One night, a strange board appears near the Sandleford Warren and the lives of the rabbits who live there will never be the same. A small, young rabbit named Fiver feels a sense of coming danger for the warren and he along with his older brother Hazel attempt to warn the Chief Rabbit. When the warning falls on deaf ears, the two decide they must set out on their own, along with any who come with.
The night after they found the board, Hazel and Fiver set out along with nine others. Bigwig, a fierce fighter and his friend Silver; Blackberry, who shows ingenuity; Dandelion, who's abilities as a story teller come in handy more then once; Buckthorn, Hawkbit, Pipkin, Speedwell and Acorn. Their goal is to get far away and start a new life.
The way is fraught with dangers but they are lead ever onward by Hazel, whom the other's soon begin to look up to as one with a great capacity for leadership. Hazel himself is inspired to keep going by Fiver's visions of a tall hill, somewhere, that would be their new home.
Finally, they find it. It is a tall hill, just as Fiver saw, affording a look out for mile around. Any elil - enemies of the rabbits - would be spotted before they reached the warren. Now, the facts are that bucks - male rabbits - don't dig warrens. But when they find abandoned holes the rest are soon persuaded into excavating them further and turning them into burrows.
Once finished, the rabbits have a bit of time to relax and Hazel brings forward a problem that had been on his mind. There are no does, no female rabbits. Without them, due to the dangerous life of a rabbit, the newly built warrens will be empty within a few years. Here begins the major conflict of the story.
The rabbits befriend an injured gull named Kehaar. Once recovered, he scouts out the land for the rabbits. He reports that a farm down near the bottom of the Down has rabbit hutches there and two days away is another large warren. By now, the original eleven have been joined by three more. Hazel sends four of them out to find the warren and bring back any does that are willing, while the remaining ten stay behind.
The mission won't be as easy as they thought. What these rabbits don't know is that the other warren is the Efrafa. The Efrafa are a large warren of rabbits, ruled over by the General Woundwort. The rules there are exceedingly strict and any rabbit who attempts to leave is punished severely, even with their lives.
The four are taken into Efrafa, where they talk to some of the does and discover just what they are dealing with. Realizing that any mass escape would be fruitless, the four barely escape back to Watership Downs to report their findings.
The rabbits mull over this new information and debate about what to do. Hazel proposes another attempt, which is received... not very well by the rabbits who have seen what the Efrafa can do. Backed by Fiver's certainty that there is no impending danger, Hazel's authority wins out, and by his direction, Blackberry formulates a plan which is known only to Hazel, Bigwig and himself. Eleven rabbits set out to accomplish what seems those staying behind, a nearly impossible task.
How they fulfill their mission, return the the warren and defeat the Efrafa once and for all is an intense and exciting adventure that will keep you hooked until the last climactic battle.
One thing I particularly enjoyed where the little facts about rabbits scattered here and there, as well as the realism of it. These rabbits act like rabbits. They eat grass, with an occasional treat of lettuce and carrot here and there. They need the does to continue the life of the warren, not because they are "in love". And these are not some brave, bold rabbits who fear nothing, they are very real rabbits who's first instinct is to fly in fear from any danger, and they do rather frequently. Only in a few instances and with extreme difficulty are they able to remain in one spot in the face of danger (from non-rabbits, that is). Those rabbits they encounter who are not afraid of anything are different, do not lead normal lives nor do they lead happy ones. They are feared rather than trusted.
Also of great enjoyment are the 'folk-tales' interspersed amongst the main plot. They are about El-ahrairah, a hero figure for the rabbits and are amusingly reminiscent of the Brer Rabbit stories.
Watership Down was rather good, easy to understand and exciting to read. I wouldn't recommend this for younger readers though due to it's approximately 500 page length. But for older readers who can handle longer books, this classic is a must read.