Number of pages: 358
Bamber the Badger discovers that his sett has been destroyed by people, and that all the badgers, including him, have been poisoned. Realising that this is part of a systematic eradication programme, he stumbles off to warn others. He arrives at Cilgwyn Cadre, another sett, and is able to pass on the message before his untimely death.
This sets off a quest for survival in a story that owes a lot to Richard Adams, particularly his books, Watership Down and The Plague Dogs. A story that involves culling of badgers to stop the spread of tuberculosis feels very topical, considering some of the events of a few years ago (although this was written in 1987).
I read this book about twenty years ago, and reading it again I noticed that this book is largely about badger politics. When the reader is introduced to Cilgywn Cadre, the writer talks about the strict system involving elders and council members that shows that the badgers in the story have similarities to humans. The story even goes as far as to introduce a villain, a badger called Kronos, who is determined to create, and win, a battle for power; it almost felt like Game of Thrones with badgers.
Aside from this, the story is largely about the badgers' struggle to escape the imminent danger, and survive all the dangers on their way. The tone of the story is far from cheerful, as many of the characters in the book end up perishing, and there are some incredibly harrowing moments. Throughout the book, Kronos becomes increasingly evil and twisted.
Reading this again, it did occur to me that this felt like a Pilgrim's Progress-style Christian allegory, with the badgers' quest being very similar to the Israelites travelling in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, with Kronos as the devil (there are even references to him tempting other badgers with promises that they could not fulfil). The badgers in the book are also given their own religion, which seemed heavily influenced by Viking mythology.
I noticed that, since almost all the book is from the point of view of the badgers, there were some things that they did not understand, particularly one moment when people are seen getting off a train, the badgers think they are looking at a monster.
The only thing I didn't like about the book was the fact that there was no dialogue, something that I never noticed when I was younger. I know that it's supposed to be a book about badgers, but there is some suspension of disbelief in the fact that they formed a council, and are evidently able to have intelligent conversations. Instead of showing what exactly is said, the book just mentions briefly what the badgers discussed with each other, which has the disadvantage that most of the characters feel very two-dimensional, with not much indication of personality, except that Kronos is dislikeable, and that other characters are heroic and courageous.
Overall, I thought this was an okay book; not exactly a classic, but I loved the way that this got across a serious conservation message as well as being an enjoyable adventure story.
Next book: A Clash of Kings (George R.R. Martin)