Whenever I begin a book by Avi, I haven’t got a notion of what to expect; except that it shall be singularly spectacular and a pure pleasure to read. Perloo the Bold, far from being an exception to this rule, was the firmest confirmation of it yet. For in it pages is told the epic story of a scholarly mouse.
A mouse? Forgive me, Perloo; a Montmer.
A lone skier swiftly hurtles down the slope which lies above the hut of Perloo, an insignificant member of the Montmer clan. Perloo, snuggled deep within his burrow reading tales of great Perloo warriors, has no wish to venture out in this frigid weather, but that is precisely what Lucabara has come to demand. And as her authority is a summons from Jolaine, Granter of the Montmer tribe, Perloo has no choice; he must accompany Lucabara back to the Central Tribe Burrow to learn what the dying Granter’s wish is. When he learns it he is shocked almost out of his wits.
Although Jolaine has a pup and heir, Berwig, she cannot bear the thought of leaving her beloved tribe to his care. An imbecile himself, Berwig is controlled by a grasping Montmer by the name of Senyous whose only wish is to secure his own mastery through means persuasive and tyrannical. Ancient Montmer law gives the Granter the right to name her own successor, and Jolaine has chosen Perloo to succeed her.
He protests but she remains firm; Berwig would destroy the clan with his imbecility – Perloo must reign and preserve his people from war and injustice. With the last of her strength, Jolaine signs the document proclaiming Perloo the new granter – then dies. Before Perloo and Lucabara can slip out the room Berwig and his guards force their way through the door. In the ensuing fight, the proclamation is torn; half is now in Berwig’s possession, the other in Lucabara’s. Perloo and Lucabara escape, but they now have no proof of Jolaine’s last decree. When Berwig accuses Perloo of murdering Jolaine, Perloo and Lucabara must flee into the blizzardrous night. They carelessly fall into the hands of their blood enemies, the Felbarts who mercifully allow them to live. From the Felbart’s packmaster, Weyanto, Perloo learns that Berwig has been goading the Felberts into another war by his highhanded dealings and insulting letters. Even now, the Felbarts are gathering their troops to march against the Montmers.
The two nations – now both Perloo’s friends – seem to be headed for an inevitable clash. Can Lucabara and Perloo avert the conflict before their fragile peace is destroyed forever?
I have never read a children’s author that had a greater knack for telling stories. Avi has mastered the art of the adventure story; he knows just the places to intensify emotions and when to slip in a bit of humor. The entire time I was reading Perloo the Bold I was thinking, “If this wasn’t about mice (ahem, Montmers), this would be epic!” Seriously. He’s that good.
Every element of the perfect story is there – the hero who is initially scared and insignificant but who rises in valor and stature throughout the course of events; the sidekick who believes in the hero and who aids him at the crucial moments; the evil, dimwitted, pretentious upstart who is rivaling the hero and who is being controlled by a cunning, even more evil villain. The final showdown which resolves in an unexpected yet thematic display of talent by the hero and finally – fulfillment. The story is perfect. With that said…..
The description on the back of this book describes Perloo as a fantasy novel. And I would be forced to agree; Perloo was fantasy in the sense that it took place in what would seem to be a different world at an unidentifiable time in history. However, all of the elements which I consider to be objectionable in fantasy were omitted; magic is neither practiced nor mentioned, there are no transhumanistic creatures, and there is no communication between animals and humans. But even without these elements, several issues must be addressed.
The first is the complex society of the Montmers. Aside from the fact that they are micey-rabbity creatures, Montmers act and function almost identically to humans. They live in houses, read books, give speeches, form troops, and have organized governments. While it is true that different species of animals have authority structures – wolves have pack leaders, bees and ants have queens, etc. – and that some even have complex societal forms – bees communicate the location of honey through complicated dances, ants work together to build and feed their colonies, prairie dogs stand guard over their burrows, etc. – still, the degree of civilization attributed to the Montmers transgressed the sharp division drawn between humans and the rest of the created order.
The Montmer religion, on the other hand, is rather simple. Montmers live by the wise sayings of Mogwat, a magpie who lived a long time ago. Perloo occasionally prays to her and any reference to her sayings is the final word in an argument. There are a few things that I should like to say about Mogwat; the first is that she is a female. The second is that, although the supreme authority of wisdom, she fills the role of a prophet or wise teacher rather than a god or Redeemer. In ‘Mogwatianism’ (I made that word up) there is no sin and thus no redemption from it.
Lucabara is definitely the leader in this book. She often fairly drags Perloo around by his ears, forcing him to fight for justice, when Perloo would be content to sit back and sip on his myrtle tea while the whole nation goes to flames. This suggests male abdication and female domination.
The last caution is that while there are no curse words per se the Montmers have several slang phrases that they use in place of oaths. These are ‘bird’s teeth’, ‘bird’s fur’, ‘dry dust’, ‘great Mogwat’, ‘for Mogwat’s sake’, and ‘by Mogwat’. As words, none of these are of concern, but the ones concerning Mogwat represent a real concern (that of taking the name of your highest authority in vain).
Conclusions. If your reader is a mature thinker who is prepared to talk and reason through the issues mentioned above, then this book will be a pleasure for him to read. If he isn’t, then don’t confuse him by giving him this book.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret