Warning: Contains Spoilers!
… and so the seed of terror was sown.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Thus it was that the stalwart readers of Myth & Sacrifice at last came to the Deptford Histories, and, shrieking in bloodthirsty glee, leapt into the darkness that awaited them.
As a child I was rather startled by the way this book begins. Up until that point the most risqué thing I had come across in a Robin Jarvis cassette was two mice holding hands, and all of a sudden there was some serious cat-flirting going on all up in my headphones. Now, however, I appreciate the prologue for what it is – one of the most elegant introductions to a world I’ve ever come across, steeped in atmosphere, heady with malign promise, doom-laden and prophetic as only the best villainous origin stories can be.
Around the time I had this book on tape, I also had a cassette of collected British folklore that was deeply, deeply creepy. I wish I could remember what it was called, but there was one story in it that I recall vividly to this day. It was an obscure re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin entitled Tom-Tit-Tot, in which the titular character is described as a ‘small black thing with a long tail’ and referred to as an ‘imp’ or ‘impet’. Young Aufwader knew, just knew, that Tom-Tit-Tot and Imp were one and the same, and she had a fairly good idea of who might keep both forms in their shape-shifting repertoire.
A quick peep at the first chapter then, and my goodness what a perfect period drama opening. The tableau of little orphaned Will watching the coffins of his beloved family sink into the mire is nothing short of Dickensian in its wretchedness. I daresay most of us are acquainted enough with Mr Jarvis’ narrative trademarks at this point that we know the letter from Will’s uncle portends nothing good. Like kindly Hannah Balker, we want to prevent young Master Godwin from making that trip to London for the safety of his own soul, but poor Will is a Robin Jarvis protagonist, and a tall and dangerous fate awaits him there.
Matt’s Thoughts: How much do I love the cover of this book? Anyway, jumping straight in. So I mentioned in a previous post that I found The Whitby Witches felt ‘live action’ compared with the ‘animated’ feel of The Deptford Mice. Which leaves this book in a sort of strange hybrid between the two. It has a fascinating cast of fully-rounded animal and human characters and jumps between the two worlds fairly effortlessly. (And speaking of casts, this is the first Jarvis book not to feature his trademark cast list at the beginning. You’ll just have to work out who everyone is as we go along!)
What a great prologue. There’s just a visceral thrill from the idea of the tough-minded Imelza hooking up with a shadowy black cat from who knows where. (Well, not quite. The hints are pretty strong that Jupiter wasn’t just a High Satanic Majesty in name only …)
All the elements are there – cats, rats, bats – but in this completely new 17th century setting. But we’ll talk more about that when we get more into the story.
Chapter 1 sets up the character of Will, but again I feel like there’s a hint of that theme of community vs tooth-and-claw that we saw in the mice. Will obviously came from a close-knit family, and it seems that the folks nearby and on his farm were equally communal. (Witness the kindness of the Balkers in taking him in.) However, in a bleak start to a book that is only going to get more bleak, we never get a chance to see what that community looked like. It’s gone, covered up like the coffins getting drowned by mud in that stunning opening scene in the graveyard. There’s no shielding young readers from the horrors of English history in this one!
So our heart goes out to Will even before anything has happened to him. And maybe it’s just me, but I feel like John Balker is a human version of Thomas Triton – a good sort in a scrap, but haunted by past pain and regrets. Anyone else agree?