- Posted by Ed Sizemore on September 4, 2009 at 6:36 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by David Petersen
- PUBLISHER: Archaia; $24.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
The Mouse Guard have stopped a rebellion and siege of their headquarters at Lockhaven. However, their troubles are far from over. They don’t have enough provisions to survive the winter. The rebellion has brought to light the need for the independent mice cities to form an alliance to stave off external and internal threats. Gwendolyn, leader of the Mouse Guard, has sent out representatives to all the cities seeking supplies and offering to host a summit of the cities. Both are needed to insure the survival not just of the Mouse Guard, but all mice.
Mouse Guard is high fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien, Le Guin, and Brooks. Obviously, the scope of this series is much smaller; however, it’s just as rich and nuanced a world as any of the other epic fantasies.
Mouse Guard is populated with sentient animals, instead of humans. David Petersen crafts a realistic world by keeping as much of the natural physiology as possible in the animals. In addition, each species has its own culture, shaped by their place in the food chain and their survival techniques. Technologically and structurally, the mouse society is equivalent to the high Middle Ages (as the year in the title indicates). Opening this book is like stepping through the wardrobe to Narnia.
So many aspects of this book invite comparison to Tolkien. The focus of the book is simple and straight-forward: get supplies and renew alliances. (Tolkien’s focus was “go to Mordor and destroy Sauron’s ring”.) However, there are many obstacles and complexities along the way to those goals. This basic structure allows Petersen room for lots of character interaction and development. Just as in The Lord of the Rings, the mice discover a large, abandoned underground city, Darkheather. In fact, Darkheather’s architecture reminds me of Tolkien’s Moria. Remarkably, Mouse Guard doesn’t suffer from being compared to The Lord of the Rings; instead, it highlights how well-written and thought-out this series is.
Petersen focuses the narrative on a group of five mice, which allows us lots of time to get to know these characters. Each mouse has a distinct look and personality, which is just as well-developed as the world Petersen’s built. What endeared me most to this series is that words like honor, duty, sacrifice, and love are taken seriously and have significance in the life of these characters. These aren’t perfect mice, but they strive to live to up to the best and highest ideas. We deeply connect with these characters; we anguish over their struggles and cheer their triumphs. Again, like Tolkien, the nobility of these mice inspires and challenges us to be better people ourselves.
Reading Mouse Guard was a conflicting experience. Half of me wanted to turn the page to see what happens next, while half of me wanted to stop and linger over the luscious images. The artwork is filled with meticulous details in the designs of the cities, the weapons, the clothing, the everyday utensils, etc. Each city has its own unique architecture and fashion. Petersen uses rich, warm, earth tones for the world of the mice. It gives even the stronghold of Lockhaven a feeling of home. The art is simply gorgeous and a pure delight.
Archaia should be commended for a putting together a wonderful hardbound book. The paper is high quality. The reproduction shows all the details. There is a nice collection of extras at the end of the book. It’s definitely worth the cover price and would be a great gift book for an older child or comic fan. You can see a preview of the first five pages of this book at Archaia’s website.
I don’t say this lightly: Mouse Guard is perfect. There are no flaws in plot, character, design, color, narration, or world building. (Parents should be advised that because of the realism in this series, the fight scenes are bloody and characters do die. So be sure to take the age rating of 10+ seriously.) This is a must read for any fan of high fantasy. It’s also a must read for lovers of great comics in general. This was such a rewarding reading experience that I’m sad I have to wait until next year for the new story arc. I look forward to visiting this world again and spending more time with these incredible mice.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)