The Crystal Prison | Chapter 9

dm2

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

At his feet was the body of a mouse.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I had a bit of a chortle reading the scene where Arthur is temporarily initiated into the Fennywolde community as a sentry. I’d forgotten about it, and I realised that since I’d read The Crystal Prison last (a few years ago, certainly) I’d had a similarly haphazard-yet-meaningful experience. Oddly enough, it also took place in high summer.

Those of you who read Beyond the Silvering Sea will already know this story, but for any who don’t, let me summarise. Last year, a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Mr Jarvis at a local book festival. Being the die-hard fans that we are, we had both brought him tokens of our esteem to surprise him during the signing.

My friend had made the Anti-Owl Charm in craft clay, because Mr Jarvis had previously mentioned that it was his favourite mousebrass design. Since I was wont to present him with outlandish fanart projects, I had decided to go all-out and draw him his very own coat of arms to mark this extra-special occasion. There’s a bit of story behind that (read it here) but the point that I’m getting to is that I had also, somehow, at some point and possibly as a result of my mum’s earnest insistence the day before, decided that a coat of arms was a bit lacking on its own, and that Mr Jarvis ought to be knighted along with it.

The scene of Arthur being ‘sworn in’ is, funnily enough,  not dissimilar to what transpired that day. I made up a few suitably ceremonial-sounding words on the spot. Mr Jarvis was surprisingly game for the lark and graciously allowed me to ‘dub’ him with a pen my friend had brought. None of us could keep a straight face. The festival staff in the vicinity applauded. Unlike Arthur’s sentry duties, however, Sir Robin’s knighthood is by no means a temporary honour. Truly, it was the Green, and not I, who bestowed it upon him!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Three comments on this chapter:

  • It just finally dawned on me that the Fennywolders have a democratic monarchy. I wouldn’t want to read any political views of Mr Jarvis into this, but the idea that the Royal Family would change every year based on a popular vote is somewhat awesome. That said, I really like Mr Woodruffe as a character. He walks a fine balancing act between recognising that the Green Mouse and the ways of Fenny need to be respected – but he never tips over into being an Isaac Nettle. He is, in short, a balanced leader that is good for everyone. (I’d wear a ‘Mr Woodruffe for King’ t-shirt.)
  • I quite enjoy the catty (pun intended) interaction between Audrey and Alison. The two of them are quite equal sparring partners when it comes to their tongue. But then again, that causes part of the problems when we get to …
  • The murder of Hodge. (I got, what, all of four chapters to enjoy having a character named after me? Thanks, Robin!) But what I enjoy reading this book now is that I can see Robin is again throwing in another normally adult story trope into a kids’ book. In this case, it is the serial killer mystery thriller. Ever since Jack the Ripper took to the streets, we have always been terrified and fascinated by unseen killers, picking off victims at random. And how many open with the finding of a body, killed under mysterious circumstances? (I just can’t think of the last time anybody did it with mice.)

Well, we can’t stop reading now, can we? On to Chapter 10!

Advertisements

Up Next Reminder | The Final Reckoning

dm3

This is a reminder that in March we’ll be turning to the jaw-dropping finale of the Deptford Mice Trilogy – The Final Reckoning. (And trust me, if you’ve stuck with us as far as The Crystal Prison, you’re going to desperately want the third book come next month!) As with the first two, it is available for dirt cheap on the Kindle store. But we’d highly recommend getting hold of a hard copy, to enjoy the illustrations. If you’re after a hard copy, you’ll want the one pictured above, or one of these:

dp-_0002

The 2000 Hodder Silver edition with holographic text (if you acquire all three of these, you’ll be able to line them up to see the completed picture on the spines!)

83502

The US version with a cover by Leonid Gore (terrifying!)

And now, back to The Crystal Prison!

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 8

dm2

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

It was at times like these, when the peace and beauty of Fennywolde were overpowering, that she thought it might not be so bad to spend the rest of her days there.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I may have sided with Audrey over the potions last chapter, but her rebuttal of Akkikuyu here is rather more selfish and cannot really be overlooked. It’s testament to Audrey’s fundamentally good heart that she instantly feels terrible for rejecting Akkikuyu, but her regret doesn’t excuse her refusal to at least practice some patience when Akkikuyu is clearly suffering.

All of this is grist for the mill of Audrey’s character, however. As we saw in The Dark Portal, she is not completely sweet-natured, accommodating, and thoughtful. She can be, but if she were only those things, she would not be Audrey at all, nor indeed a particularly realistic character.

Then we’ve got Akkikuyu and Nicodemus. Holy gosh darn golly gee did this scene horrify me as a child! I hated frightening faces for a start, and there’s something about the reveal that the voice is actually coming from the tattoo on Akkikuyu’s ear that’s just so intimately abhorrent that it makes me shudder. There’s no way out for her, she and the insidious voice are joined together permanently. Visceral horror at its finest!

In that scene we also get another occult incantation, almost a mirror of the one which takes place between Jupiter and Morgan on Blackheath in Chapter 10 of The Dark Portal. Though not quite as cataclysmic as the Blackheath ritual, this one is certainly unnerving in its execution and effects. Why should Nicodemus, a benign spirit of nature, feel the need to invoke ‘slaughterous cold and searing ice’? Why does he alternately berate and beguile Akkikuyu? And why does the corn dolly require blood to be brought to life?

Finally, on reread, I noticed that during the incantation to join the corn dolly back together, Nicodemus has Akkikuyu call upon Brud to ‘make whole again your effigy.’ Being aware that Robin loves to reference history and folklore in his naming conventions, I had a rummage around Google to see whether the mysterious Brud might be a fictionalisation of a folkloric spirit or deity. Sadly I didn’t find anything exact – the closest I could get was Brigid (Braid, Brìde), an Irish/British pagan goddess for whom corn figures were (and are) woven during her festival in early February. If anybody has further knowledge on this subject (or if Mr Jarvis himself would like to wade in) that would be fantastic.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And there it is – that turning point. That moment where Audrey’s compassion falters for a moment. And that moment is all it takes. It’s that familiar Jarvis moment: the ‘Uh oh’. The ‘no, no, no’. The ‘this is going to get a lot worse’.

It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book, in many respects: Person A is unkind to Person B. Person B goes off and triggers off a whole mess of trouble which they otherwise wouldn’t have done. But clichés work because they tap into universal experiences. We’ve all had a moment in the past where we were more unkind to someone than we should have been. We wonder what it might have been like if we could go back and do things differently.

That said, we possibly didn’t have the person we were unkind to stalk off and have devious conversations with a tattoo on their ear …

The naming of this character, by the way – Nicodemus – is also a darkly brilliant choice, but I might come back to that topic at a later stage. For now, I’ll just let the dread start to sink in …

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 7

dm2

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Beware the maker of dolls. Repent ye or the vengeance of the Green shall smite ye down.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now our heroes arrive in Fennywolde proper and begin to settle in, but it’s a bumpy ride. First of all there’s the unprecedented acceptance of Madame Akkikuyu by the country mice, and Audrey’s well-intentioned but ultimately ridiculous performance over the healing potion. I love the way that scene is written; the mice’s derision and Audrey’s mortification are so pronounced I could feel myself cringe in sympathy. That said, their behaviour toward her seems crushingly unfair. After all, she was only trying to protect Young Whortle and Sammy, and had no way of knowing that Akkikuyu would make a usable tonic. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m on Audrey’s side there.

Out comes the bucolic description again when we come to the Hall of Corn, probably one of my favourite settings in any of Mr Jarvis’ books. One can positively hear the soft rustle of the ears and feel the heat of the midsummer sun, and I absolutely adore the varied and fascinating cast of fieldmice we are introduced to.

For a brief scene or two, we can almost allow ourselves to believe that Fennywolde is indeed what it appears – a haven of peace and serenity peopled with sturdy, friendly country folk. Of course, that is not the case at all, as we see during the scene with Audrey’s corn dolly. That alarming sequence perfectly illustrates the clash of country superstition and puritanical doctrine which will become one of this book’s major themes. With Akkikuyu as our tolerated ‘wise woman’, Audrey as our suspect newcomer, Alison as our smug village darling, and Isaac Nettle as our sermonising witch-hunter, our story moves into its Arthur-Miller-esque second act.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I promise not to go into the subject of harsh religious figures again, except to say that Isaac Nettle is in spectacular form in this chapter.

What I will say is, it’s fascinating how Alison Sedge is turning into the anti-Audrey of the piece. While it would be easy to just write her off as being the ‘mean girl’, you get the feeling that under different circumstances, Alison and Audrey might have been much more similar. They’re both self-confident, attractive to the boy mice – and smart. But Audrey lost her father and almost got killed by a giant fire-breathing cat. Whereas Alison got told she was beautiful and let it go to her head.

It’s also why I feel sorry for Audrey in this chapter looking at the fuss everyone makes about Madame Akkikuyu. While there is a part of her that probably wants to see Akkikuyu make a recovery, it would be very hard not to remember that it was this rat that dragged her in front of Jupiter’s dark portal in the first place. I speak from experience when I say that standing up against wrong is hard. But far more difficult than that is forgiveness for people who don’t understand what you went through.

It would also be wrong of me not to mention (especially for the newbies) that you might want to go back and have a read of the bat chapter in The Dark Portal, because you might remember that it had something to say about Audrey making dolls … Gasp … is this some clever Jarvis foreshadowing starting to pay off in the second book?

Finally, how great is the Hall of Corn? Again, it just has that sense of openness and space that we don’t get in the London locations. As a setting, I love it and find it relaxing to read about.

So it’s almost a pity that we’re halfway through the book – which for those of you familiar with Mr Jarvis will know – means that the book is about to pummel us relentlessly for the remainder. Buckle up, people. This is going to be intense.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6

dm2

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

A terror was hunting in the night.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Oh, Alison Sedge. Queen of the barley, nymph of summer, mousey sun-goddess of our hearts! When I was younger I don’t think I quite appreciated the glory that is Alison, but now I find her adorable and, frankly, hilarious. There she lounges on that rock like some sort of siren of the meadow, counting off the faults of her rivals with venomous glee and rehearsing her ‘seductive country wench’ routine. But this is the Deptford Mice Trilogy, and as with all Robin’s characters, there is more to our Miss Sedge than first impressions would have us believe.

There’s a lot to delight the eye and imagination in this chapter. The soft, watercolourish descriptions of the English countryside in high summer. The antics of young Whortle Nep and his friend Sammy. The imposing threat of Mahooot the owl (love that name!) and the final triumph of Madame Akkikuyu, resulting in her acceptance into a community we were all certain would shun her the moment they saw her.

There are less pleasant aspects, however. After the levity of Alison by the still pool, things take a dive with the introduction of Jenkin and his terrifying father, Isaac Nettle. As a child, Mr Nettle frightened me silly. He still does, but perhaps for slightly different reasons.

I think the scariest thing about this character is that there is nothing supernatural about him. Jupiter was scary because of the god-like powers of evil he wielded; Morgan was scary because he served Jupiter. Whom does Mr Nettle serve? The wise, compassionate, ever-thriving Green Mouse. Yet he treats that vocation as a chore and a burden – something to be endured through gruelling prayer and the decrying of those who he believes fall short in their displays of piety. He is abusive and tiny-minded and, unhappily, the kind of mean, petty individual you find in real life. He is someone who hurts because he himself is hurting, but rather than excusing his actions that fact only brings his cruelty into sharper focus. We know from the outset that he is going to cause trouble for our heroes, and we wait with trepidation and mounting dread to see what sort.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I think I’ve finally put my finger on what I like about the Fennywolde location: it’s expansive, it’s sunny and it’s outdoors. (Compared with the locales in The Dark Portal which were predominantly damp and narrow sewers or small houses, and set during an English springtime – aka an Australian winter.) And mostly indoors. So visually – and you really do have to visualise Mr Jarvis’ work on a big screen – Fennywolde is the complete opposite to that.

And yet, no one is getting a chance to enjoy that space because of Mahooot …

My favourite bits about this chapter:

  • It contains a fictional character with my last name (that would be Hodge) – always awesome.
  • Watching Madame Akkikuyu move from villainess to heroine – and more importantly – her gaining a sense of belonging.

What is also of interest is the character of Isaac Nettle, Jenkins’ father. Growing up religious, I always found myself rolling my eyes at characters like these, because there seemed to be an awful lot of them in the 70s, 80s and 90s in movies and books. But now that I’m a bit older and understand more about the history of the 20th century, I think I’m realising more about where these religious extremist characters come from.

Nowadays, we usually think of an extremist in really strong terms – someone who carries out acts of terrorism and such. But, from what I can tell of Western history, if you went back to the 1950s, there was a harsh streak that seemed to run through much of Christianity (which was the dominant religion on the landscape back then). It was probably well meant – a way of showing the fervency of your faith and of keeping the next generation in line.

But instead, this harshness created a cultural split we’re still feeling echoes of decades later. As the 60s took shape, a huge number of people jumped ship from the culture of their parents – they had different music, different ethics, different religious beliefs, different clothes, different politics. Different everything. By the time that generation grew up and had children, we started to see echoes of some of their parents’ religious harshness in fictional characters. Just read Stephen King’s Carrie and see the portrayal of Carrie’s fanatical mother and you see this harshness transformed into something terrifying.

So I see that in the character of Isaac Nettle. Robin portrays him with compassion – it is not the faith that makes Nettle so brutal, but the fact that he has twisted it into something harsh and tyrannical as a way of bringing order to his world, of dealing with the grief over his wife’s death. But he has become a violent abuser of his son in the process.

And this, remember, is in a children’s book. About mice. It’s tough going, but it makes for a gripping story. See you next chapter.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 5

dm2

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

From somewhere in her dreams a voice seemed to be calling to her: ‘Akkikuyu! Akkikuyu – are you there?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Just as with last chapter, there’s a lot going on here below the surface. Let’s start with the atmosphere. It is summer; the moon is round, the weather is warm, Oswald is better. On the face of it, things are hunky-dory for our heroes.

Except that they are not.

Audrey is not coping with the dual heartbreaks of leaving her mother and her life-long home so soon after her father’s death. What’s more, she has ruined things with Piccadilly, and the prospect of having to spend the rest of her days looking after a senile old rat in a country backwater she’s never seen with people she’s never met is finally beginning to hit her in all its misery.

Meanwhile, Madame Akkikuyu has a new suffering to add to her list in the form of a sinister, disembodied voice which plagues her sleep. For anyone who has ever dealt with mental illness and/or intrusive thoughts, Akkikuyu’s fear and despondency hit painfully close to home.

During the scene where everyone says their goodbyes, we also get another glimpse into Thomas’ secret and buried torments. Twit’s unknowing, well-meaning correction of Thomas’ misuse of his name should make the midshipmouse’s momentary lapse seem inconsequential; instead it looms large, drawing our attention, causing us to wonder what sort of anchor Thomas could be carrying that a journey upon the water is impossible for him, even with friends waiting at the end of it.

Things fester in the summer night, appearing just long enough to trouble, vanishing before they can be brought out into the open. Despite that they look to fair Fennywolde with hope, one cannot help but feel that our heroes will find no solace among the swaying stalks of that golden idyll.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I had forgotten most of this chapter as well! Again, it possibly holds off the action for a little bit, but I’m enjoying the chance to enjoy some peace with these characters, because it never lasts long! This chapter also has some important mythology for Jarvis fans well. It’s the first time we hear the name Woodget in connection with Thomas Triton’s past, which is a thing we’ll definitely come back to.

But what I like best is the atmosphere. The good-natured Kempe, the Thames at night in summer, Akkikuyu enjoying the stars. Most of all, I’m drawn to Audrey’s compassion. Modern hero stories often try to give their heroes bravery, strength or smarts, but compassion is something much more rare and I appreciate the way Jarvis uses it.

Final question: is Kempe Irish? I always think of him as being Irish, but that could be my imagination.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 4

dm2

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

He bowed his head and wept silently beneath the crescent summer moon.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  There’s quite a bit going on in the layer under this chapter’s main events. We’ve got Arthur and Gwen’s mutually healing relationship (I surmise that in the Brown family, Arthur is closer to his mother, while Audrey spent more time with Albert). Then there’s Piccadilly’s first uncomfortable stay in the Skirtings and his feelings of being unable to fit in no matter how friendly the Browns and Twit are. We’ve also got the beginnings of Gwen’s tempestuous duel-of-wits with Thomas, the bond of the Chitter family and insights into Oswald’s parents, Twit’s strained bravery in the face of his cousin’s decline, and finally, Audrey and Piccadilly and their …thing.

I admit I never really boarded the Audrey and Piccadilly Train when I was younger. Nowadays, I’m so on board that train I’ve got a seat in the front carriage, but while I love both these characters individually and agree that their relationship is a wonderfully-written drama, I’ve always sort of had the idea that they’re not really that compatible. Or at least, that they met at completely the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances.

Their trouble is that they both have really strong personalities – neither is willing to give any ground whatsoever to the other, so instead of communicating, they stew in silence, bottling up things which really need to be spoken aloud. There’s also Audrey’s unaddressed grief and Piccadilly’s deep-rooted existential angst to complicate matters. By the time this chapter draws to a close,  we share Audrey’s frustration and Piccadilly’s regret, and the joy of Oswald’s recovery is mingled with sorrow for a friendship that seems unsalvageable.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is a little bit of a mouse soap opera: someone is sick and gets miraculously better, a boy and girl have a fight instead of telling each other how they feel. Mr Jarvis actually packs in a whole bunch of moods and feelings in one chapter, which I’m in awe of. I’m still not entirely sure how he does it!

But we have the heartbreak of Oswald dying, the humorous aspects of the altercation between Master Oldnose and Thomas Triton, the joy when Oswald recovers and the inevitable moment where a budding romance runs into an obstacle – in this case, Audrey and Piccadilly being unable to say what they really feel.

The only possible problem that you might be having – if this is the first time that you’ve read the book – is that it’s not entirely clear who the antagonist is in this book, and what kind of peril our heroes might be in. So far, it just sounds like Audrey, Arthur and Twit (and not Piccadilly) are facing an unpleasantly long holiday in the countryside with a mad rat. But have no fear, readers – The Crystal Prison is going to ramp up quite nicely in the second half. So savour the sounds of the whisker fiddle and bark drum and enjoy your berrybrew – things are going to heat up.