The Final Reckoning | Prologue & Chapter 1

 

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Silence fell over Deptford.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Poor Mr Kempe! I chose him in the illustration nominations for The Crystal Prison precisely because I knew he didn’t have long. I wanted to honour his character before I had to honour his memory in the obituaries at the end of this book.

In all respects, this prologue is supremely Robiny. Here’s a little mouse; we’ve met him and got to know him previously. He’s jovial and provides mild comic relief. He’s kind to our heroes. He seems like a nice enough gent. In the first scene, we find out a bit more about him. He has hopes and dreams, a special lady of whom he thinks fondly, a wish for a warm place to stay on a cold night. What’s that? He should encounter a fiend from the depths of the brumal abyss, be rendered incoherent with terror, and die a horrible, lingering death all alone in the cold? All righty then!

I love how the horror of Jupiter creeps up on us here. As Matt says below, the prologue really is a tone-setter, warning us that things are only going to get worse for our heroes from here on out. Again, the Lord of All arises as a threat, but this feels more like an overture than a reprise. Freed from the bonds of mortality, Jupiter can unleash his full might at last.

The first chapter fulfils what the prologue promised and then some, with the revelation that the Deptford Mice now face the very real risk of starvation. If Oswald and Arthur had not discovered the empty larder, the implication is that the mice would have cheerfully used up the last of their stores at the Yule feast, and starved to death all the sooner. Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed!

As the plot begins to rattle along in earnest, it’s easy to miss the little instances of character development in this chapter. The quiet moment we spend with Audrey in her room is a perfect contrast to the lively celebrations in the Hall. As at the start of The Crystal Prison, all may seem to be well for her loved ones, but the weight of past regrets and sorrows weigh too heavily upon Audrey’s small shoulders for her to fully enjoy anything. Meanwhile, in Thomas’ story, we hear the name ‘Woodget’ mentioned again, and witness Thomas’ discomfort when pressed to discuss his old friend outside the safe confines of the ghostly tale. Evidently, the midshipmouse has a few ghosts of his own who are as yet unwilling to be put to rest.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, I guess the tone is set right from the start in this one. In a slightly longer prologue than the previous ones, Kempe gets taken out of the picture rather quickly – and savagely. If innocent characters like that are so easily dispatched, what does that mean for everyone else?

(Side note: did the once-mentioned Milly Poopwick ever find out what happened to Kempe? And where did she live in London?)

Anyway, on to the first chapter. Which helpfully answers my question about how the house was laid out: mice downstairs live in the Skirtings, mice upstairs live in the Landings, and they all gather for celebrations in The Hall.

It should be noted, with some significance, that this is now the third ‘shared celebration’ that we’ve seen in the trilogy. We had the Spring Celebration in Book 1, the Midsummer celebrations (the building of the hall and also the Midsummer Night ‘dream’ of Audrey’s) and now Yule. Clearly, there seems to be something about shared communal experiences that speaks to Mr Jarvis (even on a subconscious level) that has filtered through in these books here.

Which made me curious – what are our shared communal experiences today? (Not counting religious services.) Are there any things that we have nowadays that match the idea of a small community of people getting together, all of whom know each other? Family gatherings or get-togethers with friends seem too small to compare with this but large events like live entertainment / marathons / festivals seem too big and impersonal.

Is this something we’ve lost as we’ve moved into a busier, more individualistic culture?

Anyway, enough philosophy on that point, because we have the bigger problems of a) no food for our mice, b) all the bats mysteriously leaving and c) Jupiter being on the loose.

I also realise, which I didn’t when I originally read this, that it’s quite possible that the old lady next door died of pneumonia, or some such winter-related illness, thus why the house and larder is now empty. It would be just the kind of tragic touch we’d expect in the world of the Deptford Mice …

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8 thoughts on “The Final Reckoning | Prologue & Chapter 1

  1. My thoughts on the prologue: Well, here we are! Book Three in the Deptford Mice trilogy! The Final Reckoning!

    Remember the prologues to the previous two books? How they were creepy, creepy, creepy, but never quite reached the soaring height of pure terror since Mr Jarvis was biding his time? Book Three is nowhere near as reserved as The Dark Portal and The Crystal Prison. From the moment that this story begins, the darkness is placed in a bucket and then dumped over your head as though you’re partaking in some sort of ungodly ritual. Thrills, chills, kills!

    Mr Kempe is on his merry way to Deptford with the goal of making it in time for the Yule celebration which will soon take place there. As he beds down for the night to dream of hawking his wares to the eager mice, a bitter chill intrudes upon the cozy nook where he has made camp. Grumbling, he peeks outside, where a fearsome sight brings horror seeping into his heart like a trickle of ice-water. A storm has rolled in, but it is no natural occurrence. Mr Kempe can feel in his bones that this storm is directed by an evil force, seeking to wreak death and destruction upon everything that lies in its path. Despite the warning words of the bats, the crystal sphere was broken and now bitter spears rain down upon the innocent traveler whose life comes to a brutal end, the first casualty of Book Three.

    Mr Kempe …you will be terribly missed by all who knew you. The mice of the Skirtings will wait for the moment when your beaming face arrives in their midst, but you will never come. Death is your only destination now and already the world seems a good deal less bright for your departure.

    What disturbs me most about this foul murder is why it happens. Not by the merciless paw of an assassin who has been stalking the peddler for several days, but because he had the misfortune of happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The one responsible for stealing his life does not even pause. Having ground Mr Kempe underfoot like an insect, it just keeps going without so much as a backward glance, sparing only a cruel chuckle for the person it has slain. Now that’s what I call evil.

    Let the Heavens tremble, for Jupiter is on the move. He may be dead, but that is not going to make him any easier for the unsuspecting world to deal with. The big bad cat is bigger and badder than ever before. Audrey has no idea of the nightmare that has been unleashed. But she soon will, because he’s heading in her direction and he means business. I have never felt so excited to see an evil overlord return from his grave. Look at how powerful and terrifying Jupiter has become. He was one scary guy to begin with, but now he is an unstoppable force of pure malevolent evil. Gods tower above mortals, but what looms greater and more terrible than any god, whether they dwell in the spirit world or walk among us in ours? This guy right here!

    Looming over the prologue like the shadow of dread is one ominous question: what does Jupiter have planned now that he has cast down the gates of Hell and clawed his way back to the world of the living? With his new-found might, he could head straight to Deptford and annihilate his enemies there as nonchalantly as he dispensed with Mr Kempe. But no, that would be too …vulgar for one of his refined taste. The Lord Of All is an evil genius, not one of the ferae who can only think of where the next mouthful of food will come from. An artiste who curls his lip at the thought of such boorish Hulk-will-smash tactics. Do you not remember his master-plan to fuse the Black Death with malicious spirits from the other side and send it forth to seek out new victims? That took centuries to put together, but it would have been worth the wait if not for those damnable rodents who got in his way! And what about his Summer-long campaign to turn an entire community against one mousegirl? What with being dead and forced to communicate via a tattoo on someone’s ear, he was working with extremely limited resources at the time, but try and tell me that he didn’t come THIS CLOSE to pulling it off! Those were prime examples of a truly diabolical mind at work and the same shall be true now that Jupiter is in the brainstorming stage for his magnum opus of evil. Third time’s the charm and this time, he’s going for a big finish…

    We all knew this was coming. We have gazed upon the water which lies hidden deep beneath Deptford. We have seen the fire blaze in Fennywolde. Now the time has come for us to walk the path unknown.

    Take a moment to pay your last respects to the fallen traveller, then we shall take our first fateful steps. If we all stick together, there’s just a chance we may survive the dark month ahead. But whatever happens, remember that I shall be with you all.

    To the bitter end.

    Matt…oh my gosh! You just made me gasp out loud! I see what you’re driving at with Milly! And I can’t believe that the thought never crossed my mind before today…more on this subject later…

    My thoughts on Chapter One: Ahhh, the festival of Yule! What a gorgeous feast for the imagination is laid out for us in the picture Mr Jarvis paints! Why, I can see the shadows of the mice flitting across the walls as they dance in the warmly-illuminated hall! I can see the tables laden with wholesome goodies like roast chestnuts and bowls of stew! I can see the warmth of the fire glowing upon the Thomas Triton’s furry cheeks as he regales the mice with a story! I can see it all and it is so grand! Am I the only reader who relishes the delicious irony of the mice telling ghost stories around a campfire while blissfully unaware that they’re in one themselves? Surely not!

    Aufwader, the Green-Mousers just might be the religious group I’ve the most affinity for! While it’s certainly true that they’re not as mysterious and exotic as certain other groups who have yet to be revealed, their celebrations are so damned cool, and can you name one person who wouldn’t jump at the chance to be presented with a mousebrass of their very own? So yeah, my heart has come to rest in the paws of the mice, but we shall see! Perhaps it will be snatched away when other groups comes melting out of the shadows!

    Matt, that’s a good question you pose for us. Has our modern way of life come at a price? When you live in small settlements like the Mice Of The Skirtings, it’s natural that the people who are part of the community will rally together in times of joy and look out for one another when the bad times come. The people around you would be literally all you had to depend upon. Is it any wonder that the mice never waste a good excuse to throw a party? Look at the frenzy of merry-making which erupted when Oswald began to recover from his deathly sickness! When you live in the big city, that sense of community is so much harder to find. I’m not saying that relocating to a smaller community would guarantee you a peaceful life. If anyone tried to convince me of that, I wouldn’t say a thing. I would just point my finger at a copy of The Crystal Prison and allow it to shatter that person’s naivete. What I’m saying is that you have made me honestly question just what our society has given up as progress marches on. Perhaps we humans could learn a thing or two from these mice, huh?

    My skin crawled as Thomas wove one spooktacular yarn for the raptly-listening audience! It seems that he and Woodget Pipple (whose name we have heard him utter before) were the closest of chums. Makes you wonder how Tom and Woody came to go their separate ways…

    Aaaawwww, we don’t get to hear the story of Bohart And The Friendly Moon Spirits for ourselves! I would give my right paw to find out what Master Oldnose’s idea of a spooky story is! Judging by the moans which go up when he announces it, the story is considered to be a cure for insomnia. But come on, have these mice never heard of the concept of something being so bad it loops around to being really, really good despite the badness? I like to think that Old Nosy hails from the Stephen King school of storytelling and would bring the tale to a halt every few seconds while he related the lengthy backstory of every character Bohart meets.

    Speaking of stories, a new one has begun which means that the time has come to play catch up with our old buddies from the Skirtings. There are no words for how fascinating it is to see how many things have changed in the Skirtings since the trilogy began.

    We’re reunited with Audrey whose corner of the festive hall is steeped in a melancholy shade of blue. The poor girl cannot get into the Yule mood as she dwells upon thoughts of Piccadilly, who has never seemed further away than he does now. There, there. We all miss Piccadilly, sweetie. The distance between the young mouse and her peers is only to be expected, and not only because she’s had no patience to waste upon the gossip-mongerers who flocked to her like vampire bats when she came home from Fennywolde, a married mouse. After everything Audrey has gone through, she’s so jaded that she simply cannot relate to most of the other mice anymore. It wouldn’t make sense for her to be laughing and dancing around in a circle, her paws joined with those of the much more innocent youths. She was an outsider among the Fennywolders and now she’s come home, she feels like she just doesn’t belong here anymore.

    The tagline for the Deptford Mice trilogy ought to be ‘Innocence isn’t lost. It’s taken.’ Either that or ‘To everything, there is a season.’ You know, I’m particularly fond of both…

    Diminished though her circle of friends is with the aching absence of both Twit and Piccadilly, Audrey is so lucky to be surrounded by people who understand what she’s going through and are there for her. What I’m about to say will probably strike you as too cheesy for words but it really is true: friends make all the difference in the world. No matter what problems you’ve got or mistakes you’ve made in the past, you don’t need to carry the load by yourself. You have people whose paws are always waiting to catch you if you should stumble.

    Poor Gwen has been forced to watch Audrey go through Hell. She wants to help her daughter, but there’s nothing she can do to change what has happened or ease the pain. At least the worry she feels is made easier to bear by the presence of Mr Triton (or Thomas, as she’s come to call him) during the children’s long absence. Audrey suspects that a marriage is brewing and in all honesty, why not? She totally ships them, and Arthur thinks the world of Thomas, which is a dream come true for a widow whose heart has begun to beat for another mouse. Go get that midshipmouse before someone else does, Gwen! (What do you suppose Gwen’s reaction was when Audrey came home and announced that she was now Mrs Scuttle? After hearing the story of what happened in Fennywolde, it would astound me if she permitted her daughter to leave her sight ever again!)

    Mrs Brown is one of those characters whom I didn’t appreciate much as a child but who has grown on me as an older reader. It seems to me that Gwen undergoes her own journey during the trilogy, a character arc that unfolds like the petals of a flower, not quite on-screen, as it were, but on the edge of our vision. The signs are definitely there but we don’t get to witness its development in the same manner we’re with Audrey every step of the way. Her story of coming to terms with the tragic loss of her husband and moving forward with her life makes the world of the Deptford Mice feel truly alive, showing us that there are other things happening besides the epic conflict between good and evil. Gwen is her own person, and not just the parent of the heroine which is what she would be in a much less sophisticated tale.

    On the lighter side of the life, I’m so happy to see Oswald again that I can almost cry. Both from gladness that he has made a full recovery from his sickness and from laughter at the thought of him cocooned in woolly scarfs and hats knitted by his mother. Did you ever hear the expression ‘You can’t wrap them up in cotton wool forever’? Looks like Oswald is the exception!

    As far as the audiobook recorded by John Pertwee was concerned, this was the last you ever saw of Oswald during Book Three. I kid you not. With his appearances throughout the rest of the story cut for the purpose of slimming it down to fit onto two cassette tapes, the albino mouse disappeared like a popped soap bubble beyond this chapter. My mouth was hanging open when it dawned on me that he was gone from the story without a trace. That said, Mr Pertwee did a great job narrating The Final Reckoning. I can’t go into too much detail right due to spoiler concerns but I’ll just say that the voice he bestowed upon a certain character was utterly definitive for this Mouseketeer.

    I bite my lip and try not to laugh, then fail miserably as it’s revealed that Mrs Chitter coyly asked whether Audrey was pregnant with Twit’s baby fieldmice. Of all the nerve! Oh how I wish that we were made privy to the magnificent tongue-lashing which Mrs Scuttle surely unleashed upon her aunt-in-law! Oh my gosh…can you imagine if Oswald had gone with Audrey to Fennywolde and been the lucky groom who wound up marrying her? Arabel would invite herself over for tea every evening! I can see her chattering away at an inexhaustible rate while her son shot apologetic glances at his wife, whose teeth were clenched as the urge to kill slowly but surely rose.

    When Arthur and Oswald conspire to sneak next door and plunder some provision for a midnight feast of their own, they find that the cupboard is bare. You beat me to the punch, Matt. It took years for me to put it together that the old lady has surely passed away. Or perhaps been moved to a retirement home by her nephews. Either way, that would explain why there’s not another crumb of food to be scavenged from her cupboard. Frankly, the Deptford Mice would be in serious trouble even if Jupiter had stayed exactly where Audrey put him.

    To make a bad situation far worse, the two mice return home to report their discovery and make another. Their friends and family are watching the night-bound sky as every bat in Deptford flies away to an unknown destination. The bats can see the future, as evidenced by them pretty much foreshadowing every major event which has taken place in the books so far. If something has those guys spooked, it cannot be a good sign for our heroes…

    Wowza yowza! The mice’s plight just got very serious very quickly! Everything that could possibly have gone wrong for them HAS gone wrong, and on the very same night! I don’t blame the mice for feeling scared. I would too. The steady supply of food, the advice of those riddling bats …all those things have been taken for granted because they were a part of the mice’s lives for so very long. And now they are gone just like that. From their mousy perspective, this is some real end-of-days stuff they are witnessing here. What’s next? Will the mice wake up one day and find that the sun didn’t rise? Will the sky turn as black as sack-cloth?

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m gonna hang around and find out in Chapter Two of The Final Reckoning!

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  2. I wondered when we’d be back, haha.

    I love this prologue. So cinematic! The sweet tinkle of that silver bell heralding such evil deeds…. lovely stuff.

    Meanwhile, Arthur and Oswald are such cute friends. Like, I’ve never appreciated their friendship before now. But lookit ’em. Goin’ on adventures together. So cute.

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    • It really is. Darkness is never more striking than it is when contrasted with something sweet and innocent as a bell worn upon the tail of a mouse.

      It must feel so much lonelier for Arthur and Oswald now that Twit and Piccadilly have bounded homeward. Audrey is still around but from what we’ve see of her, she has grown so distant from the other mice in The Skirtings. As merry as the Yule Festival is, the opening chapter is also tinged with the melancholy knowledge that so many things have changed for The Deptford Mice. People have come and gone from their lives. Some have even died. It is a sobering experience when you reach the end of the year and have that moment when you pause to reflect upon who you were at the start and what sort of person your triumphs and losses have shaped you into along the way. What do you think? As Audrey stands before the mirror, does she like the mouse she sees gazing back at her?

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  3. Ah-ha! So Aron has declared himself one of the Green’s own! Can’t say I didn’t see it coming, and what a wise decision when doom and darkness are ever at hand.

    Now you are bound to the greenlaws; you have the favour of both mighty Virbius and the Heavenly Lady, should you choose to call upon her. Beware, however, for now that you have sworn your allegiance that binding is absolute – stray from the sight of the Green and you will answer to him for your waywardness. A fair sky may be swiftly blackened with storm, and the soul tempered in the fires of Creation may not easily escape the wrath of its Maker.

    As for jumping at the chance to receive a mousebrass, I, at least, find it difficult to relate. I have a healthy respect for the powers of the Green, but his was not the will which forged me, and there are treasures fairer to my eye than brass.

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    • Let it be as the Green Mouse wills it!

      Although the path ahead may be strewn with thorns, the twin shadows of fear and doubt will know no place in my heart as I walk it! Although my hands may not be the strongest, they will be brave as I roll back the sun! With Virbius and The Lady herself as my witnesses, I will stand upon the shore of wonder and drink deeply of the joy known only to those whose hearts are free of evil’s taint!

      Let me guess. The only treasures your own eyes seek are wrought from jade and enmeshed with bands of gold? Humble brass alone can lead you down the path of true hope.

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  4. Finally!!! We’re on to my fave book in the trilogy. The higher the stakes, the darker the peril, the greater the story, and as everyone has already identified, the prologue for this third instalment shows clearly that, as hard as some chapters of the previous two books may have been to read, there are harder ones coming. Ice, death and unseen horrors – it is the beginning of the end.

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