna as he tries to discover who he is and where he truly comes from as it’s decidedly clear that he doesn’t belong with a vermin clan.
Jacques does a good job at balancing between the more action packed Taggerung parts and the more tranquil Abbey happenings by giving the characters in the latter a mystery to unveil. Eventually, the two sides of the story combine, which was always expected when a wayfarer is trying to return home and home is a shown location.
The author has a debatable habit of introducing characters waaaaaay later in the game than is normally acceptable, but there’s always been a precedence for that. I did have a bit of an issue with it in this book as the character introduced about five chapters away from the end made a difference between life and death. It was a bit of an “otter ex machina” that could’ve been resolved earlier in the novel by just a mention of their name. I also wasn’t super happy with the way child abuse was brushed off, and while I could be accused of over-analyzing a book written for children, I don’t think especially children should be taught that that’s okay.
Taggerung stands as a counterpoint to Outcast of Redwall, which had a vermin character raised by good woodland creatures who could never change his “true colors.” That book irritates me for many reasons I’ll elaborate on if I ever review. Deyna/Tagg is of course. wholesome to the core. He refuses to do something atrocious and is not only cast out by his “father,” but Sawney attempts to hunt him down to kill. Redwall clearly leans towards “nature” in this debate (and in Outcast, too, ugh, really, really in Outcast). The entirety of the Redwall series does have a classist cast to it, unfortunately, with certain creatures being (almost always) good like mice, hares, badgers, moles (whose accents I love btw), squirrels, otters, etc. while other animals are (almost always) bad and collectively called vermin e.g. stoats, weasels, ferrets (I believe otters are actually related to all three), rats, foxes, and generally any other carnivorous creature (though again otters are carnivorous, badgers and mice or omnivorous, and I believe moles are insectivores). There a few exceptions to this rule, but everyone expects certain creatures to align in a certain way.
Even among the woodland creatures there’s a hierarchy with mice usually being the leaders, moles being working class, hares being soldiers/military along with badgers who are considered the best of all warriors. Badgers are also always the ruler of the mountain stronghold Salamandastron. Vermin will usually just follow the strongest, and they’re constantly backstabbing and double-dealing. I really, really wish Mr. Jacques had lived long enough to write more novels mixing up these paradigms a bit. One of the reasons I stopped reading the series was because it was the same “vermin horde attempts to take over Redwall Abbey” all the time. This was also another plus mark for Taggerung as it avoided this cliche in fact even lampshaded it a bit at the end by having such a situation be swiftly resolved, countering prior novels where it was the entirety of the plot.
Taggerung is a never dull adventure about an otter who though grown up is still a bit of a lost babe trying to find his way home. I’ll discuss more of this in the Analysis section, but for those of you who haven’t read it and don’t want to be spoiled, that’s the story at its core.
Rating: 4 stars