The Deptford Mice Almanack | January

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I fear very strongly that this almanack may prove, in the end, to be a memorial of all that once was – before the great darkness came. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The Deptford Mice Almanack is a rare and beautiful curiosity. Probably the closest thing to an artbook that Mr Jarvis has ever released, it slipped under the radar about as soon as it was published and is now something of a collector’s item. I didn’t actually know of its existence until a few years ago, and was delighted to discover this treasure trove of rodent lore and exquisite original paintings.

Although the Almanack follows on from the finale of the Deptford Mice Trilogy, it has none of the derivative feel of a series tie-in, and all of Robin’s trademark attention to plot continuity and world-building. It might be in wide and colourful format, but this is to all intents and purposes the next instalment in the epic of A Few Small Mousies Against The Forces Of Darkness, and it shows in the depth of the story woven between the titbits of in-universe mythology and folklore.

As for Gervase Brightkin; official limner to Audrey the Starwife, as a premise I find him to be quite endearingly self-aware. In the hands of a lesser author it might seem somewhat glib, or even vain, to insert oneself into one’s own story. Here, however, it works with the tone rather well – we all know Mr Brightkin is Robin in disguise, we all know it’s a twee conceit to make yourself a squirrel for the fun of it, but then, ‘for the fun of it’ is the point. The Almanack is Mr Jarvis throwing a party in honour of his own world, and we’re all invited to attend.

January starts us off in characteristically bleak fashion, with the most notable date being the grandly-titled Day of Deliverance on the 18th, upon which Audrey liberated the world of Jupiter’s menace from atop the Greenwich Observatory dome. Our heroine also has her birthday on the 3rd, directly following the day in honour of the Fir Realm, that most musical of squirrel houses. January also introduces both the Squirrel Calendar, with each month named for a different tree, and the Rat Zodiac, a delicious piece of villainous esoterica complete with moon phases in the houses of Hobb, Mabb and Bauchan. What are your favourite entries for this month, Readers all?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Not having read the Almanack before, I love the concept. I also now realise why there have been some fans clamouring for more Deptford stories – clearly those hints by the writer Gervase Brightkin that something bad is on the move is a suggestion that all may not be peaceful for our mice in Deptford just yet …

And, by the way, I love the fact that all the squirrels at Greenwich seem to have spectacularly pretentious names.

As for the Almanack entries themselves – what a sad January that was to remember! Piccadilly, Oswald, Mr Oldnose, Holeborn being decimated. It would take a long time for those memories to die down.

Most poignant entry, though, was the one about the Sadhu giving the wooden figures to Kempe. This is a small detail but in chapter 5 of The Crystal Prison, Kempe has those figures and shows them to Twit. What a layer of irony that entry adds to that scene now!

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Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | The Woven Path

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance the names of all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater myth of the story.

 The deceased of The Woven Path are as follows:

ANGELO SIGNORELLI   (The Woven Path | Prologue – The Woven Path | Ch 23) Wartime GI turned loud-mouthed stuffed toy, Angelo risked his very soul to save those he loved and liberate the world from the menace of Belial, Archduke of Demons. Following his untimely death, this courageous airman was imprisoned by the Sisters Webster in the body of the teddy bear he had kept as a good luck charm. By the mercy of the Nornir he was able to return to his own past and save the love of his life, Jean Evans, and her baby son, from an early grave. He is remembered by Jean, and by Neil Chapman, who will always count him a true friend.

FRANK JEFFRIES   (The Woven Path | Prologue – The Woven Path | Ch 21) Friend and fellow airman to Angelo, Frank was a somewhat put-upon young man with a kind heart and nervous demeanour. Unsuited for life as a GI and unable to cope with the trauma of his occupation, Frank sought solace in Jean’s friend Kathleen Hewett. That lady, however, was not the steadfast sweetheart Frank had been hoping for. In her unhinged attempt to join with Belial and wreak havoc upon London, Ms Hewett stabbed Frank and left him to die, causing Angelo to later be blamed for her actions. Frank was mourned by his family in America, and remembered by those of his squadron who survived the war.

ARNOLD PORTER  (The Woven Path | Ch 8) Long-suffering Mr Porter was one of the three air-raid wardens whose mission it was to apprehend Edie Dorkins and remove her from the apparent danger of her bombsite lair. Though he and his group never succeeded in this, Arnold was able to protect another young person; he was the first to come upon Neil, who had just emerged from the Webster’s time vortex. Sadly, in saving Neil from a parachute mine, Mr Porter lost his life. As a ghost, he spent his empty time in the bombsite he had tried so hard to rescue Edie from, as one of her unquiet ‘subjects’. He was later consumed by Belial, only to be ultimately freed when that fiend was confined once more.

TOMMY   (The Woven Path | Ch 9 – The Woven Path | Ch 11) Beloved pet and companion to Doris Meacham, this faithful dachshund was seriously injured in an act of nauseating brutality by three local youths, who were acting upon the insinuations of Mrs Stokes. He was later put down rather harshly by Kathleen Hewett. Tommy was adored by Mrs Meacham and sorely missed by her for the remainder of her life.

DORIS MEACHAM   (The Woven Path | Ch 9 – The Woven Path | Ch 12) Head of the ladies’ ‘make do and mend’ circle, neighbour to the Stokes family and landlady to Ms Hewett, Mrs Meacham was a hard-working member of her community who was occasionally thought of as conceited and shallow by those around her. She was the first victim of Belial, and died a grisly and tragic death in a lonely alleyway not far from her own home. It is not known whether Mrs Meacham had any family, but she was certainly mourned by her friends and the wider community.

PETER STOKES   (The Woven Path | Ch 9 – The Woven Path | Ch 15) Father-in-law to Jean, Mr Stokes was a kindly, mild-mannered man who had already lost his son Billy to the war. This grief haunted Mr Stokes for many years, and was his undoing when he was lured to his doom by Belial. Like Arnold Porter, Mr Stokes was freed from the world at the defeat of the Archduke of Demons, and was remembered fondly by all who knew him.

MICKEY HARMON   (The Woven Path | Ch 11 – The Woven Path | Ch 20) A friend to Neil during his time in 1943, Mickey was an excitable and somewhat morbid lad with enthusiasm for everything and a strong imagination. He was barbarically murdered by Kathleen Hewett in her bid for power, and was mourned by his father and by Neil.

IRENE STOKES   (The Woven Path | Ch 9 – The Woven Path | Ch 21) The sour and hateful head of the Stokes family, Mrs Stokes was not mourned when she died in the Bethnal Green tube disaster. Perpetrator of a thousand small evils, this vile old woman only served to release her family from a lifetime of suffering by her death. If she was remembered at all, it was with dislike and reproach.

MR ORMEROD   (The Woven Path | Ch 17 – The Woven Path | 22) This odious man briefly employed Kathleen Hewett as a spy before being blown to pieces during the munitions explosion which Miss Hewett orchestrated in her attempt to impress Belial. He was not missed.

KATHLEEN HEWETT   (The Woven Path Ch 10 – The Woven Path | Ch 23) A spy masquerading as an orphaned munitions factory worker, Miss Hewett revealed herself to be a cold and calculating murderess without a shred of humanity. After committing countless acts of cruelty and depravity, and attempting to join Belial in his plans of ruination, she was eventually executed when she mistakenly caught Edie’s incendiary bomb necklace. Good riddance.

 

As a final note, ANGELO SIGNORELLI would like to convey to NEIL CHAPMAN the following message from the beyond: ‘You did good, kid, but you ain’t landed safe yet. Don’t trust them dodgy broads to have your back, they’ve got woo of their own to deal with, n’ it’s far scarier than some ol’ roach that got too big for its box. Watch out for yourself, kid, that’ll see you through. So long.’ 

The Woven Path | Chapter 23 & Epilogue

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It just weren’t meant to be – the fates were ranged against us from the start.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: All right, maybe there’s a point being made here. Maybe by merging fact and fiction, we in some way help to contain the horrors of the past, and to make them digestible for young minds. An admirable aim for a children’s writer, and a commendable one, especially in this day and age.

As for the wartime romance, I take it all back. I wasn’t expecting to come over all weepy about this’un, but you’ve done it again, Robin. Jam and pancakes for you, and a round of applause.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’ve just gotten off my morning bus after reading this chapter and I must say, it’s put a cloud over the whole day. I actually had to pause for five minutes at the end of Chapter 23 to get over it before reading the epilogue.

The dispatching of Belial was suitably well orchestrated as was the final race to rescue Jean and Josh.

But my worst fears about where the finale were heading finally came true – Jean was destined to survive, but not to be with Angelo. (I’d be half curious to know whether her husband was actually alive and came back – in which case her life did take an upward turn. Or was she was hit with the double whammy of being widowed twice: losing her husband and Angelo? I could see Mr Jarvis writing both scenarios.)

Which is all to say, I thought it was a great finale, and I’m afraid that I’m going to miss Ted as much as Piccadilly or Oswald or Jack Potts or any of those great characters. (Though I’m still holding out hope that we’ll see some alternative reality with Witching Legacy where Jack and Cherry all come back again. But does life in a Jarvis novel, like real life itself, ever go where we expect it?)

The epilogue was nicely intriguing as well. There is a lot we don’t know about Edie or how she fits into things – which means I have very little idea of what to expect in the next two Wyrd Museum books – but if it’s as well put together as this book, I think it’s going to be amazing.

The Woven Path | Chapter 22

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Thus shall a new age of darkness and death shall begin!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Hmm, looks like this book really is exactly what it says on the cover. To look at it without knowing anything of this series, one might suppose that the cover art is a (very vivid and striking) exaggeration; a composite of many dramatic scenes, designed to tantalise young readers with its bold sensationalism.

As we now see, however, that is most definitely not the case. The Woven Path has indeed delivered us, in sweeping, epic prose, no less, a one-armed, sentient teddy bear being chased through the rubble of a WWII bombsite by a gigantic, demonic cockroach. Honestly, who could ask for anything more.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s official. I love Ted. I don’t hold out much hope for his continued survival past the end of this book, but in Australia, we love underdogs, and he is it. Like Oswald and Audrey and their final showdown with Jupiter, the image of a lone teddy bear against a massive demon, determined to take him down, is just hugely inspiring.

You can forgive all his over-the-top American bravado for this one last brave charge. But even the holy water doesn’t work? I mean, WHAT IS LEFT?? (Well, I suppose there’s Edie’s incendiary device.)

Oh, and good riddance to Mr Ormerod as well. We might as well take out some Nazis while we’re at it.

 

The Woven Path | Chapter 21

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Angelo glanced down and saw a blossoming circle of red soak through his shirt.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Lordy, Ma Stokes’s death! I can’t say it wasn’t perhaps in some way deserved, nor rather satisfying, in a ‘comic-book villain gets their comeuppance while yelling about meddling kids’ way, but still. What a dreadful way to go. Especially as it was almost implied that she started the whole thing by calling out into the crowd? Good grief.

Then, before we have time to so much as blink, we’re back to the drama of the prologue, and suddenly the characters we have come to love are dying left and right. Nooo, Frank! Noooo, Angelo! And wretched Belial is still loose! And Jean and her baby might be dead too! So much for luck.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Just before Christmas, I took the older kids to see The Last Jedi, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise. The film had the interesting phenomenon of being well-received by the reviewers but also soundly trashed in some corners of the social media world by fans as being the worst of all Star Wars movies. My theory on this dichotomy is that the writers were probably a bit too skillful at anticipating every direction that fans were expecting the story to go and therefore deliberately sending the story in a completely different direction. The finale of the film was so clearly signalled from the beginning that we, as an audience, thought we could comfortably sit back and munch our popcorn, knowing exactly where it would go.

And then, spectacularly, everything we’d been set up for fell apart and the finale was nothing like anybody really expected.

Which is exactly the feeling I get from this chapter here. In every other time travel story from Back to the Future onward, the main character goes back in time and stops the bad things from happening. So what in the freaking heck is this where, despite everyone’s best efforts, all the bad stuff STILL happens??

Aargh! Where is the story going to go now? Brilliantly executed piece of pulling the rug out, Mr Jarvis.

Meanwhile, this chapter included the famous real-life Bethnal Green underground disaster. I was actually expecting this to be the disastrous event that dispatched Frank, Kath and Jean that Angelo was trying to prevent.

But, no, that’s a different subplot and this historical tragedy becomes the means of dispatching the horrific Ma Stokes. I can’t think of a Jarvis character that I’ve liked less. Normally, his villains are somewhat grandiose and interesting – they just happen to live by a moral code that involves the weak being destroyed by the strong. But Ma Stokes – she just has a spectacular nasty streak all the way through, with very little explanation as to why she got that way.

Unfortunately, especially as you get older, you realise that there are people in life that are like this and in some ways, they are more scary than demonic monsters. Because these types of villains we can all encounter in everyday life.

The Woven Path | Chapter 20

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I desire only the death of thousands.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: First of all, RIP Mickey. You were a great tertiary character in the short time that we knew you, and I’m sorry I didn’t write about you more. I liked your talkative, ghoulish ways, and I hoped that you, at least, might escape the horrors to come. Alas, it was not the Fates, nor the war, nor Belial that got you, but a monster of a different kind.

To be honest, I don’t really know what to say about the latter half of this chapter. Call me a spoilsport, but I’m of the opinion that tragedies that’ve occurred in living memory should not be directly and explicitly worked into fiction, because there are still some people alive today for whom those events were not a story. I suppose I’m harking back to when Matt said that over time, perhaps the idea of the Second World War has become somewhat glamorised in the media. Suffice to say that it’s all a little too lurid for my taste, but if you guys like that sort of thing, do carry on.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: All right. I think this is going to be a brutal race to the finish. (Any hint that teddies might equal cuteness in this story was all a smokescreen!) Poor old Mickey – ever the lover of morbid things, only to be dispatched in a rather morbid way by the increasingly off-the-chain Kath … I think I said earlier that I thought she was going to be a witch and then she turned out to be a Nazi spy: she’s pretty much now a bit of both.

What I’m also fascinated by is the hints at the back story of Belial. He makes references to the throne of the Beginning and the war they fought under the Lord of Light. This is clearly a reference to the story of the fall of Satan from heaven – Satan often being described as Lucifer, a name referring to light, actually.

The reason I find this slightly curious is that I often wonder where the ‘good’ deities disappear to in the Jarvis universe. For instance, if Belial exists, and he was fallen from heaven – then I’m curious: where are God and the angels in the midst of all this danger and despair?

It certainly ratchets up the stakes in Jarvis stories by having a disappearing spiritual figure (for instance, the Green Mouse just isn’t around when the times are at their worst). But it’s a rather bleak view of the world, in some ways. I always feel as if Jarvis’ characters are spiritually abandoned – at the mercy of demonic forces that want to destroy them on the one hand, but with no higher power on the other side that can step into help when they need it most.

Or is this the underlying theme of the entire Jarvis universe? Don’t wait for Someone to help you. You will need to be brave on your own.

Anyway, that’s starting to sound like a literature assignment, so I’ll leave it there.

The Woven Path | Chapter 19

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

She was beginning to lose control, succumbing to the tantalising waves of violence that now pervaded the atmosphere.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: ‘Angelo returned her gaze and smiled. All he wanted to do was hold her and he knew she felt the same.’ Robin, I am going to barf. This isn’t Call the Midwife, and I am not having this wishy-washy wartime romance nonsense in my finale. (Okay, okay, it’s your finale and I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but there had better be a couple more bloodstains in the weave, is all I’m saying.)

That mush aside,  I knew Edie would be all right, I just knew it! Now it seems as if Belial has taken centre stage as the main problem, but there’s still Jean to save and Josh to rescue from the time portal. Will the Chapmans get out of this alive? Will anybody?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: How awful is Ma Stokes? She might just be one of the most aggravating creatures that Robin Jarvis has ever created.

Was almost surprised how confronting the scene was between Ma Stokes and Nazi Kath (that’s her official nickname, isn’t it?). But then once you remember that everyone here is falling under a demonic power of evil, that sort of makes sense.

I also like that the darkness of this encounter is offset by the next scene where Neil finally realises Ted’s true identity. I do like Ted as a character and I’m hoping that there will be a happy ending of some kind for Angelo, Jean, Frank and … well, actually, yes, if Kath is a Nazi, that’s not going to end well, is it?

Hmm … yeah, there’s no way this can have a neat packaged American ending …