The Crystal Prison | Chapter 3

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

From the depths of the dark glass he saw the night sky – only the stars shone a hundred times brighter.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Owing to the piecemeal stocking practices of my local library, The Crystal Prison was the first of Mr Jarvis’ books which I had the pleasure of reading in unabridged, fully illustrated (and slightly grubby) paperback form. I can remember being about nine, lying in a state of fuzzled poorliness on our old blue sofa one wet weekday, whizzing through chapter after chapter at a rate of noughts. I was amazed and startled by the illustrations, and by the idea that the world of the Deptford Mice was much deeper, grander, and more frightening than it had seemed in the abridged audiobook of The Dark Portal.

This chapter makes a great impression upon me now as then. First of all, my heart aches for poor beleaguered Madame Akkikuyu. The little aside that she often lies awake at night in tears as her memory continuously betrays her actually made me shed a tiny tear on rereading, and, as with Oswald’s illness, the portrayal of her traumatised state is distressingly realistic. Despite that she delivered Audrey to Jupiter rather than defying Morgan in The Dark Portal’s finale, we cannot help but sympathise with her dream of ‘sleeping in summer light’, and hope against hope that things work out well for her.

The final scene in the Starwife’s chamber is so amazingly cinematic I could almost see it play out before me shot-by-shot like a film. Something I love about it is that it echoes Twit’s journey through the stars in Chapter 7 of The Dark Portal, hinting again that he is in some way marked for a destiny taller and more dangerous than his mousebrass would suggest. Further more, we finally discover the depths of the Starwife’s manipulation, but, as with Madame Akkikuyu, she is not all she seems.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Totally enjoying reading this again after so long. There’s a richness to the little touches. First off, there’s an expansion on the idea from the final chapter of The Dark Portal, where Madame Akkikuyu wants to flee away and Audrey shows her compassion. And, interestingly enough, that comes back again in the person of the Starwife. Audrey is horrified at the idea of going away with Akkikuyu and says to the Starwife, why is she so important? She’s just a rat. ‘And does that make a difference child?’ the Starwife replies. The Starwife is harsh, but she has more compassion than some of the mice.

It’s this cruel but kind approach of the Starwife that really signals one of the interesting things about this second book: we move from simple black and white to shades of grey. After so many 100% evil villains in the first book, The Crystal Prison mixes things up: Akkikuyu, in her state of insanity, yearns for good. The Starwife seeks to do good but with a cold, cruel approach. And when the book shifts location (as a result of the brilliant plot device of Audrey’s bargain), we’ll be introduced to a whole crew of new characters, all with their own shades of morality as well.

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8 thoughts on “The Crystal Prison | Chapter 3

  1. And weeeeee’re baaaaaack to find out what happens when Audrey meets Madame Akkikuyu again! Before we dive into that, I’d like to point out that I’ve been listening to the audio-book version of The Crystal Prison which is read by a woman named Roe Kendall! The voice she assumes when speaking as our Piccadilly portrays him as having a distinct working-class London accent! Not how I’ve always imagined him sounding in my head but given the type of mouse he is, it fits with his character perfectly well! Have any of you listened to the Roe Kendall audio-books? If so then what’s your opinion on them? I have the one she made of The Dark Portal too but alas for her performance of The Final Reckoning sadly eludes me to this day.

    What were you expecting when the fortune-teller appeared and understandably sent our heroine stumbling a couple of steps backward in shock and alarm? Whatever it was, I bet you were way off the mark. Yes, Madame Akkikuyu is back…and she is naught but a pale shadow of the formidable rat lady she was when Audrey first encountered her in the sewers beneath Deptford. In making a pact with Jupiter, she did evil and now we see how she was punished for her black deeds. Gone is the cunning trickster who dared to stand before The Dark Portal and speak with the devil who lurked within its maw of her own free will, who treated Morgan and One-Eyed Jake as mere pests to be shooed away and smacked back into their proper place if they stubbornly refused to take the hint. Now her mind is broken and she stands before the shocked Audrey with the mind of a child and only faint memories of the life she once lived. Can you blame the mouse maid for remaining speechless even when Akkikuyu vaguely remembers their last meeting and asks her about it? Their relationship was never particularly friendly in the first place. How in the world is Audrey supposed to deal with this pitiful figure who pleads for help in understanding the few shattered fragments of memory she has managed to gather? I love their reunion so much. Here we have two characters whom we got to know so well in Book One meeting again only the situation is so unimaginably different from how it used to be with the formerly wicked rat who captured Audrey now under the delusional fantasy that Audrey is her dearest friend who has come to take her away to a place where they can live together and be happy. Oh my gosh! Suppose she didn’t remember the part about how she declared that they would go to a place full of sunshine and Audrey wound up having to take her back to live in The Skirtings? Can you even imagine? Seriously though, what a piteous figure Akkikuyu has become. Even when she was taking Audrey to Jupiter, there was a part of me that couldn’t quite condemn her for her misdeeds because. Life had treated her so callously that she honestly thought there was no other way to live other than to step on other creatures unless you wanted to be the one who gets stepped on. You could say that her life as it was came to an end in the Altar Chamber when Jupiter was revealed and her sanity went fleeing before the enormity of that ungodly horror. Now she is as one newly born with only vague memories of the life she lived before. She may be a shocking sight with her emaciated body and disheveled hair but perhaps nature took pity on her in a way, understanding why she became who she was. Where once she had a lifetime of mistakes to look back upon and regret, now the canvas of her life has been wiped clean. Her excitement upon being told that she’s going away with Audrey is so heartbreaking because she doesn’t get to see what we do which is Audrey’s own reaction to this wonderful news.

    Which really isn’t as charitable as it might be, I have to say, although you really can’t blame her for not responding by clapping her paws and jumping with joy at the mere thought of going to live in the country for the foreseeable future with the rat who was prepared to feed her to a giant two-headed monster in return for power. Though she pities Madame Akkikuyu, Audrey puts her foot down but unfortunately The Starwife is about to pull the rug out from under her quite nimbly for such an old squirrel.

    If I seemed to skimp on my commentary about The Starwife last chapter, it was only because I really couldn’t get stuck in until her motive for summoning Audrey and the method she uses to get what she desires was laid out. So what do I think of her? Ummm…you know what, I can’t even pretend to be objective here! I love, love, love The Starwife who may just be the most complex character in the books! She reminds me so much of an old spider! If she sets her sights on you, she’ll never let you escape from what she has in mind and once you fall into her web, you’re completely at her mercy. But she only does what she does because she must. Like everything else that exists within nature, she may seem cruel but there’s a reason for all that she does. She did everything in her power to help Thomas fight his demons and treats the profoundly damaged Akkikuyu with nothing but kindness whereas she’s rudely dismissive of Twit and as for the way she deals with Oswald’s desperate situation…well, that brings us to the crux of who The Starwife is. She works to further the greater good at any cost and executive decisions rarely make everyone involved happy as Audrey finds out when she’s forced to make a ghastly sacrifice for the sake of it. Yes, The Starwife sneers and calls Twit a country simpleton but that tiny smile when he thanks her for saving his cousin seems like a dead giveway that she does care for others . She just has to smother her conscience with the blanket of cold-blooded pragmatism so she can function in the role she’s been given which involves her playing mind-games and making seemingly callous decisions to get the job done, the inevitable result being that people hate and fear her. She definitely comes across as someone who’s been forced to sacrifice a lot during her life so is it any wonder she’s in no mood to handle Audrey, Thomas and Twit with kid gloves? There’s a wonderful quote in a later book which describes this type of character absolutely perfectly. I shall most certainly point it out to ya’ll later when we get there but I wonder if Aufwader and Matt can guess ahead of time which quote I’m thinking of? My big question is this: was she honestly surprised that Thomas brought Twit along for the ride or was she counting on it? It would seem that she wasn’t expecting the field-mouse based on what she says when Twit enters the chamber but truth is the elusive thing here. What gives Audrey that final push she needs to accept The Starwife’s appalling bargain? As she glances around the chamber for help, her desperate eyes meet with Twit’s and it is his innocent belief that she will agree to help Oswald no matter what the cost which seals the deal. The Starwife says that the cure for Oswald’s illness requires a relative to take part in its making which means that she never could have forced Audrey into accepting the bargain without Twit being present. So she totally knew he was going to be there and was merely keeping her trump card close to her chest as she moved the pieces into place. That may strike you as a mixed metaphor but it really does seem to me like she’s playing chess with one hand while playing cards with the other. The Starwife knew that Thomas would bring Twit along, that Twit would plead for Audrey to accept her terms and that Audrey would do anything for her friends. That moment when she casually says that Oswald will die before the day is over? She said that specifically so that Twit would be frantic for a way to save his cousin, leaving Audrey with no choice other than to agree to go along with The Starwife’s plans for her. In a nutshell, The Starwife totally played everyone involved in this situation. Admire her or despise her, you’ve got to admit that this is an amazing introduction to a character. No wonder we needed two chapters to do The Starwife the justice she truly deserves. By the way, when I used the phrase IN A NUTSHELL a couple of sentences ago? Pun totally intended!
    Make no mistake though, this is an exceptionally nasty thing she does to our heroine. She was actually prepared to allow Oswald to die in his bed unless Audrey promised to go with Akkikuyu to Twit’s home, showing cruel disregard for the distraught field-mouse when she spoke of his cousin dying. These are the mice who defeated Jupiter and still she’s treating them as though their lives are meaningless, mere pawns in her game. She technically gave Audrey a choice in the matter but with the life of her friend on the line, it was no choice at all. With the ruthless squirrel holding a knife to Oswald’s throat, poor brave Audrey takes one for the team and buys her friend the most precious gift you can give another person. A tomorrow.

    And oh my gosh…the price she pays is that she may be an old mouse when she sees her home again. Even though The Starwife bent the mouse to her will during their conflict, it says so much about how strong the defeated Audrey truly is that she make it out of the squirrel queen’s presence before the fear comes ripping its way out and she wails that she doesn’t want to go like a heartbroken child. Look at the contrast between Akkikuyu’s joy at what she sees as her life finally beginning and Audrey’s misery at what she sees as her own life being over. She’s barely become an adult and now she finds herself blackmailed into becoming the care-provider for an insane person. This has got to be the most messed up thing ever. Or is it just the most messed up thing so far? What is the world doing to this girl and how much more can it wreak upon her before she’s as mad as her new BFF? Thank goodnesss mice don’t have social media or Madam Akkikuyu would be blowing up Audrey’s phone with messages on Facebook as she stumbles back to The Skirtings in utter desolation…

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  2. I suppose I should chime in with my thoughts on the Starwife before we leave her behind – after all, my usernames on many platforms stem from her title. (I’m known as “starmaid” on Tumblr for instance!) She is an unusual character in that her motives are totally hidden from the reader, unlike most of the other characters. The only other “goodie” whose motives aren’t always on the surface is Thomas, but there IS a reason for this (though its spoilery so I won’t go into it just yet). It makes one wonder, who IS the Starwife? Why is she so mysterious?

    I have my theories, but they’ll have to wait :^)

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    • Thinking about the Starwife and her subjects makes me wonder about the squirrel’s system of leadership as a whole. Obviously, while she must have the means to observe them from afar, the Starwife cannot personally oversee every public park and garden in Britain at once. This implies that she must delegate, at least to some extent. I love the idea of royal ambassadors governing each separate area in the way that best suits it, receiving signed warrants and having to turn up at Greenwich periodically to report to the Starwife on the running of that park or this common.

      Take my local botanic gardens, for example. As with Greenwich Park, we only have grey squirrels up here now, but I can attest that they are not nearly as watery as the Starwife’s immediate court.

      I’ve had those critters come up and look me directly in the eye on numerous occasions, issuing, no doubt, their idea of a formal challenge. I’ve felt their tiny, needle-like claws on my ankle, and seen them give no quarter to all manner of birds and dogs. They are fearless of people, vehicles, the enormous rats who live by the adjacent river, and the Scottish winter.

      If they have a squirrel Prince or Princess on assignment from the Starwife, that emmisary must be a scarred and battle-hardened warlord to have any hope of controlling those lawless vagabonds. Heck, half of them are probably Hobbers! I can imagine the Starwife being surprised every time that particular delegate shows up to give report. ‘How,’ she must wonder, ‘have you not already been ripped to shreds?’

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      • The squirrels where you live have far more iron in their blood than the squirrels I’m used to. Much like Thomas, Twit and Audrey as they walk through the park, the most I ever see of them is their tails as they turn and scurry up tree-trunks to escape from this big blundering interloper. So your squirrels are brave enough to actually come right up to you and engage in staring contests? Wow! You may have grown used to being confronted by squirrels but to me, it’s crazy to hear somebody say this! So who wins?

        I would kill for a book that takes place within Greenwich Park. What the story would be, I’m not entirely sure, but anything that would grant us the chance to watch how The Starwife handles such pressing issues as the stray dog who has been harassing the squirrels in one park and ensuring that the especially cowardly squirrels of another park pluck up the courage to venture outside and scavenge enough nuts for them to survive through the Winter is more than good enough for me.

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  3. Oh you merciless fiend! How you make me writhe with the agony of suspense! Seriously though, it will be great to find out what you suspect about The Starwife’s identity and too reveal some of my own thoughts when the time comes!

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  4. Aufwader, I was wondering if you could help me out…how do I post on Beyond The Silvering Sea? I’ve been scratching my head and I still can’t seem to get anywhere with this hitch!

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