Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘In my raven youth they called me … Audrey.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: As if we had not learnt enough Harsh Lessons last chapter, ‘The Midwinter Death’ brings us another, namely, that mentor figures are not as infallible as they may initially seem. Sometimes one must count on one’s own wits and resourcefulness to pull through, and so it is with Thomas and Arthur here.
The effects of Thomas’ injury make for deeply uncomfortable reading. The sturdy mariner mouse whom our young heroes had come to trust, respect, and rely upon quite literally shatters before their eyes, involuntarily revealing the dark and guilt-gnawed heart he has been hiding for decades. Despite the Starwife’s callous manner, we recall that she knew Thomas before the Deptford Mice knew her, and in our heart of hearts we recognise that she will not abandon the midshipmouse in his time of dire need.
As we all hoped, the Starwife does indeed come to Thomas’ aid, but in doing so, dooms herself, bringing home the Harsh Lesson of this chapter. I feel like this is quite a unique aspect in fantasy, middle-grade or otherwise. In the usual course of things, the wise and seemingly-immortal mentor figure would gracefully fade and die only after the hero had proved to be a worthy successor for them, or after the main conflict had been resolved completely.
This is Robin Jarvis, however, and even the mightiest of oaks shall fall. The Starwife is exhausted in her very bones; she has done all she can, but ultimately, she can do no more. We must respect her for continually giving her all in even the most desperate of circumstances until she has no more to give.
The scene where she is visited by Barker in the falling snow is, I feel, one of the most poignant in this entire trilogy. The Handmaiden of Orion, revered queen upon the Oaken Throne, finally comes face to face with Bauchan the Ever-artful, third branch of the suppurating, blood-fed tree that is the Raith Sidhe. And yet, there is no great confrontation. No grand battle commences, no spells of might and ruin are exchanged. What do these ancient and terrible beings of power do instead? Grimace at each other over Jupiter’s Unbeestly head, and mutually give up.
It really jolts a body. Up until this point, our heroes may not have had a lot to hope for, but at least they had the Starwife. Now not even she can hold back the encroaching night, and even the agent of the Unholy Three flees before the prospect of Jupiter All-powerful. For the Deptford Mice, and for the world, the future looks as bleak as midwinter.
Matt’s Thoughts: Another deep mythological chapter. In a way – at least if you’ve never read any of the other books – much of the mythology is unknown. Who is Hagol, whose midwinter death has stricken Thomas? Bauchan turns out to be a real character, not just an imaginary god. Well, how many other gods are there for other creatures? How does the cosmology of the spirit-life work in the Deptford universe? Is there a significance to the name Audrey that echoes through history?
But in a way, these are questions for the nerds. (Which we all are over here at Myth & Sacrifice!)
What’s far more striking about this chapter for me is that moment that often occurs in the third volume of a Jarvis novel – the cutting off of all options. If you follow the thread for this book, we thought the Book of Hrethel might defeat Jupiter. It was blank. Then we thought the mousebrass would defeat Jupiter. It failed. Then we hoped it might be the Starwife or something.
But the Starwife is now dead and Bauchan has declared that the Raith Sidhe have given up hope.
Like, what the heck else is there that we can try?
Jarvis is a master at doing this as his stories draw to a close – where the darkness is so thick and the way so unknown, no one can know how it’s all going to end.
I find this to be such a contrast to most other young people’s stories, where the heroes are so heroic, and the ending so telegraphed, that you can tell where it’s going from a mile away and how it’s going to end. Not so here.
Three more chapters to go till we’re all done!