The Rats of Hamelin
Keith McCune and
In this remake of the traditional tale, young Hannes, nearing the completion of his apprenticeship as a Piper, is given a final task as a test: rid the nearby town of Hamelin of its plague of rats. Hannes, eager to use the reward money for this task in a charitable cause, confidently sets out to do so. His magical pipe should be able to get him out of any difficulty. However, he becomes embroiled in a complex political situation in the town, and quickly realizes that in attempting to rid Hamelin of its rats, he’s gotten into a lot trouble more than he bargained for.
Written by a father-and-son team, this book is moderately charming. The writing quality is somewhat uneven — the descriptive prose is quite good, but the dialogue is horribly modern, which jars the reader out of the supposedly medieval setting. In fact, the setting fails completely to convince, partly because of this extremely modern dialogue, partly from a general lack of historical sense. The characters, on the other hand, are pleasingly real — they all, including the good ones, are flawed human beings, likeable yet far from perfect. Occasionally their motivations — as well as other plot aspects — feel forced, but in general they are well-drawn. (One of the villains, however, is so evil as to be more fitting in an out-right melodrama; I found him overly cheesy. An extended fight sequence in a butcher shop, during which just about every animal body part imaginable goes flying at some point, was similarly ridiculous. But forgivable, I guess.)
Thematically, the book is an investigation of justice and mercy and their various aspects — when each is appropriate, how they can be distorted by selfishness, the difference between justice and revenge, the danger of mercy, etc. This theme is tied into politics, too — what to do when the people of a city go along submissively with their unjust leaders? In general, I thought the authors pulled this off well — they avoid preachiness while still making their point, and the story and characters are interesting enough to support a message. I did take issue with one part of the plot, in which a demeaning mind-control curse is apparently considered an appropriate punishment for injustice. Granted, a lot of the problems that result from this curse occur due to the efforts of the evil villains, but it still bothered me. Justice is served at the end of the book, though, and the importance of forgiveness is also nicely emphasized.