My Sunday best this week is a vivid rat-tale, perfect for fans of Mrs Frisby or Colin Dann’s epic wildlife sagas. This isn’t the cosy, pie-baking, anthropomorphised world of Redwall – nature here is red in tooth, claw and eye. But it’s also full of mischief, interest and enough intriguing detail to hold any reader captive in the whisker-twitching shadow of the hedge.
Trickster, by Tom Moorhouse (OUP), is the third novel set in the small-scale rodent world of The River Singers. This book gives us an insight into the sharp-scented, stiflingly hierarchical world of the rats, and the origin of the mysterious, silver-tongued rat Fo’dur; it’s a standalone, but adds nuance and extra layers for those who’ve read the previous two.
Gabble and Ash are flapfeet – not yet ratlings, still less named rats of the clan. Gabble has always obeyed the Mothers’ wish that he should look after his reckless, provocative, rule-breaking brother. But Ash will not be suppressed. When he bulls his way onto a ‘name raid’, desperate to win his true name, Gabble has no choice but to follow him. What will happen to Ash and Gabble, though, if they cross from Greenhedge territory into the forbidden Notratlan – or fall afoul of the nihilistic, fearsome Damplanders?
Rich with big themes – identity, choice, politics and belief – Trickster boasts a meticulously imagined and totally believable world, reminiscent of Richard Adams’ rabbits. Moorhouse’s ecologist’s credentials come through in the assurance with which he evokes the sense of belonging, in the burrows where the pups are held close to the Mothers, or the corridors where ratlings give way to named, respect-marked rats. A book to dig down deep into, and make a nest within.