The Woven Path | Chapter 16

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The heavens were as black as ink now.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter is just as ridiculous as I remember it – Ted trying to steer the aircraft, the Websters turning up dressed as pilots, Miss Ursula calling our fluffy hero ‘Edward’, and Miss Veronica getting all excited about the ‘awful deadly danger’ in the middle of a nose-dive and having to be told off. It’s hilarious and deeply silly, but knock me down with a knitting needle if I wasn’t glued to the page the entire time.

I mentioned this before during The Power of Dark, but there’s something about Robin’s grand, poetic, and vaguely pompous writing style that makes the goofiest of scenarios seem truly life-or-death.

In a chapter full of hairy moments, I do have to point out a couple of comedic lines, though. The first is Ted asking why it couldn’t have been the frog bones instead of Belial, Archduke of Demons, and the second is his quip about ‘rootbeer’. In amongst all the drama and suffering, it’s somewhat comforting to know that Angelo never lost his signature sass.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Wow. I was not expecting, when I started The Woven Path, that we’d end up in a bombing raid over Germany. And the whole thing was so visceral, not least because when it comes to the safety of the characters in the book, I really don’t trust Robin Jarvis at all. (Sorry, Mr Jarvis, I’ve been let down too many times in the past.)

While I know there’s still more stuff coming and we’re not near the finale, nonetheless, I felt like this chapter could have gone anywhere. So Ted getting sucked out a hole in the plane? I was gasping. Everyone passing out and about to crash? I was on the edge of my seat. I know we say this all the time on this blog, but how are books that are so filmable still not out as movies?

Anyway, we all know how it turned out now, and even I had to love the subtle humour when Miss Celandine said she was the only one who liked the beer.

And, obnoxious as Ted was to start with, he’s fast becoming one of my favourite characters. Which is why I’m getting nervous that he’s got a bottle of sacred water sewn into him now. Surely this can’t bode well?

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The Woven Path | Chapter 15

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

From every broken window and every splintered door, dazzling shafts of radiance blazed into the night.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What a suspenseful, disturbing chapter. I definitely see the ghost (sorry) of M.R. James in Peter Stokes’s journey from anger to confusion to fear as he explores the unnaturally lit ruin. The moment he went toward that light, we all knew he was charging to his doom, but I wonder if any of us, even knowing the nefarious ways of Mr Jarvis, guessed what a truly nightmarish doom that would be.

Well! Now we know that Belial’s favourite shapes are those his victims dread the most, and that ‘he who is without worth’ appears to be growing in strength. Frankly, I’d rather have remained in the dark.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I must say, this chapter definitely took me into James Herbert territory – creepy buildings, walking corpses. I’m not sure how the 11-year-olds that first read this book coped with it, because even I found it creepy.

Also, what more brilliant device in the middle of a blackout than to have light be the drawcard of Belial? In any other horror story, light is the good thing and it’s darkness that we worry about. But it’s the light that is the problem here. Nice reversal!

Meanwhile, all of this subtly hints at the real-life horror that was WWII. The fate of Billy is a reminder of the fate of many, many young sons where the looms of fate wove that they wouldn’t come home ever again.

 

The Woven Path | Chapter 14

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

So was set in motion a power greater than any other, unto which they too were bound and could not escape.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’ve often written of Mr Jarvis’ talent for blending the vast and grandiose with the harsh and mundane, and Angelo’s little ritual with The Kismet is an excellent example of that.

The scene would be compelling enough on its own – a portrait of a man beset with trauma and obsession, praying to anything he can for a slim chance at life. In this context, however, Angelo is literally invoking the Fates, of whom we have already had the not especially comforting acquaintance. Will ‘those three of mortal destiny’ pull through for our courageous pilot a thirteenth time? Due to the prologue, we know already that he was not killed during a mission, but that doesn’t exactly fill me with buoyant optimism.

With regards to the second half of this chapter, it seems peculiar to me that Neil did not already twig that there was something supernatural about the Websters. We’ve all known they were the Nornir right from Aidan’s speech, and it was practically spelled out by Miss Celandine in Chapter 6. Of course, Neil has already been through a lot, so it’s understandable that he might close his ears to the truth. Or maybe he’s simply not up on his Norse mythology. Whichever, he now has the right of it, and from here on out his path into the past can only become more tangled.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And more explicitly, we now get the back story of the three Nornir. (Which, being the weavers of fate, would also be the Kismet / Lady Luck that Angelo would have been calling out to as he anointed his plane with beer. This is such a clever tale!)

This has driven me back to Wagner-listening again!

Actually, question for you, Mr Jarvis, if you’re popping past – I remember reading your story about listening to Carl Orff while clambering up the 199 steps at Whitby, so I was wondering: did you ever go through a Wagnerian stage?

The Woven Path| Chapter 13

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It’s horrible that something so lovely could be the cause of so many deaths.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I thought that Dancing Jax was the first of Robin’s books to have its own soundtrack composed of real-life tunes, but evidently, I was wrong. In this chapter we have both ‘Stairway to the Stars’ and ‘Moonlight Serenade’, period hits that add an extra something-or-other to the wartime romance unfolding before us.

On a more macabre note, I find it a really interesting twist that Neil can see the bombsite ghosts. Thus far, he hasn’t shown any supernatural talent, especially compared to Edie, and yet here he is, running from her spectral subjects. This implies that either; the ghosts are visible to everyone but those who come across them choose to believe they are imagining things; or that some outside influence, be it the fates, the gateway, Belial, or even Edie herself, is influencing Neil, uncovering previously dormant psychic ability. Either way, it’s a brilliant, chilling scene.

Lastly, there are the collisions between Edie and Neil, and between Angelo and, well, himself. I have to laugh every time Ted narrates his own past actions in horrified whispers, cringing at his cheesy turns of phrase and smarmy behaviour toward Jean. It really endears us to him as a character, to know that he knows he was once deeply obnoxious, but has now seen the error of his ways. It’s a shame that it took his own death to realise how ridiculous he was being, but with time and fate aligned, perhaps that can be undone.

Matt’s Thoughts: I love the adult level of complexity that this story has introduced, despite having an 11-year-old protagonist. We have Angelo talking about the fear of death that all bombers had, plus the moral ambiguity of a job that required you to drop bombs on other human beings.

There is the bleakness of the departed spirits that hang around Edie, and their loss.

There’s the Archduke of Demons lurking somewhere in the background.

This is all big stuff for little readers to cope with.

And then – what’s up with Kath? (Unlike Wendel and Dimlon, I did not see that coming at all. Clearly, Robin was getting better at springing the surprise nasty characters on us by the mid-90s!)

Now, the kidnapping of Ted – does this cause a time paradox? Was this meant to happen (in the vein of Time of Blood)? Or is this deviating Ted/Angelo off on a different path? I’m not sure …

And one final thought – while this book is completely unrelated to the Whitby series, we do, in the character of Edie, have another child who can see the dead. Which – just having finished off a Stephen King recently – ties into Mr King’s cast of ‘shining’ kids who see things.

This has got me thinking: where did this idea of children with an extra sense of perception come from? Did The Shining start it in the 70s and every other story is a nod to that one? Has it been a concept that’s been floating around in mythology for centuries? I’m not sure, but – like vampires – it’s a plot device that rarely gets old. (And certainly not when you’ve got someone like Robin Jarvis spinning the yarn!)

Actually, I didn’t intend ‘spinning the yarn’ to be a gag either, but clearly it is. I’m now curious – did this end up in our vocabulary as a nod to the concept of the weavers of fate?

The Woven Path | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Belial had claimed his first victim.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Doris Meacham is definitely a Mrs Chitter sort of character. She arrives looking somewhat frivolous and abrasive, but leaves accompanied by a sympathetic tear from us readers.

The sewing circle might sneer at her sorrow over the death of her little dog, but how do they (and we) know that that is the only unhappiness Mrs Meacham has suffered since the war began? Perhaps the brutal killing of her pet was the last in a line of unspoken traumas in that lady’s life. In those days and that culture, it was far less likely that a woman might be free to express grief openly, and perhaps her pet was the only companion Mrs Meacham had left in the world. Even if he wasn’t, her pain is completely understandable given the sudden and violent nature of her loss. I, for one, feel sorry for her during the ‘yellow candlewick’ scene, and have no patience left with the vile Ma Stokes.

With that out of the way I suppose we have to take a look at our monster of the week, Belial. Wikipedia names him a figure of malevolence in both Hebrew and Christian texts. Alternatively ‘Beliar’, ‘Baalial’, etc, he is apparently alike in powers to the Biblical Satan, sometimes referred to as Lucifer’s father or accomplice, and referenced in Paradise Lost. Belial’s forte is, as demonstrated in this chapter, the ability to take on any form. I honestly can’t decide how I feel about the use of a Hebrew demon in the context of a pulpy murder scene in which said demon takes on the appearance of the ‘squander bug’ caricature, but it’s certainly a striking decision, and the stuff of a campy 70s b-movie. One can almost see the fake blood spurting in all directions.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It may have a cute teddy on the front, but it also has a giant freaking cockroach. For a while there, I thought this might have been a softer Jarvis book, more about atmosphere and history than dark monsters and villains but no – he’s well and truly ramped it up to his familiar level of intensity.

Anyway, I should mention that I got curious about the name Belial as well, because I remembered seeing it in old King James Version Bibles, but I couldn’t remember where. Where you see it is that in various spots in the Bible, there will sometimes be mentions of groups of pagans – or sometimes just one individual – who seeks to lead the true people of God astray. And a phrase keeps appearing ‘sons of Belial’ or ‘son of Belial’ to describe those.

It’s never clear what Belial is in the Bible, but clearly it is some sort of grouping for evil people. So Mr Jarvis’ imaginative take on Belial as the Archduke of Demons – and clearly with shapeshifting ability – is quite clever.

And brutal. Ugh. I hate cockroaches.

The Woven Path | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Within the dense blackout, an ancient horror was prowling and already the first chill tendrils of its power were threading through the gloom.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  In comparison to ‘Murder in the Park’ or ‘Cream-cakes and Death’, ‘The Broken Seal’ is not the most chillingly ominous of Robiny chapter titles, but it’s definitely in the top ten.

There’s something about it that conjures up visions of vintage horror films in which beleaguered tomb-robbers are dragged to gory deaths by venom-spewing demons, and so forth. As a title it would not be out of place on the cover of a tatty paperback novel found in the back of a cramped and mouldering bookshop in some small English town, which in turn harbours some awful evil of its own.

Speaking of evil, I daresay the blunt sadism of the scene with Mrs Meacham’s dog may have contributed to this book being at least as unrecognised as The Alchymist’s Cat. A bit of violence is all well and good when it’s animal to anthropomorphic animal, but wanton cruelty on the part of human characters to pets and other vulnerable creatures is not to be tolerated, and is very jarring and difficult to read.

There is however an important point being made here, as in Emelza’s death: during times of wide-spread suffering, be it plague or war, the worst of humanity will take out its anger upon the innocent and defenceless, which, sadly, includes the creatures it called friends in better times.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’ve got to say, this book is really potent. We’ve got ancient supernatural horror somewhere, but day-to-day we’re living in the realities of war-time East End.

Having now read the particularly unpleasant scene involving the dog, though, I take back what I said about Ma Stokes potentially having a heart of gold. This does not seem to be the case and, in fact, I’d be happy if she got dispatched in the next few chapters.

But being a Jarvis book,the villains only tend to get away with more and more as the book progresses …

 

Up Next | The Raven’s Knot

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And if you’re as thoroughly immersed in the world of the Wyrd Museum as we have been over the last couple of weeks, this is a reminder that next up will be The Raven’s Knot. He’s sucked the stars from Deptford and Greenwich, he’s wreaked Armageddon on Whitby (twice now) and blitzed the East End of London all over again.  And next on Mr Jarvis’ list is the town of Glastonbury, which is about to become very dark, mythical and nasty!

Ancient ravens, historical towns, more Norse mythology, the destiny of the Chapmans and the Webster sisters … and a whole bunch of other stuff that we don’t want to spoil too much for you. It’s all in The Raven’s Knot, and it’s going to be brilliant.

Copies readily available in digital and paper formats on Amazon, so order yourself a copy and get ready for an ancient showdown of mythical proportions this February!