Monday, June 06, 2011

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard by various

Scene: The June Alley Inn in the town of Barkhouse. Mice love to gather there and drink, served by June herself. But one night, a bunch of mice with large, unpaid bar tabs are offered a choice by June- tell a better tale than any of the others, and have their bar tab wiped out.

This is a challenge that the mice cannot resist, and as the hours pass, the stories get wilder and wilder. But are they less believable or more believable? And who will win the contest?

The First tale is the Battle of the Hawk's Mouse and the Fox's Mouse. Before the Mice fought for themselves, they fought for other animals. But when two warring animals use the mice against each other, will this status Quo last for long?

"A Bargain in the Dark" tells the tale of a mouse who comes to an accord with a bat in the dark. But how can he trust the other, and what secrets will they end up teaching each other?

"Oleg the Wise" tells the story of a mouse King whose steed was foretold to lead to his death. But when he puts his steed away, will he live a long life, or will there be a twisted logic in the seer's words after all?

"Potential" tells why the Mouse Guard go to great lengths to protect not only the large communities of mice, but the smaller ones as well. So why do Mice goes to great lengths to protect even the smallest communities?

"The Shrike and the Toad" tells the story of two ingenious mice who use the body of a dead shrike and a living toad to escape a huge group of enemies.

"Worley and the Mink" tells the story of a mouse who goes a-courting, and loses his goods and his bride. But when he is offered a deal to get his own back- by taking on a vicious mink... will he do it?

"A Mouse named Fox" tells of two foxes who adopt a mouse as a son when they can't have a child of their own, but when he goes out into the world, he must learn a hard lesson about what he thinks he is, and what he actually is. But can he use his upbringing to save Mice in trouble?

"The Critic" tells the story of a mouse whose artist spends time building him up. But when reality intrudes, will the Mouse be able to recognize reality over stories?

"The Ballad of Nettledown" tells of a small mouse town and the disaster it underwent, and how a single mouse manage to save them all from the flood.

"Raven" retells the story of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven", but with a mouse as the protagonist. Will the ending be different because of the identity of the narrator?

"The Lion and the Mouse" tells of a mouse who discovers a lion with a thorn in its paw, and the lion thereby incurs a debt. So when the mouse is menaced by two jackals, will his new friend come to his aid?

"Bowen's Tale" sees the tale of a mouse, who, alone, witnesses a sight of tremendous majesty and danger- and manages to survive.

"Crown of Silver, Crown of Gold" tells a story of a mad King, Avidar, and his chief General, Garrow War-Wise, who loved a mouse-maid named Moira. Avidar falls in love with Moira when he sees her, but she is promised to Garrow, which even Avidar must respect. So Avidar decides to send Garrow to his chief opponent, the King of Cedarloch, with a message promising peace should Cedarloch kill Garrow. But can Garrow survive his King's treachery to reveal his evil?

When all the tales are told, whose tale will win? And will the winner survive the night afterwards?

I found this an interesting and amusing book. Okay, some of the stories are just retold tales (Like "Raven", "The Lion and the Mouse" and "Crown of Silver, Crown of Gold" are all retold tales in some fashion, either from Poe, Aesop, or the Bible. It's just sad that the best stories all seem to be from elsewhere. The other stories are good, but those three are really the best.

I also like the art. Even though the art differs from story to story and artist to artist, the linking art and characters tie all the stories together. The Interior of the June Alley Inn is warm and homey, and the winning story is beautiful. Put together, while this book doesn't tell any sort of coherent tale, it does paint a picture of mouse life and mouse lives and the story of the Guard in all of them.

This is merely a book of well-told tales, but it massively expands the world of the Mouse Guard graphic novels, bringing in untold lands and cultures and lets us see the kind of bravery and gallantry that makes a Mouse Guard. Anyone who liked the Mouse Guard books, or who likes the work of Brian Jacques will find something to admire and like in these books. Highly recommended.

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