Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen
It started as a a funny, little notion scrawled of a piece of scrap paper. "Mice have a culture all their own; Too small to integrate with other animals." Over the past decade, David Petersen's throwaway thought has emerged into a beautifully vivid adventure series that combines breathtaking action with gorgeous artwork. That series starts with Mouse Guard: Fall 1152.
The Mouse Guard are essentially wandering knights who serve a widespread kingdom. Mice have many natural predators and the guard has been established to protect citizens and keep the peace. But the kingdom is not simply threatened by snakes and owls. There are also enemies within.
We follow the exploits of Saxon, Kenzie, Sadie, and Lieam. These three members of the guard have discovered a treasonous plot to overthrow Gwendolyn, the head of the Mouse Guard, and rule all of the mouse territories. Rumors have it that the revolution is being led by a legendary mouse warrior known as the Black Axe.
The members of the guard face multiple challenges on their quest, and we as readers benefit from their struggles. There are fascinating battles with a snake, a gang of crabs (scarier than you'd think!), and the renegade army itself.
Often, I find myself skeptical of fantasy books with talking animals, but I believe that has more to do with me than the quality of series like Brian Jacques' Redwall or Erin Hunter's Warriors. Maybe it has something to do with the act of visualizing a bloodthirsty mouse or a noble cat that I just can't take seriously.
With Petersen's series, the visualizations are already taken care of. If I have to sacrifice a bit of my imagination to see what he has come up with, I am incredibly grateful. The art manages to convey acts of courage, frightfulness, and treachery against an elegant nature-oriented background.
The book is not simply all action either. The mice have their own literature, architecture, and fashion based on both their size and resources. This amount of detail gives the series a full sense of history, as if this tiny society had existed for centuries. Mouse Guard is the most expressive establishment of a culture through pictures that I have seen since James Gurney's Dinotopia was published in 1992.
If you enjoy the first book, the next in the series is Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, whose trailer is available below.