Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review #7: The Mousehunter

Boy, it seems like forever since I've done a book review!  But after reading several non-Animal Fantasy books in a row, I recently returned to my favorite genre and picked up a great middle grade novel called, The Mousekeeper by Alex Milway.  I'm a sucker for literature about mice, from Brian Jacques' Redwall series to an awesome little book I had as kid called, The Pop Up Mice of Mr. Brice.  Mice are key players in my own novel, too, and I'm always eager to read about other authors' interpretations of the critters.  Milway does not disappoint, and his mice are both creative and adorable.  Here's the flap copy to whet your appetite:
Across the Seventeen Seas, there is no mousehunting pirate half as feared as the legendary Captain Mousebeard.  He seeks out the rarest and most precious breeds of mice to collect and trade, his fearsome reputation preceding him wherever he goes.

Emiline, mousekeeper to one of Old Town's wealthiest citizens, is anything but feared.  So when her master puts a bounty on Mousebeard's head, she sees it as the chance of a lifetime.  Her journey takes her on a high-seas adventure, filled with swords and sea monsters, betrayal, lies, and the chance to capture the most dangerous man in mousing history.
It's important to note that there aren't actually any talking animals in this book.  However, the story is completely mouse-centric, so it definitely falls under the Animal Fantasy category.  This book is a really fun read with a mix of humor, swashbuckling adventure, and delightful mice.  Milway executes many great writing techniques throughout the book, but I think the two most impressive aspects are his use of world building and animal representation.  
The Mousehunter is set in a slightly-steampunk Fantasy world where countless species of mice populate society alongside humans.  The culture is shaped by mice, with Mousekeeping Academies present in the towns, a variety of mousing careers available to humans, and everyday tasks being performed by mice themselves.  Milway's keen attention to detail and mouse-use brings this world to life, from the Powder Mice that assist in loading cannons on ships to the Dung Mouse excrement that is used as fuel.  The human characters even drink mouse-inspired beverages like ''Pipsqueak Beer" and "Rodent Rum."  If not for these elements, it's likely the world would have seemed rather similar to any other pirate story set in the days of pillaging and plundering.  But this prominent sense of mouse-ness makes the world unique and one I'd wish to return to.  On top of an already vivid world, Milway also inserts "excerpts" from The Mousehunter's Almanac in between chapters with a picture of a mouse species, information blurb, and tips for anyone who aims to catch or keep each particular mouse.  This tactic makes the reader feel like a Mousehunter themselves, ready to set off into the wild to discover new species or catch a glimpse of the rarest critters.  It really adds that extra-oomph of fun and authenticity to an already great story.
As I mentioned above, the mice "characters" in the story are well-executed, even though they don't actually speak.  (There is really only one main mouse character, Emiline's pet Grey Mouse, Portly, but there are plenty of other mostly nameless mice who participate in the plot, too.)  Despite the fact they don't speak, it is obvious the rodents are intelligent beings with an array of personalities.  One of the first mice readers meet is a wayward Sharpclaw Mouse who obviously takes great pleasure in wreaking havoc and avoiding re-capture by his Mousekeeper, Emiline.  Emiline's own pet, Portly, comforts her, defends her, and assists her throughout the book.  The mice execute schemes together, come to the rescue, and blush at their inappropriate flatulence.  They don't need words for the reader to tell they are happy, scared, worried, or proud, which is a difficult feat for any writer to accomplish.  There are a million ways Milway could have taken his mice, and they way he presents his critters is both satisfying and imaginative.  If you are thinking about populating your own Fantasy world with non-talking yet intelligent creatures, then you will definitely want to check out how Milway pulls it off.
If you like Animal Fantasies or have a soft-spot for mice, I definitely recommend picking up The Mousekeeper.  It's also a winner for anyone who likes pirate stories, tales of exploration, and mysteries (did I mention there's a cool curse?)  And it's certainly a great book to use for studying world-building and species-crafting techniques, too!  Book two in the trilogy, The Curse of Mousebeard, is already out in the US, with the third installment, Mousebeard's Revenge, still to be released.  (All three books in The Mousehunter trilogy have already been published in the UK--those lucky ducks!)  I know I'd love to read about more Moose Mice and Mousehunting adventures, so I'll be picking up those other books as soon as I can!
You can check out Milway's website here:   And if you read the book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)
Happy reading!  
Note: Flap copy is borrowed from the actual book--I had problems finding an authentic book-blurb online.  Cover art is from      

No comments:

Post a Comment