I think this is probably my favourite Robin Jarvis illustration ever. I like it so much that I have a print of it framed on my wall. Everything about it is so cinematic and evocative, but I don’t need to say that, it’s loudly apparent in every pen-stroke. Every time I see it, it inspires me to improve my own artwork and challenge myself, and maybe talon a few Harans in the name of the Dark Despoiler.
Predictable? Yes. But honestly aren’t Sarpy and His High Priest photogenic together? Look at them and just try to stop your heart melting in a puddle of black goo.
Many of the illustrations in this book are stunning, but I think I’m going to have to spring for the two most ‘spiritual’ characters. First up, Simoon, who I feel is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Javis world. You underestimate him at first, but he has a lot more power up his sleeve than you at first realise. (And also, like Obi-Wan, he was a survivor of a great massacre.) The swirling abstract pattern repeated on the rug and in the background also lends him an extra air of mystery.
And I feel like the loris here is the Yoda of the piece, but that’s not quite fair – he’s never a figure of comedy, and is much more haunted. I’m not even sure why I like this one, but there’s just something about his eyes and his mouth. Also the fact that his only possession is a key. There’s something so minimalist about it, that it makes you realise how much of ordinary life he has given up in order to guard the fragment for Hara.
ABLE RUDDAWAY (Thomas | Ch 3 – Thomas | Ch 4) Bosun of the Calliope for many long years, Mr Ruddaway was murdered in cold blood upon the deck of his own ship. He will be missed by all who came to know him over the course of his long, seafaring life.
THE PASSENGERS AND CREW OF THE CALLIOPE (Thomas | Ch 3 – Thomas | Ch 7) The Calliope was wrecked off the coast of Crete following its embroilment in the unnatural storms of the Kaliya, the ship of the Scale. Although the human crew were able to abandon ship before the catastrophe, the secondary crew and passengers were less fortunate. Of the many creatures who boarded that ship with hopes of a new future ahead, only a very few set eyes upon land again.
THE SHRINE MAIDENS OF VIRBIUS (Thomas | Ch 8) These eleven unfortunate tenders of the shrine beneath the White Mountains were cruelly put to death by the hordes of the Scale when they arrived to reclaim the seventh fragment. Though the bodies of the maidens were treated with contempt by their murderers, each was later laid to rest by the crew of the Chandi. Blessed are they who guarded the Green’s birthplace which such devotion, may they find peace in His embrace.
NELTEMI (Thomas | Ch 8) The last of the Twelve Maidens, Neltemi sacrificed herself so that the ninth fragment might be kept from the clutches of the adept Dahrem Ruhar, and so from the Scale. Having escaped the fate of her sisters by chance, she alone among them tragically fell victim to the lethal blood of the Serpent; only recently has nature reclaimed the place below the shrine, where she died.
MULLIGAN (Thomas | Ch 2 – Thomas | Ch 9) Mulligan, son of Padriac, was the final custodian of the ninth fragment, and bravely did he do his duty though it cost him more than any creature should have had to give. Though he died in obscurity his memory will be forever honoured in Hara and by the Green Council. May he voyage on fairer shores than those which the world gave him.
THE SADHU OF HARA (Thomas | 12 – Thomas | Ch 13) For many ages did this loris live in communion with the Green and with His Council, and when at last the time came for him to relinquish his mortal life he did so gladly. As a result of the decisions he made regarding the ultimate defeat of Gorscarrigern, this Sadhu is not remembered fondly by the people of his city; though the intervention of Jophet the rat prevented all trace of him being erased from Haran history.
THE CITIZENS OF HARA (Thomas | Ch 11 – Thomas | Ch 13) On the night of the siege of Hara many brave and loyal folk of the city lost their lives. Thanks to the quick actions of Sobhan Giri, many Haran children were saved, but there was not a family unaffected by the slaughter, and the Green’s stronghold was never the same.
LIEUTENANT KARIM BIHARI (Thomas | Ch 9 – Thomas | Ch 13) First mate of the Chandi under Captain Chattan, Karim gave his life in the saving of his fair city. A glorious warrior’s death was his, and in the Green hereafter is his place set high.
CAPTAIN CHATTAN GIRI (Thomas | Ch 9 – Thomas | Ch 14) Most valiant mongoose and Haran warrior, Chattan finally fell to the black blood of the Dark Despoiler in a duel to the death with Dahrem Ruhar. Steadfast was the Captain in his faith in the Green and his love for his city, and great were the honours bestowed upon him after death.
DAHREM RUHAR (Thomas | Ch 2 – Thomas | Ch 14) Master of artifice and brightest star among all Sarpedon’s adepts, Dahrem restored the eighth fragment into the keeping of the Scale. A faithful devotee of Suruth Scarophion even in death, he ascended unto the Serpent’s Court in the heavens and his name is lauded among the most high in the Eye of Sarpedon the Mighty.
THE LORD SURUTH SCAROPHION [SARPEDON; THE DARK DESPOILER, SOVREIGN OF SERPENTS AND FIRSTBORN OF ALL THE GODS. KNOWN IN HARA AS GORSCARRIGERN; THE COILED ONE] (Thomas | Ch 16) Once the most feared and exalted power ever to wear earthly raiment, the Black Sovereign ruled in might and majesty from the dawn of the world. Though His designs were ever impeded by the usurping Green, many of the faithful did Sarpedon gather into His coils and ever did His cult thrive. Long did His beloved subjects toil to return Him to the living plane, and though the Green Council sought to ruin the ninth fragment and destroy the final hope of the Scale, they did not succeed. Most highly honoured should be the claws of the Serpent’s disciples, for it was due to their devotion that their Lord was able to claim His idol as a place of refuge. Though He was cast into the mansions of Death, He watches over His followers still, and in recent times the nine stars have been seen to shine over the place where the Black Temple once stood.
THE HIGH PRIEST OF THE SCALE (Thomas | Ch 7 – Thomas | Ch 16) He who retrieved the holy fragments shall forever be remembered as the last High One ever to grace the Black Temple. Great was his triumph and bitter his defeat, and through it all he bore no name that might be recorded here. The shadows of every High Priest before him did rest upon his shoulders, and from his ordination until the time of his death not a word did he speak nor deed commit that was not for the glory of Sarpedon the Mighty. Siierhet vartani vrei.
WOODGET PIPPLE (Thomas | Ch 1 – Thomas | ‘Journey’s End’) Drowned by the artifice of Mother Lotus and rescued from the brink of death by Zenna the sea maiden, Woodget lives still as the new Sadhu of Hara. However, as he retains no memory of who he once was and is sundered forever from all those he held dear, this knowledge will never reach Thomas, the once to whom it would mean the most.
The boy smiled. He liked the Holy One and thought he looked very wise and serious, even if he was a fieldmouse.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Yes, this book gets a special epilogue post, because it has not one, but two of the things, and oh boy do they deserve their own write-up.
As if the finale in the Black Temple and the heart-rending (to some) conclusion to Thomas and Woodget’s voyage across the globe were not enough of an emotional roller-coaster, we now learn that not only will Thomas live out his life believing that he murdered his best friend and turn to drink as a result, but that Woodget himself will have a sort of semi-existence as the Sadhu of a ruined Hara, with no memory of who he once was. If this book’s beginning is ‘gleefully bitter’, then its end is gleefully miserable. This has to be one of the most depressing endings in all of Robin Jarvis canon, and I love it to bits.
So, what about that, Robin? You wrote in the notes for this book that we ‘haven’t seen the last of Simoon’ and that you didn’t think it was right for Thomas to end his days in suffering. If it is Woodget’s destiny to someday remember everything and for he and Thomas to be reunited just as Thomas takes a death wound so that Thomas believes Woodget to be only a vision of his dying mind, then happily I will read it and cry along with everybody else.
As it is, though, no suffering can be greater than having one’s beloved cruelly shoved off a mountain and one’s lizardy kin thoroughly crushed before one’s eyes, so I’m content to let Mr Triton sob into his rum for the time being. Now if you’ll all excuse me, I have an appointment in a secret room above the Lotus Parlour.
Matt’s Thoughts: Sixteen chapters and two epilogues! What can I say?
Actually, what I can say is that this ending has such a level of ambiguity about it, that I do wonder how younger readers made sense of it. (I only ever read it when I was in my 30s, so I don’t have the experience of knowing what it would have been like as a young adult.)
It’s the questions that I find haunting. First of all, the one that Thomas himself articulated: were the Green Council really above-board in their actions? Was there really no other way to defeat Sarpedon then to let hundreds of innocents be slaughtered as the Scale ravaged back the pieces of the egg? And given that it was a gamble whether that would even work, was it really the only thing that could have happened? I’m not sure on the answers to that question, but even if Jophet and the Holy One are now seen to be playing a long game, it does seem like awfully high stakes.
And then there’s those couple of paragraphs in the second epilogue where Gwen looks in despair at Thomas – he hasn’t written anything down, he hasn’t ‘made peace with the past’. There’s no guarantee he won’t stay alcoholic and haunted forever.
About the only slight ray of hope is that we instinctively feel that Woodget has a beauty of soul that makes him perfect for the role of the next Sadhu. But even that is tinged with melancholy, because it means Thomas (and Bess, for that matter) never realised that he survived. I think I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: it’s not a British children’s story until evil has been defeated, but everyone is still unhappy.
I think I need a soothing cup of tea and a long walk after this one. (Which is all to say, I loved it.)
‘Too long has His Dark Majesty been banished from the waking world. Too long have our enemies denied us the means for His deliverance. But now the hour is upon us. Sarpedon will rear amongst us again – the eternal night has come at last!’
Aufwader’s Thought’s: Mighty Sarpedon, Lord of the Star-bright Heavens, I dedicate my half of this post to You. Many times have I, a humble disciple, traversed the slightly faded pages of my Hodder Silver edition in pilgrimage to Your temple, and many times have I read in tearful devotion the chronicle of Your glorious return, and the tragedy of Your downfall at the hands of two accursed unpledged mice and a has-been jerboa.
Would that this, the final instalment of the Deptford Histories in which You play such a vital role, had ended differently. Would that the efforts of the Green Council had been in vain, and You returned to the world in complete and holy magnificence, heralded by Your High Priest and all of Your beloved subjects. Much would I have given to witness that most longed-for and blessed occasion, though I be squashed at the back with a sozzled lemur’s elbow in my face and a pillar blocking half the view. Happily would I have shed my mortality with everyone else and ascended unto lizardy perfection.
Alas, that is not how the tale ends, and this devout Scalian must remain cold-blooded in spirit only. Though Your subjects be shunned and the Black Temple cast down, as long as there are readers to fear You, the poisonous flame of Your reign can never be extinguished.
Besides, as this project has seen, lesser beings than You have unlocked the gates of death to trouble once more the unhappy land, and we all know that has-been jerboas aren’t always right about everything. I believe in You, O Sovereign of Darkness, and will go on telling all these unpledged heathens about you until one of them takes pity and peels me to shut me up.
Matt’s Thought’s: Obviously, the finale with Sarpedon has all the great twists and turns – he’s coming back, then it’s a bad egg (love that twist!), then he’s a giant statue, then the High Priest is still alive. It’s just relentless. (I also love that Sarpedon is defeated by Thomas’ nautical skills, which is an awesome finale to the piece.)
‘You no need teller of fortunes – Mother Lotus, she know what Lady Fate has is store for you.’
Aufwader’s Thought’s: A quick scene change, and we arrive at the dingy dockyard dive that is the Lotus Parlour. (Or, if you’re a forktail, a pleasant and welcoming establishment where one might partake of the house vintage and meet with one’s jewel-encrusted, serpent-worshipping cronies in relative privacy.)
Personally I really enjoy the way we’re introduced to the Scale’s home turf – it’s implied that ol’ Ma Skillet has a gold-lacquered finger in every Singapore smuggler’s pie, and runs her bar something like a gangster’s speakeasy with added occult flair. I especially appreciate the notion that she has been in that job for several decades and is so bored with it that she has descended into hypnotising unsuspecting patrons for laughs to ease the monotony. Sure, evil’s fun at the weekends, but on a slow Tuesday you still have to mop the floors and polish the bar-top.
Or, as it happens, get a well-known and beloved side character in the backstory phase of her life to do it for you. Why hello, Madame Akkikuyu! We missed you!
The little origin-scene with Kiku really does make a perfect bookend. In The Dark Portal, Morgan and Madame Akkikuyu were the first villains we met aside from Jupiter, and in this, the backstory to end all backstories, we get a perfectly-mirrored look into how they came to be spitting insults at each other in 1990s Deptford. Readers, which origin story do you prefer, Morgan’s, or Kiku’s? Personally, I like them both.
As if Thomas and Woodget turning up and getting caught were not enough, Simoon has to poke his nose in and start causing a ruckus. But it’s all to the good (or rather, bad) for if he hadn’t, we would never have had another fantastic scene with the High Priest. While he trounces Simoon and has a heart-to-heart with Mother Lotus about the Black Sovereign’s return being imminent, I can almost forget my heartbreak over the events of last chapter. Almost.
Matt’s Thoughts: How do I not remember this either? A backstory for Madame Akkikuyu thrown in for good measure!
But what struck me the most was the bitter irony that, as well as some good old hocus-pocus on Ma Skillet’s part, it is alcohol that undoes Thomas in this moment – which, of course, comes at just the right time in the story to remind all of us that everything that’s happening is essentially a horrible memory being replayed in Thomas’ alcohol-fuelled mind in the present day. It’s tragic, horrific. And, hey, with a Black Temple about to be revealed, a little bit Indiana Jones as well.
‘So be it’, he swore. ‘The blade of Hara against the teeth of Sarpedon. May the venom bite you slowly.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: If you’re wondering what that pitiful and heart-wrenching sound is, it’s me sobbing inconsolably into my snake-embroidered handkerchief. Just give me a minute. Okay. I think I can manage a few words.
This chapter puts everybody through the wringer. If you’re Green-inclined, you’ve got the fall of brave Captain Chattan, some strong bonding moments for Thomas and Woodget, the final doom of Hara, and the uncertain fate of the fragments. If you’re a cultist, you alternately cheer and wince as the Scale’s fortunes rise and fall. If you’re me, you get to a certain point and have to stop reading so you don’t ruin your lovely first edition with tears of abject sorrow.
A lizard, though! A beautiful, terrible, magnificent reptile-demon! All right so he’s not described very flatteringly but that means nothing because Dahrem Ruhar is my cold-blooded, cold-hearted beloved and at least he gets to shine a little before he is cruelly torn from my arms.
Admit it, not a word rolls off his forked tongue that isn’t absolutely searing. If I were Chattan I wouldn’t even bother with a sword, I’d just chuck my red cape over my face and wait for the end. My personal favourite is immortalised in the quote for this post, but the taunts about vipers garlanding the walls of Hara, and that stinging line about the Green’s paradise choked with weeds, are definitely up there. When the Captain finally collapses in a froth of black blood you think that’s it, but no, there’s still that speech. Oh lordy, that speech. There’s nothing I can say. Please just bask in it. Imagine it in film form, or on audiobook, as it was tragically omitted from the tapes.
Of course, in the sorry tradition of all Robiny villains before him, Dahrem’s moment of glory is short-lived. Those of you who hold Piccadilly high in your affections will perhaps sympathise a little as my poor, defeated darling dies alone in a strange place, clutching something golden and precious, his empty eyes turned heavenward. He’ll live forever in my heart and in the pages of this chapter, for as the saying goes, love (and Sarpedon) conquer all.
Matt’s Thoughts: While the cover of the silver-spined edition of Thomas is undeniably more dramatic, I must admit, there’s part of me that likes that moment of horror that greeted readers of the first edition of Thomas when they discovered that Dimmy was not just an evil mouse but he was a freaking evil reptile as well. It’s a phenomenal moment. In fact, it reminds me very much of the finale of the David Cronenberg version of The Fly, for anyone who has seen that. (I won’t go posting YouTube videos of movies with an 18 rating on this blog, but for those of you over that age, you might enjoy the similarities. And, Aufwader, it was also meant to be a bit sad as well, so you might appreciate it.)
It’s such a heady mix – body horror, action and rodents.
But … most freaky thing of all, it’s chapter 14, when we expect everything to be wrapped up and instead there are two more chapters to go! Oh no! What more could happen to Thomas and Woodget?
‘The Scale are here, the Scale are here! Awake, folk of Hara! The hour we have long dreaded is upon us! We must fight!’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: As The Oaken Throne attests, Mr Jarvis knows his grand and glorious fantasy battles, and he knows how do to them well. To be honest though I feel like the siege of Hara is that much more vicious than the clash of the bats and squirrels (or even bats and squirrels against Hobbers) because even though it was planned by both sides in advance, it feels sudden and brutal. The city’s best warriors are out cold, the stakes are high with not one but two fragments for the taking, and the Sadhu, Hara’s beloved Holy One, has condemned his innocent citizens to cruel and venomous death at the lethal claws of the Scale.
That said, siege of Hara is yet another reason why this is my favourite Robin Jarvis book. We’ve got the thunder and lightning and hammering rain, we’ve got drums in the night (as referenced by Thomas in The Dark Portal), we’ve got the Scale’s glinty, gilded warship named after the many-headed serpent of the Bhāgavata Purāṇ. The High Priest of Sarpedon the Mighty gets to make a characteristically theatrical entrance, our mousey heroes bravely do their best, and Sohban comes out of the Giri home wielding an honest-to-goodness sword. (On that note who else blooming loves Sobhan? What a great character, for all she gets so little page-time.)
Then, as if that weren’t enough to keep us as hypnotised as that hapless sea-snake from Chapter 11, Robin decides to chuck a few crocodiles into the mix and kill off poor Karim! Though I’m inclined to cheer for the Scale in this chapter as in all others, I have to say that Karim’s valiant and tragic demise did hit me quite hard, especially as we get that brief scene beforehand of Chattan telling him, ‘In the Green hereafter may your place be set high,’ in the same tone as funerary rites. Just so, Captain. Just so.
Matt’s Thoughts: Noble sacrifice. Crocodiles. Trusting the wrong person. There’s so much going on at an action level, that we almost miss the birth of Thomas Triton, the fearsome warrior that we’ll see defending the Cutty Sark in The Final Reckoning. Love a good origin story!