Warning: Contains Spoilers!
Thomas’s first voyage had begun.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: All Deptford universe settings are great in their own ways. Who could forget Fennywolde in high summer, or Doctor Spittle’s fetid attic laboratory, or the mere at the mournful willows where Vesper and Ysabelle nearly lost their lives? Each has a specific presence and atmosphere, and part of why I love this book so much is there are so many varied and diverse examples of Mr Jarvis putting place to good use.
We’ve had Thomas and Gwen’s cramped berth on board the Cutty Sark, made all the more claustrophobic by the spectre of their troubled marriage. Then there’s Betony Bank, a Fennywolde in miniature, and, last chapter, the shadowy, villain-infested harbour. Now we come to the great hold of the Calliope – as labyrinthine and cloaked in menace as the story itself.
This is definitely one of my favourite settings in this book. For Thomas and Woodget, and for us as readers, it is a new world. The Cutty Sark was more of a romantic notion of a ship; a creaking old dame upon whose deck it would be easy to imagine fearful battles with pirates, and deeds of derring-do. However, the Calliope, if we puzzle through our Deptford timelines for a moment, is more likely to be a 1970s cargo vessel. This is something that I didn’t really consider as a younger reader, but it bears mentioning, because it’s another case of Mr Jarvis giving a degree of romance and mystery to otherwise mundane locations.
Consider: Jupiter, Lord of the Rats, lived in a sewer. The Deptford Mice themselves resided in an abandoned house in a run-down area of London. In the same vein, there’s very little that’s romantic about a hulking cargo ship shunting a load of cotton from one trading port to another, and yet somewhere between the explanation of the mouse-sized ‘auxiliary navy’ and the melancholy mole thinking of those he’s left behind, the stage is set for a grand maritime adventure. Or misadventure, whichever.
Matt’s Thoughts: I love the whole idea of the ‘secondary crew’ of a ship. And, of course, if Aufwader is right on the timeline and we’re dealing with a 70s cargo ship, vermin on board was quite possibly a real problem. (After all, James Herbert’s The Rats was published in the 70s, and that was based in part on his remembrance of seeing rats in London as a child.)
And also, why is everyone traveling? To see the world? To emigrate somewhere with family? Where are they hoping to get to? Why did they leave England? There really are endless stories that could emerge from the Jarvis canon.