The second volume of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series gives us further insight into the world of mice and the Guard. The story jumps a bit from where it ended in the previous volume. Winter has completely set in and the towns and cities of the Mice Territories are in near complete isolation from one another. Lockhaven is short of food and stores for the winter following Midnight’s attack during the fall. Gwendolyn has sent out three parties of Guardmice to visit the surrounding settlements to gather essential supplies. The second volume concerns itself with the trip of Kenzie’s group which is made up of Saxon, Sadie, Lieam and Celanawe, formally known as the Black Axe. There is also quite a bit of story that deals with the events taking place at Lockhaven. It’s nice to spend some time with characters that aren’t Guard members. It’s also nice to spend time inside a city instead of seeing it from a visitor’s point of view while accompanying the Guard on one of their missions.
Petersen essentially puts the Guard in action, having them do what is essentially their job, acting as a physical link between all the towns and cities. What they did in the first volume, fighting a rebellion, isn’t their primary work but it’s something they do in order to achieve their primary goal which is to protect the Territories. Unfortunately, exiling Midnight wasn’t enough to put an end to his supporters or the ideals he spread during his uprising.
He also takes the time to develop his character which he does with a considerable amount of pathos. You get a much better idea of how the mice from the first volume interact with each other. Petersen simultaneously gives us further insight into the personalities of the individual characters and we get to see them play against one another. How Saxon reacts to being lost and alone in Darkheater and how it changes him is one of my favourite moments of the series. Likewise, the trials young Lieam faces in Winter 1152 are so well executed as to make it feel natural and rather moving. There are more characters in this volume than I remember. Most of the characters appeared at the end of the first volume but it’s in the second volume that they get to shine.
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We also get to explore a couple more settings. One of them is another mouse dwelling, the city of Sprucetuck which is located in a hollowed out tree. Petersen develops it in the story as well as in the back matter. I like the fact that they heat the tree with stones in order to minimize the amount of open flame which is an obvious dangers when the whole town in inside a tree. I like that different population centres have their own defining characteristics and trades. Sprucetuck is known for its healing “Spruce Brew Elixer”. The real treat though is the discovery of the abandoned tunnels of Darkheather which used to be a weasel kingdom deep underground. Some of the Guard find themselves stranded in the labyrinthine tunnels and some rather intense things happen in the dark but I won’t spoil it hear.
If there is one frustrating thing about Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 is that despite continuing the story from Fall 1152 and providing further depth to the characters and the world they inhabit, it all still feels like it’s setting up for a larger story. That’s not to say that nothing happens. On the contrary, Petersen strikes the difficult balance of telling a story that begins and ends between the same covers while also planting the seeds of further and, I can only assume, grander stories. I want more Mouse Guard and I want it now! People can complain all they want about their multi-volume fantasy series or the next season of whatever generic TV series they’re watching; what I can’t wait to get my greedy hands on is the next instalment of Mouse Guard. I don’t mean to complain, but Mouse Guard: Tales of the Guard doesn’t do much to satiate my cravings.