High Rhulain is the latest entry in Brian Jacques’ Redwall Abbey series (the next addition, Eulalia!, is due out in October 2007). Jacques bases his story on Ireland, which he uses as a model for the Green Isle. High Rhulain is a title for a high queen. In Ireland of old, there were various kings, but one king was considered the high king of them all. This title comes up in Irish religious songs, too.
This story begins on the Green Isle with a fight between a wildcat and a hawk that occurs in front of the wildcat’s two sons. The wildcat, Riggu Felis, is warlord of the Isle, and he loses the fight to the hawk. While he survives, he suffers many serious wounds that leave behind major scars and must wear a mask to cover up his hideous appearance. The wounded hawk flies to Mossflower where it is captured by some rats but later rescued by some Redwall Abbey creatures and taken to the Abbey to be healed.
The wildcat and his gang of cats rule the isle and have made slaves of the otters. Otter Leatho Shellhound, the last of his clan, attacks the cats every chance he can. One of the otters is a descendant of the High Rhulain of the Green Isle who was killed when her ship sunk after battling the wildcats’ ship. Her brother escaped and married an otter from Mossflower; these two joined Redwall, and their descendant Tiria is destined to be the new queen. She experiences prophetic dreams involving the High Rhulain and the mouse protector of the Abbey, Martin the Warrior.
While the otters and cats on the Green Isle continue warring, Tiria is helped by the creatures of Redwall and the badger lord of Salamandastron and his hares. The Redwall creatures solve riddles left as hints as to where a coronet that Tiria needs can be found. The warlord wildcat is also having problems in his family; this story is full of simultaneous conflicts at various levels.
Tiria finds a ship captained by a strange hare who changes his identity several times according to the situation, a member of the badger lord’s army. He helps Tiria and the small hare army reach the Green Isle just as the otters begin their attack on the wildcat’s fortress, where Shellhound and other otters are being kept hostage - the otters know that the prophecy of the return of the High Rhulain is about to be fulfilled.
Jacques, in his typical wonderful way, describes the meals the various animals have; the Redwallers enjoy the best meals. He also features the creatures singing throughout the story. Lively action keeps the reader’s attention throughout, wondering what will happen next thanks to several cliffhangers. It keeps the reader wanting more, and Jacques is more than up to the challenge.
There is a map of the Green Isle, and David Elliot’s illustrations head each chapter. This wonderful book is recommended to those interested in animal fantasy stories.