Today in Young People's Fantasy: A YA Lit Round-Up 

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There is potential here in the cramped Sherlock Holmes-ish setting, which should teem with historical details and memorable scamps. Unfortunately Cirrus Flux's protean narrative structure never establishes a sense of place. Alternating chapters pick up the action from Cirrus and Pandora's point of view, which is not a problem, but also switch between past and present tense, which distracts.

Meanwhile, in the doomsday alternate universe where Harry Potter was never published, Brian Jacques is still churning out Redwall books. The series about warrior mice in Mossflower Wood, which began with Redwall in 1986, has since spawned 20 novels and sold 20 million copies, although its inexplicable lack of a big-budget movie interpretation has kept it relatively unknown. The Sable Quean (no, the variant spelling is never explained) provides a welcome twist on the well-worn Redwall plot of "a group of nasty animals attack Redwall Abbey;" here, the animals first kidnap "abbeybabes" and hold them ransom before attacking the abbey.

"Abbeybabes" is one of many compound words that Jacques trots out in The Sable Quean, like "anybeast" and "tippaws," and one gets the impression that he uses these not for effect but because he really does write about this world so much that he appreciates the chance to save space. While the plot of The Sable Quean is a bit of a mess (the number of chance encounters in Mossflower Wood make it seem to be the size of a traffic island), the world of Redwall is an order of magnitude more realized than the worlds of Half World or Cirrus Flux, and, it must be pointed out, on par with the inventiveness of Potter. The shining star of the novel is Diggs (full name Subaltern Meliton Gubthorpe Digglethwaite), a warrior rabbit so affixed on food that, when he finds the Sable Quean's personal chamber, he consumes "some wine, a cooked trout, and wheat bread" and then takes a nap, commenting that his greedy fellow rodents can "blinkin' well whistle for your share."

The Sable Quean doesn't approach the heights of early classics such as Mariel of Redwall (1991), whose rat pirates were presented with the glee of an amateur video-game developer. But in a world that really will soon be post-Potter (the final movie bows 7/15/11), it's nice to see an old hand holding court in land commendably willing to support newcomers.

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