★★★★★ In Master Blacke: Tales of the Great Wood by Pete Prown, a young pocket mouse named Rue and a dormouse named Doily must team up to take down a group of deadly political predators. The community of Wattle’s Way has long been a safe place for carnivores, herbivores, and everything in between, thanks to one simple rule: No animal may attack or harm another animal while inside the town. But a growing group of meat-eaters have become disgruntled with the status quo. One day, they stage a coup and implement what they call “the Vine,” an emotionless policy that basically allows predators to eat whomever they want, whenever they want. After Rue and Doily are exiled from the community, they must seek out allies in the larger world, including a magic-performing otter named Ottorino the Magnificent and a terrifying owl who is known only as the Widowmaker. It’s up to them to save Wattle’s Way before the town unravels entirely.
Mr. Prown has created something really special here. His novel manages to recall the sword-and-shield adventurism of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, as well as the unsettling and insightful political commentary of Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm. While the beginning of Prown’s story is a bit disorienting—going into this without prior knowledge, it might take you a page or two to realize you’re reading about a group of animals—readers will quickly sink beneath the rich blanket of character and atmosphere that’s woven here for our enjoyment. The setting, in particular, stands out in spectacular fashion; Prown has really captured the magic and danger of a friendly, but sometimes feral, forest.