Reading The Rogue Crew feels like saying goodbye to a beloved world. It’s the last Redwall book we’ll get, as Brian Jacques sadly passed away in February, but beyond that, this book feels more epic than ever. It seems the entire cast of Redwall has come out for a final hurrah, rather like the Room of Requirement mustering in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
On the side of good we have the Redwallers, the Long Patrol (give’em blood and vinegar!), the Guosim, a band of warrior otters and various other likable woodlanders. Jacques throws in a large bird, too, and Martin the Warrior sends not one but several dream messages to the inhabitants of Redwall. It all makes for an impressive show of force, but the villain this time is truly frightening: Razzid Wearat (don’t ask what a wearat is. Just think R.O.U.S. and add “ugly” to the mix) captains a vermin ship that moves through the sea and land, thanks to some ingenious wheels. So it’s no trouble at all for him to plunder the coast before moving inland to the abbey…
I haven’t read all the Redwall books, but it seems to me that this one is scarier—and more violent—than usual. Razzid does some truly horrific things (mostly off-the-page), and the body count starts sooner and mounts higher. Even the minor villains (lizards and other roaming brigands) feel competent. The good guys can hardly move a foot outside their homes without getting kidnapped, drugged or attacked. With all that peril, this book was a good time to introduce the Rogue Crew: fighting sea otters who make Skipper of Otters look like a harmless Dibbun. While Redwall Skippers are peaceful until compelled to fight, these guys fight first and ask questions later. They’re still technically on the side of good, but their ruthless ways add some welcome ambiguity to the perpetually jovial otters of Redwall. And just to hammer in the point, there’s even a chapter illustration of an otter with seriously developed arm muscles (p. 187 in the hardcover edition).
My one complaint is that the enormous cast creates confusion. I couldn’t keep track of all the villains, and there are so many hares they seem to pop out of the pages like…well, like breeding rabbits. Still, it’s not that important to remember every character, and quibbles aside, The Rogue Crew remains a rollicking adventure, a satisfying conclusion that does the Redwall name proud.