The Oaken Throne | Prologue & Chapter 1

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Is what I ask too great?’ he murmured. ‘Is it my lot to be shamed for all time?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Bats in the sky! Squirrels dying! Horror, tragedy, doom! It’s The Oaken Throne! Who else is excited to start this one? I know I am, this is my second favourite Robin Jarvis book of all time. Verily and forsooth let us get to it, then!

From the very first page, we are dunked head first into the wraith-haunted, benighted gloom of this world. What a wonderfully evocative opening, and what a clever touch that we don’t know that Vesper is a bat until almost two pages after he’s been introduced. That I only noticed on reread, and though I daresay the effect is ruined a little if you’ve already read the blurb or seen the older covers, it’s still an interesting technique. If you went into it not knowing what the story was about, you would assume that it was a human boy who was about to leap from the ruined tower to his death, and as a result feel an immediate connection and pang of sympathy.

As it is, what we might have felt for Vesper the human is directly transferred to Vesper the bat the moment he opens his wings, and before more sceptical readers have a chance to express their disdain for yet another medieval epic with talking animals, we are swept into a medieval epic with talking animals that is like no other.

This is a tale of two contrasting fantasy cultures, and both are excellently set up in these opening scenes. First, we have the mysterious bats, with their unflagging desire to reclaim their birthright of prophecy (those who have read the Deptford Mice Trilogy will grin in wry recognition here). Then, as if that wealth of tradition and fascinating motivations were not enough, we are whirled right along into the leafy domain of the squirrels, and face our first betrayal in the gaunt and rather elegant shape of Morwenna.

In a few short pages, the aged Starwife is dead and the Knights of the Moon under fearsome General Rohgar have the upper hand (or, er, wing). What will become of the silver acorn, and what diabolical plots will Morwenna orchestrate next? Will Vesper ever have a chance to prove himself? Dear readers, we shalt see.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: What an exhilarating opening this is. The opening prologue with Vesper sets up that familiar trope of the hero who wants to go to battle but is too young for the experience, so we can expect a journey of courage for him in the future.

But Chapter 1 is brilliant – a total barn-burner of an intro to the squirrel world. The kingdom of Greenreach is an awesome concept – a bit Rivendell, a bit English castle, a bit decaying Roman empire. We’ve got an evil witch character in Morwenna and a bat raid that becomes the visual equivalent of the WWII London air raids.

But for me, the greatest part is the peregrine falcon. How he came to have a league with the squirrels we don’t know. In fact, the great thing about the Histories is that while technically they are back stories for The Deptford Mice, you could clearly fill many books with the back story behind these histories as well.

A missing silver acorn out there somewhere? Yep, I’m hooked. On to Chapter 2!

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5 thoughts on “The Oaken Throne | Prologue & Chapter 1

  1. I’ve always thought it amusing how Robin is quoted on his website as saying he loved how this book started off with such a bang… as in, he got the sadistic pleasure of killing off so many characters in one fell swoop! He is right about that – this book really does start off with quite a bang! Robin packs so much into the first chapter!

    Morwenna is an oddity among treacherous Robin Jarvis characters. Right from the getgo, the reader (at least) knows she is on the side of evil. However, the same cannot be said for someone else we’ll encounter…

    One of the tidbits about squirrel culture we learn in this chapter is that there are twelve royal princesses who dwell in the sacred groves of Greenreach. If things had gone according to plan, the next Starwife would have been chosen from among their number. This is quite different from how things appear to be done in the lesser houses. As we’ll see in the next chapter, the queen of the Hazel Realm, at least, has a prince consort and a child who is to be the next ruler.

    In the case of the Starwives, however, they generally are unmarried (with the exception of Audrey who, as of course know, was in a unique situation, a “marriage of convenience” that had no real effect on her life – besides her surname changing from Brown to Scuttle and being an obstacle in her pursuit of Piccadilly). It seems to be tradition for them to never have consorts, and to never produce heirs to the throne. In that way, the Starwifeship is comparable to becoming a nun, devoting oneself entirely to your duties to the Green (and Orion, apparently).

    Also, given Robin’s obvious love of the Tudor era (which I share), I wonder if he based these feisty, independent female monarchs in part on Queen Elizabeth I. When she died, never having been married and with no children to succeed her, the throne passed to her cousin, King James VI of Scotland. My guess is that as far as the Starwives go, there are lesser nobles of royal blood who have continued to make their home in Greenreach, and groom their daughters for possibly taking up the silver.

    However, unlike Morwenna suspects, I hardly think that any of them would be too excited at the prospect of being chosen. For all the power that the Starwifeship affords, it’s clearly a lonely, stressful position. All you need to do is take a look at how drained Audrey appears after ten years (especially in that illustration from Robin’s sketchbook!) to see that it’s no fun. A princess would accept it as her solemn duty, but none with any knowledge of what it entails would really look forward to it, I’m sure.

    Rereading these books as an adult, it occurred to me how uniquely matriarchal the squirrel monarchy is portrayed. To boot, the Starwife is arguably the most powerful mortal (or perhaps demi-mortal) in the entire series (though Simoon ranks up there as well). The lesser kingdoms each have their own queen regnant, and their spouses are consorts. There has lately been a demand for “strong female characters” in fiction; the Deptford books certainly fit the bill!

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    • I like to think that the Starwives (and in fact, many of Robin’s forthright and determined female characters) may have been based in part upon Elizabeth I, as I’m a fan of her as well. Mr Jarvis, if you’re reading this, is there any truth in that?

      Starshine, you make a great point about the squirrel princesses and the lonely facts of Starwifeship. I can imagine them maybe dreaming of such an illustrious position in childhood, then growing up and realising that actually they would rather be munched by flesh-eating toads than spend three hundred-odd years on the Oaken Throne.

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  2. Starshine brought to mind a question in regards to Audrey’s marriage – is it void, now that she’s the Starwife?

    Anyway, I’m always amazed at how easily and quickly this book grabs my attention. Complex power structures are established so quickly and simply, and then WHOOSH! We’re right in there with the action!

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  3. I can’t remember if Elizabeth I was in my mind when I created the Starwives, but it’s a good comparison. The difference is that the Starwifeship is a sacred, dreaded and lonely office, which no one truly wants and, in the past, at least one maiden killed herself when she was chosen. It isn’t a hereditary position, it is granted to the one most worthy of wearing the silver acorn.

    As for Audrey, she was still a maiden when she became the Starwife, so her marriage to Twit didn’t stand in her way.

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  4. I think the description and first chapter was half the incentive for me all these years ago – now, at the time I was a big fan of the Redwall books, but even then it was really tiring to see just how safe they were – oh, Redwall is under attack, the heroes rise, face off the vermin, come back home for tea, blah blah blah. But here, there was actually a genuine threat, a ‘woodlander’ (sorry) settlement not only actually in real danger, but absolutely thrashed, and by one of their own too.

    Plus the magic too – Redwall could get really dull and not very weird, so seeing a book that took the idea and added magic, and dark magic especially, was very enticing at the time. And yeah, thats how I found Deptford Histories/Deptford Mice and Jarvis’ writing at large

    Sometimes it helps having a surname with the same two letters

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