David Petersen – Mouse Guard: The Black Axe
Length: 193 pages
Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult(?)
Started / Finished: 10 August 2013
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I was totally charmed by the first volumes, so I was eagerly awaiting the publication of this one.
One small mouse must find
the Black Axe, and take up the
fate that comes with it.
Summary: In 1115, Celanawe was an ordinary mouse of the Guard when a distant relative arrived at his solitary outpost. She told a tale of a mythical weapon, the Black Axe, and of Farrer, the blacksmith who forged it, and his descendants… of which Celanawe was the last. Together, they set out on a quest to recover the axe from where it was lost on an unknown land across an uncharted sea. They find a ship to carry them, but the way is long and perilous for such small creatures, and even once they reach their destination, they find the axe in the hands of a fearsome predator, the Ferret King.
Review: I already knew that I found the world of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard charming, and very easy to fall into. That’s equally the case in this installment, and a huge part of what makes it so is Petersen’s worldbuilding, and his art (which, in a graphic novel, are inextricably linked.) The medieval setting of the mice’s world feels at once very familiar and very original. Many of the visual elements are familiar – the look of illuminated manuscripts, of the weapons and the buildings and the tapestries and carvings – both from our own history as well as from previous medieval fantasies that have drawn upon them. (Ildur, the hall of the ferret king, in particular is extraordinarily reminiscent of Edoras.) But at the same time, everything is scaled down to mouse size, and Petersen does a good job of imagining how these mice would live in a world where almost everything is larger than they are, and most things see them as food. His drawings of the mice out away from their cities, interacting with other creatures, are just as detailed and evocative as his depictions of the more civilized aspects of their world.
I also quite enjoyed the story in this volume. Celanawe was one of my favorite parts of the first two volumes, so I was certainly interested in his backstory, and Petersen did not disappoint. While there’s certainly danger and adventure, there’s a quiet seriousness to these books as well, a realization that life does not come easy to these mice, and that hard choices sometimes must be made, that makes them something more than a cute animal story, which I appreciated. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: The Black Axe contains a framing prologue and epilogue set in 1153, after the events of Fall 1152 and Winter 1152, but the bulk of the story would stand well enough on its own. These books have such a good blend of charm and gravitas that I think they’d be appealing to readers of any age who like medieval fantasy or animal stories, or both.
Other Reviews: Can’t find any yet. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: Spring 1153: six days before day and night are equal.
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