Huzzah, my last review of 2010! Happy New Year to all of you!
Title: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152
Author: David Petersen. He’s also the artist.
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 192 pages
Published: May 2007
Spoiler-free Synopsis: “In the world of Mouse Guard, mice struggle to live safely and prosper amongst harsh conditions and a host of predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed: more than just soldiers that fight off intruders, they are guides for common mice looking to journey without confrontation from one hidden village to another…Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam, three such Guardsmice, are dispatched to find a missing merchant mouse that never arrived at his destination. Their search for the missing mouse reveals much more than they expect, as they stumble across a traitor in the Guard’s own ranks.” (from the official website)
Reason for Beginning: I’m a fan of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and this looks clearly inspired by it. Plus it’s easy to read graphic novels on my lunch breaks at work.
Reason for Finishing: It’s a quick read and the artwork is very good, very textured.
Story Re-readability: Not much. I mean, you can reread it easily, because it’s fairly short and fast-paced. I just didn’t find it interesting enough.
Author Re-readability: I think I will read the second collection, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, but only because it’s easily available to read on my lunch breaks. I wouldn’t buy either book or seek them out if they were hard to find.
Artist Re-viewability: High – Petersen’s artwork is very nice and textured, as you can see from the photos. I’d love to see it paired with a better-written story.
Recommendation: I was disappointed by the blandness of the characters and the poor story development and pacing; it’s not very sophisticated or inspired. There are a few parts of the story that give glimpses of real potential, though, and there is some decent adventure. I think kids about 14 and under would like it well enough, though anyone much older will likely find it wanting. But even for those younger people, I highly recommend the Redwall series instead – it has much better characters, plots, writing, and some genuine imagination (at least in the first 10 books or so).
Key Thoughts (and minor spoilers)
So let’s start with the pros. The art style at its best is well-represented by this picture of Guardsmouse Lieam facing down a massive snake. The scale is realistic, which adds a lot of interest and drama to the world. If these characters just want to visit their grandmother in the next town-in-a-hollow-tree over, they have to risk getting snatched up by a hawk or stepped on by a careless opossum on the way. A falling twig would probably set their heads ringing. A beesting would be like getting run through by a lance. They can sleep under leaves at night, take shelter in tree hollows, and build castles between the roots of massive trees. This is a fun difference from the Redwall series, where the mice are the same size as humans in relation to their world. It’s also different from Richard Adams’ masterpiece Watership Down, where the rabbits had sophisticated societies but couldn’t build anything that wasn’t possible in real life (castles, swords, etc.).
One of the better scenes is when a grizzled old Guardsmouse takes on a bunch of hostiles crabs that have attacked his coastal home (for apparently no reason). The sequence (pictured right) manages a level of epicness and novelty that the rest of the book tries and largely fails to meet. It’s still not a virtuoso sequence or anything, in large part because the character has barely been introduced before he sacrifices himself for another only barely better-known character, but it’s well-staged and interesting. I only wish more of the story had made use of the realistic scale instead of focusing on enemies that were other mice.
So on to the cons. The book is weak in character development. One drawback of the realistic drawing style is that it’s hard to distinguish one mouse from another aside from cloak and fur color. They all seem to have two expressions, it seems: frowning, and surprised. Interpersonal interactions are sparse and exclusively plot-driven. The three main heroes just aren’t very interesting. The red-cloaked one named Saxon is fiercer and “darker” than the others, but otherwise I can’t tell them apart. They love to strike swashbuckling poses, and after awhile it does begin to feel that Petersen is trying too hard to make us think these mice are “cool.” Compare Jacques’ Redwall series, which has a surprising amount of character development and personality-driven storylines.
Of course, Redwall is a series of novels, whereas in graphic novel form Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 feels rushed. It attempts a sweeping epic story in a couple short chapters, and everything feels underdeveloped. Despite the neat artwork, the story is mostly telling with little showing. Also, a first installment like this should’ve been used to showcase the uniqueness of the world, to explore it a bit. Instead, it uses it as a backdrop for an all-too-familiar (not very well thought-out) tale of treachery, in which there are some bewildering plot holes. I mean, the secret army of traitors openly recruits in one of the main cities, and has been for awhile, and yet the Guard knows nothing about it until one of our three heroes stumbles across their “secret” meeting. And then, all he has to do is claim to be a new recruit and all the fearsome bad guys unquestioningly accept him. Of course he can’t keep up that charade for long, but everyone is awfully gullible in this story.
Or take another instance, when the heroes need a public distraction to draw their enemies’ attention to allow one of their own to investigate the town further. Their solution is to stage a public duel between the themselves. Which outs them as Guardsmice to the bad guys and promptly gets them captured, beat senseless, and left for dead. And they act as if they didn’t expect that. Duuuuuuuhhhh…
I’m a little confused by the high praise some reviewers have given this book. Other bloggers describe some deep, enthralling masterpiece, whereas to me Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 is at best an average, mildly entertaining adventure with some nifty artwork. It’s like I read a completely different book from them. I might give this as a gift to my young nephews who are only just entering grade school, but not to my peers. Oh well. Glad those other reviewers enjoyed it.
(all more positive than mine, I think)
David Petersen’s Official Site