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!