Very strange stuff typing in this box again. We all know each other a lot better than when the contest ended so long ago. Reviewing feels like putting on a very old coat and finding a 10 spot in the pocket.
Anywho, gonna hit this beast with the triple decker: three criticisms and three highlights. There's simply too much material for a full, reflection-style review where I tell pointless stories and/or ram in some dated pop-culture reference. If you've any comments, concerns, or questions then drop a line here and I'll respond as best I can.
We'll talk a lot about characterization as the review goes on, so starting with Brother Sage and how he works well makes sense. Our sneak mouse is a well-crafted character who is made real and powerful in a very small space thanks to a few critical devices. The first: the author makes sure we know exactly what's important to Sage and why - the beast says "My business lies in knowledge." but there are also many other examples of him declaring his love of beast equality and critical thinking. The second: we're clued in on Sage's depth and power by what's not said. Take a look at Sage's reaction in The Seven Stars and when Cyril out-and-out accuses him of pirate spying. Every question Cyril asks is met with an effective generalization, distraction, or outright intimidation...but Sage never provides concrete evidence against Cyril's accusations, only red herrings and false equivalencies. The third: the elemental building block of audience connection through mutual habits. We all eat and drink so watching a character nosh - and make basic choices on what they will or will not partake in - brings us closer. Seems a silly point, but culture is built on belief, entertainment, and food. There's no deeper meaning to a beast who selects grayling over soup (though there could be,) but engaging all of our senses - the steam of the fish, the spice of the soup, the quality of the October Ale - fortifies the character and scene tenfold.
On the flip side? Cyril is an unworthy hero I'd difficulty believing in and/or following across multiple readthroughs despite all of his conflicts and choices. Conflict reinforces character, yes? However, conflict doesn't create character. Throughout the entire epilogue Cyril confronts multiple challenges along the same line: follow your duty, follow your heart, or wither and stagnate in indecision? He fails every single one and, as the epilogue points out, does nothing. Failure is a wonderful motivator but not when we know nothing and feel nothing for the character. As a point: tell me about Maria. Cyril's fiance, right? How did they meet? Why are they getting married? What do they love about each other? Also, what does Cyril love besides his family? We know a lot of what he can't do, but what is he good at? Why does he want to "protect people?" Little bits like the trophies at the end, picking hotroot soup for a meal, and how he considers his mother's tattoos are all good, but we needed so much more before the developing conflicts rained down. We needed reasons to trust and understand our guide on the tour of MOIII's aftermath. The easy counters are "Well, this is more about the world than Cyril" or "he'll get his redemption in the next part!" but there's a reason plating counts in restaurant reviews. The best hamburger in the world (epilogue's world building) isn't as appetizing if it's served on an ungarnished and plain white plate (Cyril.)
This is me fanboying for a little bit, so bear with me. How cool are the thematic turns of this epilogue? Seriously, so many important truths are addressed throughout the ballad of Cyril Hagglethrump. An important theme is one I hope we all hold close: the power of storytelling to change the world. I did not expect or suspect Gintrap's importance rested in his storytelling profession, but it makes perfect sense given the lingering threat at the end of MOIII: "Blade is a concept and not a person; Blade will return as another." No real point other than "Wow, what an original, expectation-defeating turn I enjoyed reading." The other theme I appreciate is how death is more a beginning than an end. I think Rhoda's demise was poorly incorporated (lack of development of Cyril, a clear turning point for turning point's sake over a natural and earned moment) but we don't get a block of hard lament. Instead we get fuel for an otherwise inactive character to push onward and enact some heroic nonsense. And this works again and again throughout. As the death of the waitress' mate spurred her towards an unnatural, fearful life, as the death of Blade spurned on the resurgence of piracy, and so on. And though I readily complain about Cyril, his struggles in waking up from his copy/paste life is the most grasping theme of all. The Redwall series at its core is all about making the extraordinary from the ordinary (Martin) so seeing a stereotype hare (sans accent) wake up from his Salamandastron daze is wonderful.
There are six complete scenes if you don't count the short introduction. All but two of these scenes are two or more beasts sitting and talking about the world at large. No action, no paws-on involvement, just two speakers telling the audience what they should know. I talked a lot about The Interview in the application phase. It's a tried and true method of working necessary information into a story with the added kick of minor character involvement (they can express opinions, give reactions, etc.) However, The Interview is a device an author should use sparingly or not at all. Craftwise this the same as passive voice. Sure, the sentence still imparts information, but the reader loses out because we're inflicted with another layer of distance - the first being it's fiction, the second in characters talking about cool stuff off screen. The author knows the fix and employs it very well in the tavern scene through the nervous waitress. Through her nervousness, through Sage's prompting, the audience can experience and empathize with the conflict instead of assigning our own meaning to the information at large. Compare The Seven Stars to Gintrap's Blade info dump. Both contain excellent, worthy information which opens up the world and instills intrigue, but in the jail cell we can't experience any of the gravity like we did with the waitress.
My two favorite scenes are aboard the Shamshir and within The Seven Stars. Why? Because we finally get a hard look at vermin "reformed." Better put, we finally get a hard look at the hinge which swings the door of the MOIII world and conflict. The introductory paragraph is a nice touch which helps the reader resettle into the story, but a lingering hunger for evidence remains. Are vermin truly corrupt at their core, or are vermin beasts who're struggling to survive in a woodlander-gripped world? This is the question the introduction prompts - with its report on corrupt New Town bosses and so on - and this is the question those two scenes address. The answer? Yes, vermin are beasts truly scraping for a life. The presence of a Waverunner officer grips a tavern into tense silence, a waitress swallows memories of her dead mate to survive, a fox captain with a mostly legitimate business marshals his words with great effort, and (though not in those scenes) an elder rat drops some heavy-yet-simple truth ("But why would you ever want to create a beast like Blade?" Gintrap shrugged. "I was short on coin at the time an’ had a knack fer tellin’ tall tales, simple as that.) on an unprepared rabbit. The whole debacle makes you wonder what "killing" Blade and Dead Rock truly accomplished. More on the nose, it makes me wonder what other atrocities occur when beasts follow a leader's edict without question. Whoops ~ maybe a little too current and political, but in this world it's a valid question. Anywho, I'm glad the author is tackling these big questions from multiple angles instead of pulling some blunt Hollywood nonsense, like, I dunno, Cyril is torn between Maria and a comely marten who teaches him the true meaning of vermin Christmas, or whatever.
"Cyril looked at his plate. He had lost his appetite."
"As always, Cyril had stayed silent. As always, he had done nothing."
"Sage was right. It was time to act, but first, Cyril needed answers."
"He pushed himself off the wall firmly. His mother didn’t need to know. She didn’t need to know anything."
"He’d have to keep watch tonight to maintain his lie, but it would give him time. Time to think."
"He began to write."
Here are the last sentences for each scene. One demerit for all the was, had, and to-be verbs, but this isn't why I brought them up. This epilogue is written with a third-person close narrator. They're omniscient, but they stick close and spell out most of Cyril's feelings. A narrator like this excuses a lot of the ham-fisted emotional inserts because it balances out an emotionally and/or socially stunted character. We cross a writing line when the narrator's voice explicitly manipulates the tone on its own. What I mean: all but two (the first and last) of the final lines read like somebeast putting on shades and walking away from an emotional explosion. This is a fine device when used sparingly - maybe once at a critical climax, or as the closing note of a piece. When used four times for scene transitions, and when paired with a narrator who comments on the action and cast, the device's impact is muted. This habit of emphasis and reiteration makes for stilted reading on the pacing front. The counter argument is the language is natural and narrator appropriate, so the bombasticness is earned because it is consistent. My opinion: go all the way or not at all. A lot of this epilogue's shortcomings might've turned for the better if the narrator was strictly Cyril's mind/voice. Or, on the other end, clean up the commentary and leave a stark narration that begs a closer look at the action.