If the final Almanack entry were the finale of this project…

…then let this be the lingering, sinister epilogue with a heart-wrenching plot-twist to turn the peeling blade at the last.

When Matt first suggested an online Robin Jarvis book group to me, one dismal September morning in 2016, I was checking out of a dingy hotel in a dingier seaside town after a publisher’s convention, and it was the best pitch I’d heard all weekend. As the project progressed, growing and writhing like the Dark Despoiler yet unborn, we found ourselves so caught up in the adventure of its day-to-day running that, apart from a monthly eyeball over the schedule, neither of us really gave much thought to the fact that we would, at some point, run out of books.

Now, after several cross-country moves and a veritable kaleidoscope of momentous life events, we have, impossible though it seems, come to the end of the Great Grand Robin Jarvis Reread. We have flown with Valkyrja and drowned with Deep Ones. We have gone to war in the name of the Green; of the Mighty Three, of the High Lady of the Hollow Hill. We have crossed the Outer Dark and rolled away the sun, to stand at last before Myth and Sacrifice and make the choice to be ordinary heroes.

Now I raise my cup as co-writer; a berrybrew toast to Matt, without whom the Great Grand Reread would never have been at all. It was your creativity and insight which brought this project to life, and without you I would still probably be languishing on chapter seven of The Dark Portal. With the patience and wisdom of a Master of Motive Science, you kept the ichors of this blog aligned and the gears turning – I merely polished the casing!

Another toast (perhaps with acorn cups?) to the tireless and devoted Starshine Squirrel, who not only saw the Reread through right from the beginning, but who has also been quietly crafting the marvellous, the magnificent, Deptford Mice Wiki. A vast and extremely useful resource for both the questing fan and bumbling bloggers such as Matt and I, it has grown with the Reread, watched over by its very own Handmaiden of Orion. Patricia, long may you reign.

Finally, and with trumpeting fanfare, to Mr Jarvis, sometime Sir Robin; author, artist, merciless murderer of mice. But for your Greenly grace goes this project, and but for your kind encouragement and avid attention to every chapter, who knows whether we would have had the wherewithal to carry through so epic an undertaking.

Honoured are we, humble Matt and humble Aufwader, to have had your unwavering support throughout, and honoured are we now to have a place online among your titles past and present. Green knows we have not enough words in our thesaurus to thank you for everything you have done, and continue to do, for your fans. Fair weather and fine writing to you Sirrah – sharp be your pencils and bright your lamps in the ravenous dark.

So concludes the Great Grand Reread, that is, until the finale of the Witching Legacy goes to print and we all start up again like Fennywolders peering out into the wan Spring sunshine. And here perhaps, comes the plot twist, for Matt and I have a few scratchings and scufflings planned before that eagerly-awaited day dawns. While all of Mr Jarvis’ books are present and correct, not all his writing is yet accounted for, nor indeed have we unearthed the many remarkable adaptations of his work which have shown themselves since he first divided The Dark Portal into a trilogy back in 1989. And what, then, lies beyond? Why, a silvering sea of possibility, Readers all.

myth & sacrifice.

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The Deptford Mice Almanack | December

the deptford mice almanack _0014
What sinister darkness lies in store for us all? Audrey Scuttle was placed upon the Living Throne by the Green himself, a madness has consumed the folk of Greenwich and I fear for what will undoubtedly befall them. A distant, unpleasant place has my home become, and I shall not spend the eve here!

Aufwader’s Thoughts: So we finally come to the death of one year and the birth of another. When the Almanack was published in 1997, we Robin Jarvis fans could not have known that in four years time we would depart from the rodenty world of Deptford and Greenwich, to crash-land in an entirely new, reflected, realm for a new millennium. We could not have guessed at the fire and bloodshed and adult themes which awaited us, first in the be-ruffed players of Deathscent, and then in stubborn stain of the Dancing Jax trilogy. Back in 1997, none of us, perhaps not even Mr Jarvis himself, supposed that a return to the looming crags of Whitby would be in the offing, over twenty years after The Whitby Child first terrified young readers. And maybe, in light of War in Hagwood, some of us returned to the Mouselets with renewed optimism that the Deptford Mice finale the Almanack promised would see the light of day after all. 

For myself, the ending of the Almanack is basically perfect, and the only Deptford Mice closure I’ll ever require. Looking back on the whole of Robin Jarvis canon after two years of reading and writing my way through it, I would say that his greatest strength and brightest talent is his ability to hone in on one particular story and tell it well, while still giving the impression of thousands of other stories, happening off-page, but happening nonetheless. Robin Jarvis books come to an end, but life goes on in the worlds he has created, long after the reader has reached the last page.

Gervase gets up from his desk, puts on his squirrelly scarf against the weather, and goes to visit Thomas Triton. They have a drink, the bells chime. Somewhere out in the night, Modequai and Morella weave their devilish schemes. The Greenwich sentries chatter and wail. The rats of Deptford mutter about thrones and bones and daggers with amethyst pommels dredged up on the banks of the Thames. Perhaps Audrey seeks shelter with her brother Arthur and his family in Holeborn. Parhaps she flees into the dark. 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, I figured something bad was on its way, but I wasn’t sure what! Now I understand why everyone who reads the Almanack is hanging out for more Deptford books.

The fact that we got prequels instead (the Mouselets series) does make me think that we were going to be set up for the return of Mabb (and perhaps Hobb as well) for any future books. And I’m assuming that Morella is perhaps Alison Sedge, possessed by Mabb and transformed into a squirrel somehow?

Well, I guess until Mr Jarvis decides to tell that tale, we’ll either have to wait and see or imagine how such a showdown would play out. 

And given that we’re still patiently (well, almost patiently) waiting for the final Witching Legacy book, that might be a while in coming.

Finally, what a cleverly done last twist. Here Thomas has been set up as the alcoholic loser all year long and now it’s Gervase that goes and joins him in hitting up the bottle. What an ironic way to finish the Almanack!

War in Hagwood | Chapter 19 & Epilogue

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Gamaliel Tumpin—the savior of Hagwood and the world beyond.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This ending was a lot the first time around, and it’s still a lot on reread. It’s definitely one of the most elegantly crafted, yet deeply surreal series finales in all Robin Jarvis canon. Who would have guessed that the High Lady’s provost was nursing this secret obsession with its monarch in its fluffy little owl breast? Who would have thought that Gabbity’s curse upon it would come true, and that it would indeed fall from the sky, drenched in its own blood, slain at the talons of the Queen it so adored? 

Stranger still, who would have even thought for a moment that the solution to the locked casket would be that Gamaliel would wergle his finger into the key? Robin, I have to know, did you plan that one from the start, or did it come upon you in a flash of inspiration, mere mintues before a deadline? Either way, it’s a gloriously, marvellously peculiar way to end this most weird and wergly of trilogies, and now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it working out differently. 

And so, we come at last to the end of the Hagwood trilogy, and the final book in Robin Jarvis canon, barring the Witching Legacy, to date. May all who perished in the terrible Hag Wars be at rest, reviled or honoured as their deeds in life so dictate. May the trees of old Dunwrach stand tall, may bogles be brave and wergle pouches ever untidy. And may we rereaders remember one small shapeshifter’s courage in our own choices, be they myth, or sacrifice. 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, despite all the foreshadowing, I never saw this ending coming when I read this the first time. What a brilliantly clever tragic device – from Book 1, Gamaliel has been set up with the power to wergle into strange shapes and it’s all been leading to this chapter.

As always with the end of Jarvis trilogies, evil will be defeated but it won’t be a happy ending. The cost is always extraordinarily high. I really love the idea of Gamaliel now being a figure at the top of a fountain for all time. And doesn’t that second-last sentence just sum up every Jarvis book ever written: ‘His selfless act not only brought lasting joy and peace to the realm, it was also an inspiration, for all who lived through those perilous times and the generations that followed.’

One other interesting thing which I picked up this time – for one brief paragraph, the owl becomes male: ‘He had never seen her assume that shape before and the sight of it beguiled him. Had she done it especially to please him?’

It’s the only time it occurs as far as I can tell, so I’m fascinated as to whether the owl was male in the original draft of the trilogy then carefully re-written to become an ‘it’. (The owl is an ‘it’ even back in the first published version of Thorn Ogres, as far as I can tell). So are these two rogue sentences then something that slipped past the eye of the editor?

Regardless, it is a spectacular (and bravely adult) way of dispatching the owl from the story. The owl is almost literally torn apart because of his love for Rhiannon.

War in Hagwood | Chapter 18

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Her eyes glinted and the malevolence that beat out of her caused each of them to catch his breath. In her face, they saw their deaths and knew they were inescapable.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I can’t decide which mental image I like the best – Finnen actually riding on Frighty Aggie’s back as if she were his noble steed, the stampede of bristling hog demons from Nest-only-knows where turning out to be the werlings all along, the last members of the Unseelie Court kneeling before Clarisant and honouring her as their Queen, or even Grimditch turning up with the rescused mortal child and asking if Gamaliel wants to ‘be friends’ in the midst of a ferocious battle for all Hagwood. However, Rhiannon has flown off unfazed, and our tiny heroes are not out of the woods just yet. 

Matt’s Thoughts: Of all the big Jarvis battles, this just might have become my all-time favourite after this chapter. Everything was super dire at the end of Chapter 17 and then look at the reversals:

Frighty Aggie comes back to save the day!

The transformed werlings arrive!

All the troll witches are killed!

Rhiannon loses her staff!

It’s just moment after moment of bold, noble exhilaration, and I can’t help but love every second. 

War in Hagwood | Chapter 17

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Not yet,’ Gamaliel answered with a defiant grin. ‘There’s still a chance—a mad, stupid, tiny scrap of a chance!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Some small yet touching scenes here, with Master Gibble finally coming to understand that ‘wergling can happen on the inside’, and Bufus not being allowed to leap to his death and sacrifice himself needlessly, even as it seems that the world the werlings knew is vanishing forever. Great deeds and feats of cunning are all well and good, but in the end, what makes Robin’s heroes truly brave is that, even when all hope seems lost, they are not at home to Mr Despair.

Matt’s Thoughts: I must confess that I thought it was going to be a bit anticlimactic going from the Dancing Jax series back to Hagwood and was expecting the reread of this book to be a bit lighter.

But the character beats in this chapter were really moving. Bufus is still dealing with the pain of losing his brother and thus the witch-induced suicidal thoughts so tragically appeal to him. It was years between books for us readers but for him, it has really only been a few days since he lost his brother so we can forget how traumatised he still is by that whole event.

However, surely, the greatest moment – perhaps in the whole trilogy – is the double pay-off of Gamaliel being gracious to Gibble and letting him go and then Gibble’s return to save his young pupils. On the Hollow Hill side of the tale, the characters seem to operate out of places of extreme selfishness and, in the case of Rhiannon, sadism. But there is beauty and light to be found among the werlings.

 

War in Hagwood | Chapter 16

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

She raised her staff and gave a commanding shout: ‘Come forth, my loathly sisters!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I must say, the troll witches are wonderfully grotesque and sinister in this chapter’s illustration. The banner which Robin very kindly created to announce the Reread depicts one in a slightly less intimidating, more cuddly light, so it’s rather enjoyable to finally see them in there original form; that is to say, hideous and ravening. 

From then on, it’s all highly dramatic and theatrical, with Clarisant wielding a Pucca-wrought sword and blood raining from the sky as friend and foe are hewn asunder. Ah, nothing like a Robin Jarvis battle scene for a spot of cosy bedtime reading.

Matt’s Thoughts: I do wonder, reading this, whether Robin back in his TV days used to hang out with the sound guys a lot. 

The reason for this is the sound design on Robin’s books is quite loud and dynamic. We usually think of reading as a silent pursuit but this chapter is as good an example of any of Robin’s relentless use of sound to paint his world.

Electric jags snake and spark, breastplates shatter, forks of fire blast down. It’s DTS 5.1 surround sound at full volume plus an extra-loud subwoofer. And this happens all the time in Jarvis climaxes. Is it just his way of fleshing out scenes? Or being helpful to that film crew we’re all waiting to come along and make a movie of these books?

War in Hagwood | Chapter 15

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The Queen is dead. Her reign is ended. The days of evil are over!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: A skillful building up of tension all through this chapter, only to be followed by the terrible revelation that the High Lady remains unharmed and undefeated, and that poor old Grimditch has killed the friend who was so kind to him and who allowed him to escape with the mortal infant. So Rhiannon’s reign of horror truly begins. 

Matt’s Thoughts: This was a great chapter twist with the fake Rhiannon but having Grimditch be the one to kill her, only to find it’s Gabbity, is just cruel. After all, she only just saved his life a couple of chapters ago!

But the job has been done – all of the Hollow Hill have outed themselves as enemies of the Queen, and the androgynous owl (still can’t believe I missed that for two and a half books!) is there to dob them all in.

The final battle is on.