Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘In life he was called Jupiter – now he is a phantom, an Unbeest more powerful than anything this troubled world has ever known.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now I don’t know about you, Readers all, but to me this chapter just feels cold. ‘The morning was chill and dismal’ tells us everything we need to know about morale in the Skirtings, and far from improving when the Starwife arrives, things continue their long, icy, inexorable, slide downhill.
In this chapter, we really get a sense of the scale of the house in which the Deptford Mice live. The wide open space of the Hall no longer seems freeing and convivial, but open and exposed. The Midwinter Death enfolds the mice in its freezing cloak, and their collective fear seems to compress them together as much as the need for warmth does. The building of the beacon fire feels endless and interminable, and when that painstaking task is finally complete, the mice almost miss the whole point of the exercise. Thank the Green for Oswald, who was just curious and hopeful enough to remain on the roof!
I had a rummage around the internet for any source on the origins of the title ‘Unbeest’ by which the Starwife refers to Jupiter. Sadly, as with certain names in The Crystal Prison, I did not find anything exact, but I did discover the Old Scots ‘vnbest’, of which ‘Unbeest’ may be a fantasy variant. Personally, I love the idea of the Starwife knowing a myriad of ancient and forgotten languages, and occasionally making reference to archaic terms for things when, in her old age, she can no longer dredge up the energy to recall the word currently used.
Matt’s Thoughts: I’m not sure where the word ‘Unbeest’ came from, but it’s awesomely simple and unsettling at the same time, wouldn’t you say?
You know everything is mixed up, when the Starwife ends up in Deptford with the mice. I somehow feel that this is the equivalent of the Queen having to leave Buckingham Palace and crash at somebody’s place in a less glamorous area of London. It feels wrong, but highlights how serious the situation is. But it also shifts the Starwife into a subtly more sympathetic light as well.
Previously, she was a bit like Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. Provides help to the heroes, but somewhat distant herself. But now we’re getting a glimpse of her – I was going to say ‘that is more human‘, which obviously she isn’t. But as a sympathetic character with a past of her own.
And obviously a past that involves an ongoing animosity with bats. Even if you haven’t read The Oaken Throne in the Deptford Histories, which delves into all this, you can sort of imagine the bats and squirrels as two proud countries that need to form an alliance to defeat a common enemy, but would normally hate each other. (Without thinking, I was going to say proud European countries but that opens a can of worms now, doesn’t it?)
But then, in the midst of all the gloom and doom, how much of a little spark of joy do we get from having Oswald be the one that gets picked by the bats? We’ve known he is a legendary character from Book 1, even if he spent most of Book 2 being sick. And now he gets a chance to prove his courage again. Bring it on, I say.