Foz made a splash debut in 2010 with ‘Solace and Grief’, and followed it in 2011 with ‘The Key to Starveldt’, both powerful and moving horror/paranormal tales.
From the moment my grandmother gave me the first book as a ninth birthday present, I was hooked on the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, which follows the exploits of various mice, squirrels, otters, moles, shrews, badgers, hares and other woodland creatures attached either to Redwall Abbey or the mountain of Salamandastron. Though aimed at a middle-grade audience, I loved the books so fiercely that I continued to read and re-read them right through to university, so that for nine whole years, they defined and dominated my reading habits.
The series was more than an infatuation: it was a learning curve, though it’s only recently that I’ve recognised it as such. Unusually for a middle-grade author, Jacques never flinched from killing characters – even ones who were very young, very old, or in love – or leaving having them suffer permanent injuries, so that you could never lapse into assuming that everyone you cared about would emerge unscathed. His books were populated by a diverse cast of heroes and heroines in equal measure, with different ideas of strength, courage and competence lauded and explored from volume to volume. History, poetry, puzzles and riddles were always a part of his stories, and if characters’ speech patterns and behaviour were usually defined by species, there were always exceptions to the rule, with an overriding theme of cooperation and solidarity between the animals carrying more narrative weight than an emphasis on their differences.
As a child, the books made me cry on many occasions, and even as an adult, recalling them provokes a similar emotional response. But perhaps most importantly to both my feminist sensibilities as an adult and to the tomboy girl I was, whether he was writing about adventure, love, war, betrayal, redemption, courage, mysteries or comedy, there was always something fiercely egalitarian to Jacques’s work. Because the heroines of Redwall came in all shapes and sizes: there was Hon Rosie, the laughing hare warrior and devoted mother; Lady Cregga Rose-Eyes, a battle-hardened badger berserker who nonetheless lived out her final years as a nurse; the sarcastic and brave nomad squirrel, Russa Nodrey; the kind, inquisitive hedgehog Tansy, who went on to become Abbess of Redwall; the mouse Mariel Gullwhacker, a loving daughter, fierce survivor and roaming adventurer; otter Grath Longfletch, a peerless archer on a revenge quest; and stubborn, quick-witted Laterose, a peaceful mouse who nonetheless fought against slavery.
In so many ways, the Redwall series defined, not just my childhood, but my love of reading. It was the first series I ever became emotionally invested in, yearning desperately after each new book, and though the world wasn’t strictly fantastic, it nonetheless cemented my love of fantasy. As Jacques passed away in early 2011, there will be no more new stories – though from the year I was born to the year he died, he expanded Redwall at almost the rate of a book a year – but the 22 he did write will be with me forever.