Review: 'Picayune', by John DeJordy
If this was a commercially published novel, it would probably be age-rated 8 and up. That’s all right; Brian Jacques’ Redwall books are age-rated 8 and up, too. Picayune is a similar rousing and fast-moving talking animal adventure that all ages can enjoy.
Chapter One is misleading. Picayune (Sir Picayune?) is a knight in the service of the king. When a black dragon destroys the capital city and lays the kingdom to waste, the king charges Picayune to, “Defeat that hideous monster at any cost.” Picayune and his noble horse slog through a dismal mire and undergo numerous hardships to find the dragon’s lair. Picayune and the dragon battle to their apparent mutual death …
Except that it all turns out in Chapter Two to be a dream. Picayune is not a brave human knight; he is a young dormouse with a pet worm, assisting his blacksmith father in the Clan Dormouse forest village, on a planet with two moons. When a dragon menaces that community and destroys its Taiga rider patrol, the mayor calls for volunteers to go forth and slay it. Picayune does not join them, but when he learns that his sweetheart, Ameera, has gone out to look for her cousin who was one of the riders, he determines to follow her alone. His blacksmith father outfits him in a complete suit of knight’s armor, and his large kangaroo rat friend, Swift-Hopper, becomes his talking mount (and comic relief).
Picayune almost immediately runs into adventures. Phineas Redtail, a squirrel scout, joins his quest, persuading him to come first to the squirrel’s treetop community to ask Phineas’ Aunt Sibyl (who has mystic powers) where they should go. Aunt Sibyl offers a soothsayer’s typically vague advice:
There are many paths ahead and I cannot see them all. If you look within yourself, you will find the answers you seek. Never doubt your own strength, and you will find it sufficient to your task. (p. 47)
She bids Pica to watch over Phineas rather than vice-versa. That night, there is a colorful dance in the squirrel community.
When Picayune falls asleep at night, his dream of himself as a human knight continues. The book follows Picayune’s parallel adventures as dormouse and as human, until at last they merge as Picayune the human knight and the princess that he is rescuing are transformed into dormice.
The next day, the animals’ journey and their adventures resume. Picayune, Phineas, and Swift-Hopper are captured by badgers and enslaved in their underground kingdom. They become friends with two other slaves, the rabbit Alacrity and the lizard Lacer (Lacertil). When the three escape from the badger kingdom, they take Alacrity, Lacer, and a friendly badger, Trailblazer, with them – only to all be captured by the badgers’ enemies, the Hoo-Caw tribe of hawks …
After enlisting the hawks as allies, there is a grand confrontation with the Dragon which is not what anyone expects; and a happy ending that may or may not lead to further adventures.
If this were an adult anthro novel, I would be much more critical, such as asking how a dormouse village blacksmith knows how to make a mouse-sized complete human suit of knight’s armor. But for a juvenile adventure fantasy, there is no need to nit-pick the details. The writing is vivid and full of colorful detail, with an adult vocabulary:
Two squirrels came out to the center of the stage and a hush fell over the crowd. The two squirrels were dressed in bright greens and yellows, and looked almost identical. They bowed and nodded to a female squirrel in the back. With a tin whistle pressed to her lips, she began to play whimsical music. Instantly, the duo leapt into action, one jumping over the other as they started to juggle acorns. Back and forth, they twisted and swiveled, jumping about. They moved higher and higher into the air, as if suspended on invisible wires. The faster the music played, the faster they moved until, suddenly, they collided with one another high in the air. The crowd shrieked as they began to fall, only to tumble out of it at the last second. Their bushy tails caught every object they had been juggling. They posed on opposite ends of the stage, each on one knee with his arms extended. Everyone erupted in applause and cheers. Even Picayune grinned at the performance. (p. 49)
For those who enjoyed the first three or four Redwall novels but soon tired of their continual sameness, Picayune offers a refreshing variation of the genre. Most Furry fans do not have children yet, but this is a good novel for them to get and read themselves while waiting to get married and raise a family, and to give to their children when they are nine or ten years old.