From Britain, a highly touted first novel: an animal fantasy about a community of mice and their allies who defend their monastery against marauding rats led by the evil Cluny the Scourge (he has a remarkably strong tail that he uses as a weapon). The hero is Matthias, a humble novice who defers his peaceful ideals to follow his calling as successor to the renowned Martin, who long ago saved the monastery before withdrawing to a peaceful monastic life. With the help of old Methusaleh, the gatekeeper, Matthias unravels a key riddle and recovers Martin's lost scabbard and sword; and after a lively succession of adventures, espionage on both sides, and pitched battles with many casualties, the mice (who have not only justice but superior intelligence on their side) administer a crushing defeat to their enemies. Jacques' story abounds not only with exciting, vividly described action but with such amusing characters as doughty Constance, a warrior badger; moles whose rough speech recalls rural England and flighty ""sparras"" who speak a sort of pidgin; comic, gentlemanly old Basil Stag Hare; and Asmodeus, a venomous, dragonlike adder. But though the book is a satisfying adventure, it falls short of the great fantasies, lacking careful logic (it's hard to believe that the ascent of a roof erected by mice would present a challenge to any squirrel), and missing the sense of a place so perfectly imagined that we believe in its reality (the rats first appear in a horse-drawn wagon they have commandeered, the only hint of humans in the book). Most disturbingly, by creating unmitigatedly evil antagonists, Jacques falls into that comfortable old simplicity, the glorification of heroism in war.