Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 13

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Out fell the chippings Finnen had taken from the Silent Grove, and uttering a dismal groan, the boy closed his eyes. His horrible secret was out. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Quite aside from the huge ugly plot points about the Hollow Hill and the Smith and Finnen being banished to what now seems like certain death beyond the werling realm, this is a very important chapter for Gamaliel. Evidently his adventures over the holly fence and his near-death experience at the stinger of Frighty Aggie have made a young man of him, and unlike his somewhat wobbly friends, he will no longer put up with being stepped upon by his elders at every turn. Good on you, Gammy. Glad to see someone has the right idea.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Poor old Finnen. It’s tragic enough that you run into problems from evil creatures outside the realm, but to be turned on by your own is even worse. What’s also amazing is that just ten chapters ago, this was just a story about little creatures that could turn into cute fuzzy animals.

How did we get to this level of anguish so fast?

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Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 12

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

A welcoming laugh was on the Smith’s lips, and the enchanted knife dived swiftly into his breast. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: It occurred to me that ‘Thimbleglaive’ really just means ‘very small knife’, and yet you’d never know, would you? And now that we do know, it doesn’t actually matter that the Smith’s dagger doesn’t have a grand name like ‘Ogredeath’ or whatnot, because it’s really more in line with his character that his weapons should do marvellous things like leap of their own accord at the enemy, and yet have humble, unassuming names.

I like that the Smith, or, Gofannon, to give him is proper name posthumously, gets to defeat the chieftain of the thorn ogres before he finally cheats the High Lady’s Provost of the intelligence he so desperately desires. The ogres were set up as the Smith’s particular nemeses from the start, so that’s one in the eye to Rhiannon even before that noble, and let’s face it, rather smug demise. ‘Hard luck, Morthanna,’ the Smith seems to the thinking as he bleeds out heroically. ‘May rabid hedgehogs chew on your heart!’

 

Matt’s Thoughts: There have been some great Heroic Deaths in the Jarvis canon so far, arguably starting with Piccadilly’s mid-winter showdown with Jupiter and onwards. They’re so final, with no hope of return for the character. (Not like Gandalf, popping up half a book later!)

But this one just might be my favourite, because Gofannen goes out on his own terms, unafraid, while frustrating the plans of the bad guys. It’s tragic and outstanding all at once.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 11

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Only the memory of pain and loss compelled them to avoid that spot. The Silent Grove was where those they had loved were finally laid to rest and given back to the forest. This was the werling burial ground. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The idea of the Silent Grove really affected me as a young’un. Like Matt I’d say that it’s one of my favourite settings in Jarvis canon – when Robin’s characters die it’s often so grisly that there isn’t a lot left to bury. In all the deaths we’ve read through so far, I don’t think we’ve had a full funeral until now, so it’s quite cathartic to see Mufus sent off properly.

For me reading this as a young child, the Silent Grove was my first exposure to a description of a burial ceremony that wasn’t the standard ‘coffin in a cemetery’ affair. I didn’t yet know that natural burial was a real thing, and it seemed to me that the werlings were quite wise in their approach to death and funerary rites. Not to be morbid, but if I were a werling, I wouldn’t mind the idea of eventually ending up in a tree with all my ancestors.

Speaking of ancestors, we finally learn the secret of Finnen Lufkin: Graverobber. We all knew he had some dark, dank weight on his soul, but how many of us imagined that he was chewing corpse-bark to improve his gift?

Really, though, I think we can all sympathise with his paralysing terror of failure, especially in light of his illustrious family history. Orphaned and with the guilt of Mufus’ death to bear on top of his grisly secret, poor Finnen is looking more Piccadillyish by the second. With Master Gibble evidently about to proclaim his crime from the treetops, the ‘death or villainy’ fate I prophesied for him may be closer than we thought.

Matt’s Thoughts: This, for me, is the best chapter in the whole book. Mr Jarvis can sometimes take out characters at such a rapid pace that death becomes something we get accustomed to. But to pause and have an extended funeral sequence, where we really comprehend the full weight of grief that Mufus’ death has had on the werling community, is really striking.

Also, while I can’t explain why, I find the Silent Grove, with its beech tree graves, one of the most imaginative of all Jarvis locations. It’s a powerful concept.

Of course, as with all Jarvis setpieces, they are not just inserted for atmosphere. As the chapter draws to a close, we realise the significance of the Grove in both Finnen’s story – and the back story of Frighty Aggie.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 10

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Bufus Doolan choked back a cry. Above him, impaled upon the spiky twigs, hung Mufus’s lifeless body. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Well, we’re two thirds of the way in, so here come the deaths. Brace yourselves, it can only get worse from here.

I have to say I was sorely disappointed in Master Gibble during this chapter. There he went at the head of the search for Mufus, rallying the community around Yoori Mattock and himself, bravely leading the way. I was fooled, briefly, into thinking that deep down, he actually cared about his charges, and that there might be a shred of kindly paternal concern beneath that hard and knobbly exterior.

But no – he just had to tactlessly comment that Bufus’ distress might be mere playacting, and prove that he really is terse and gibbly right down to the bone. Shame on you, Gibble, you’re a disgrace to the memory of your ancestors!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter really got under my skin, perhaps because the tone of the book thus far doesn’t really prepare you for something as disturbing as this. Yes, Mufus and Bufus have been an annoying pair and teasing Gamaliel, but the fate of Mufus is horrendous.

This is one case where I feel like the new, darker, cover of the book is a more appropriate representation of the contents!

It’s also interesting because of the way this escalates things. In most of these stories (say, The Lord of the Rings, or closer to home, even the Deptford Mice), a few heroes from the sleepy community go somewhere else and get in trouble. But when Bufus runs into the village and screams out the rallying cry… well, now the whole community is instantly in danger.

But then, with all the talk of dead parents and grandparents – and the need for wergling in the first place – I’m actually reminded that the werling community is only a hair away from certain doom at the best of times. So in a way, they have been preparing for a calamity like this for centuries.

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 9

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

“Inside the box, pulsing and beating by loathsome craft – was Rhiannon’s very own heart.”

Aufwader’s Thoughts: It’s just occurred to me that the werlings might have another, unspoken power. What if, along with their shapeshifting gifts, they have the ability, like the little folk of old, to make mortal and immortal alike forget them, once they have passed by? If ever they possessed such a talent it must have waned over the ages, but it’s something to consider.

The Smith’s account of the terrors of the Hollow Hill definitely has its roots in traditional fairytales. As with the character of the Smith himself, here we see Mr Jarvis working with established motifs and themes in the story of vengeful Lady Morthanna and her unfortunate family. In this case, we have Snow White through the Robiny lens – Rhiannon, fairest and most jealous in the land, extracts her own heart in order to claim the throne. It’s all rather grim, if you ask me, and I don’t like the Smith’s chances if the Unseelie Court catch up with him.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And so the back story is laid out. Dark secrets, siblings jostling for the throne and a (literally) heartless villainess. I’ve said before that the secret to Robin Jarvis books is that, instead of pitching strong, larger-than-life heroes against evil, it is small, fragile ordinary characters, like mice, children and werlings, who often do the great deeds.

It reminds us that any of us might be called upon – at very short notice – to have to show courage and tenacity. Whatever the consequences. And, speaking of consequences, we have a very Jarvis piece of foreshadowing in that last sentence: ‘Before morning, one of them would be slain.’

Up Next | Deathscent

 

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No one would have believed, in the year of Our Lord fifteen hundred and sixty-two, that this World was being watched by intellects far greater and more cunning than Man’s own. That as Man busied himself about his various concerns, he was being scrutinised and studied. With infinite complacency, Man went to and fro over the Globe, about his paltry affairs, serene in his assurance of his Empire over Matter.

No one gave a thought to the older Worlds of Space as sources of danger and threat; or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as grave heresy. Yet across the gulfs of the Outer Dark, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that gleam and whirr, regarded the Earth with envious eyes, and slowly, and surely, their Plan for us was fulfilled.

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Please excuse the gratuitous H.G. Wells – I couldn’t resist playing around with the opening paragraphs of The War of the Worlds to announce this, Mr Jarvis’ first and only foray into science fiction. And what a foray it is. Deathscent is a glorious, gilded marvel, quite unlike anything we’ve seen so far on this project, and yet so deeply Robin Jarvis that it could never be mistaken for anything else.

From the fading rose gardens of Malmes-Wutton to the splendour and magnificence of the Court of Elizabeth Regina, we now embark upon our voyage through the Reflected Realm. Wonders of motive science shall we learn; devils and angels shall we encounter; secrets alchemical and astrological shall we be privy to; and dire perils shall we face ‘ere the fires take us.

Deathscent was published in 2001 by Harper Voyager. It is available on ebook, but I’d advise finding a physical copy second-hand to get the full experience of the book’s meticulous design. (For the devoted collector, there’s a signed first edition with a rare promotional booklet going on Biblio at the moment, but regular hardbacks are fairly easy to find, and the paperbacks are just as well-designed.) There is also quite a lot of complimentary material for this book on Mr Jarvis’ site, most infamously this extremely eerie trailer.

 

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Chapter 8

glamalielWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Sting not me. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Okay first of all Hagwood is clearly the heart of Raith Sidhe territory. I don’t care what any of us have said about Jarvis Universe Theory or the fact that weasels, rats and other vermin are devoid of the powers of speech in this trilogy. There’s Hobbers in them there woods, Frighty Aggie is a servant of Mabb, the werlings themselves are the distant descendants of Bauchan, and that’s final.

Back to the business at hand, and I can’t lie, I do still get a tiny frisson of fear on reading this chapter. I’m not especially anti-insect, no spider phobia nor wasp aversion do I possess, yet Frighty Aggie just gets me somehow. It’s probably something to do with the fact that she’s apparently still aware in there – I could talk about Robin’s favourite ‘loss of self’ theme here, but I already said way too much on that during The Raven’s Knot, and will likely say more ‘ere this reread is concluded.

I’ll just leave you all to consider that it was probably convenient for the Wergle Masters of yore to convince themselves, and the werling community, that Agnilla Hellekin had become a remorseless monster devoid of will and conscious thought, and so the only compassionate thing to do was to banish her. After all, compared to her gift, the most skilled elder amounted to nothing, and their long and august institution would be threatened. Better for everyone if she were cast out, and her memory fashioned into a cautionary tale. Great grand ambition must have limits.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And about this chapter is when the book suddenly shakes off any hint of cuteness and launches full on into the intense, dark story it’s going to become.

Again, like Morgawrus, Frighty Aggie is another Jarvis monster introduced without an illustration. But the description is vivid enough in this case, that we can imagine it quite easily.

I also like the way, despite the viciousness of the attack, that no one actually ends up dead. Instead, we have that strange moment with Finnen instead and Aggie’s sinister chuckle. And so what starts as a monster encounter becomes a bigger question.