The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 11

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Do you still not know me?’ the voice asked.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter is, well, cheeky. I appreciate it for its clever commentary of belief and the overlaps between Christianity and Norse Paganism, and just the sheer impertinent glee of having Wotan, the Gallows God, pose next to a cenotaph, but I can imagine offence being taken in less forgiving circles when this came out in the early 90s.

One detail I thought was interesting about the interaction between Reverend Galloway (nice one, Robin, just got that) and the Allfather, is that it has a distinct and disturbing cult-like flare. Peter is as incapacitated and downcast as he’s ever likely to get, and Wotan accosts him at his lowest point and proceeds to tell him exactly what he needs to hear in the moment. I sometimes worry about the research Mr Jarvis must’ve had to do to come up with scenes like this. I just hope it didn’t involve automobile theft or wandering in the rain until 2AM!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And here it is – Peter Galloway gets drawn into the Allfather’s deceitfulness and begins his journey to Glastonbury.

This reminds me a great deal of a concept from the Dancing Jax series, but in the interests of no spoilers, I’ll come back to that later in the year.

But I am curious as to how this plays out. One thing that Mr Jarvis has planted here both for Peter and his readers is the obvious idea that it’s possible the whole Jesus story was just a re-written version of a Norse myth about a man who was nailed to a tree in order to become divine.

I won’t get into the arguments on that one, but I’m curious how this story might affect Peter further down the track. I can’t see things going well for him, but if he does come to his senses and realise he has been deceived, will he have any faith left? Or will all gods be reduced to the manipulative power-grabbers that we have seen so far in this trilogy?

We’ll have to keep reading to find out!

Finally, a little note on locations – this chapter mentions Peter walking along the Roman Road, which I remember distinctly from my first day in London. So I had a look on a map and discovered that Victoria Park Square, where the car-jacking occurs is actually a park I’ve been to: it’s located right outside the Museum of Childhood, which I’ve mentioned on other occasions. Which is just up from the Bethnal Green Underground station.

See, when I was walking along Roman Road, I was just looking for drinkable coffee. Sounds like Mr Jarvis went for a walk there one day and saw many things that I didn’t!

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 10

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Yet from the dangers which lay ahead, only one of them ever returned alive.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Even though we know it’s probably all a swizz and Wotan is up to some trickery or other, we sort of can’t help but cheer for Miss Veronica in this chapter. Captain or no Captain, the message from Thought has finally given her the gumption to extricate herself from Ursula’s control, and personally I’m pleased for her. Why shouldn’t she and Edie go on a train journey to Glastonbury? If the signs are correct, the world is hurtling toward Ragnarok anyway. Let Veronica experience some of the outside world, even if it ends in disaster.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I think what I enjoy most about this romp through Norse mythology is the level of very grown-up emotions that Mr Jarvis has brought to the table. While it would be interesting to know more of the details about the Allfather back when he was the Captain and what happened and why he nailed himself to the tree, this is background detail.

What is much more potent is the emotional current here – centuries of bitterness towards Ursula, sadness at the aging process, mourning her lost love – all this Veronica has endured, barely suppressed beneath her senility.

So now she heads out on her fool’s errand to Glastonbury, accompanied by Edie. As soon as she steps out of the door, we have a feeling that this can’t go well. We don’t really need him to say it, but just to confirm our hunches extra quickly the Voice of the Author lays out the ultimate foreshadowing in the final sentence – ‘only one of them ever returned alive’. It feels like a Shakespearean tragedy, doesn’t it?

What’s striking about all of this is that we’ve been given all the internal feelings of the characters, but not enough information to draw a black and white Right / Wrong conclusion about the whole thing. Was Ursula really evil in her past deeds or were they necessary under the circumstances? What are the Captain’s motives? All is grey.

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 9

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘That site is like a great psychic sponge.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Neil’s words about belief at the start of this chapter are a small moment, but worth noticing. He has had everything he knows about the world fundamentally challenged by his journey into the past, and it’s very understandable that he might say ‘you can’t believe in one thing and not in the other.’

This also harks back to what Matt has said over the series so far, that there seems to be a lack of a balancing ‘good’ power to look out for our young protagonists in the midst of all the devils and despair. In the Whitby Witches and Witching Legacy, the Lords of the Deep and Dark might have been very terrible, but St Hilda or Irl or the Mother were there to balance them out. Who has Neil got in his corner? A trio of mythic semi-goddesses who would readily sacrifice his life for their grand ends, and his useless father. He hasn’t even got Ted any more – no wonder he’s hankering to believe in something benevolent.

Benevolence seems far away however, with the introduction of Austen Pickering (excellent name!) There’s definitely something shifty about this guy, anorak and soulless glasses aside. Like Tommy, there’s an indication that he is not all he seems, but unlike Tommy, Mr Pickering has a decidedly malevolent aura. I already know who he is, but like the museum itself, I’m keeping that secret.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: So I’ve no idea what we’ve got here with Austen Pickering. Is it the Allfather in disguise? After all, it’s pretty easy to nick Austen from Jane Austen and Pickering maybe from Colonel Pickering in Pygmalion / My Fair Lady.

Or maybe we have got an extra character of a ghost hunter thrown into the mix? (Which would just make things even more interesting.)

It doesn’t really matter to me. Each crazy little incident like this just serves to add to the atmosphere of the Wyrd Museum and draws me more into the story. Now I wish there really was a Wyrd Museum in London.

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 8

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Evil is many things … but it is never “crazy”. It always knows precisely what it is doing.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  I kind of want to hug Aidan. In the midst of all the dooooom (I’m just going to keep on with that, so jolly well get used to it) he’s rather like a friendly lantern, guiding our heroines toward the one thing that might keep their ancient sanctuary from being utterly destroyed. Like Alice Boston before him, Aidan is enigmatic but generally trustworthy, exuding an air of honourable stoicism that seems to say ‘Don’t worry, we’ll all be going home for jam and pancakes after this.’

As well as the Wyrd Museum plotline and that of Glastonbury finally beginning to blend together, we also encounter further secrets from the sisters’ past. Evidently, it is Wotan who hung for nine nights and on the tenth became immortal, but what relation do the sisters have to him, if not as bitter enemies?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, it wasn’t Aidan Turner, but I do look forward to seeing what role the Aidan in this book plays as the story unfurls.

I remember Aufwader describing this series to me as either ‘grand’ or ‘majestic’ – I forget which it was, but both of them apply. I can’t explain exactly why it works so well, but the expansiveness of the old Norse mythology gives a huge sweep to the background story. But also, there are really well thought-out character moments that work on top of the myth.

So for me, the highlight of the book was the confrontation between Ursula and Veronica. We don’t completely understand all the details except that Ursula seems to have done something dreadful to Veronica’s old lover, who I think is the Allfather we’ve met so far. Again, my ignorance of Norse legend is showing.

But what works is that it’s at one level mythological back story but at the same time it’s a deeply held animosity between two sisters that is playing out. It’s highly personal and panoramic at the same time.

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 7

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The black rod was glimmering.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now we get the cover painting in action and see what mysterious gift was bestowed upon Verdandi. Not having read this series for a good while, I had forgotten how the Websters get to Glastonbury, so the revelation of the ‘measure’ was just as magical to me this time around as it was when I first read it, many long ages ago.

It’s also nice to see a cameo by Brian Chapman and Josh in this chapter. I did wonder what Neil’s dad might make of the Separate Collection sprouting a forest from its walls. I would of course love for Brian to cotton on to the supernatural shenanigans taking place around his ears, pull through as the kind of modest hero Mr Jarvis writes so well, and have a hand in saving the museum from what Edie would refer to as ‘dooooooom’, but I feel there may be a bit of a wait there.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Not a lot to say about this chapter except that, of course, we are to find the Artifact – there’s usually one in every Jarvis trilogy somewhere – that our heroes need to find to put everything right. What it is, where it is, who knows.

Part of me is hoping it will be a Thor hammer, but that might be just a bit too obvious and I’m not sure the mythology works out that way.

I also had a chuckle over the Websters calling out to their external helper. It was never meant to be a funny scene, but knowing the popularity of Poldark with a certain female age demographic, the idea of three old ladies in a sitting room calling out for ‘Aidan’ just struck me as funny.

Sorry, Mr Jarvis, I know it’s deadly serious and I won’t crack that joke again … well, at least not for the next couple of chapters.

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 6

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

There, with a shred of violet paper still clinging to one of its legs was the most outlandish doll that Lauren had ever seen.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh I love the Glastonbury setting! Stories of rural horror and supernatural doings are some of my favourite things ever, and what better place for fear and woe to stalk the night than in a historic town on the ghostly Somerset Levels. This part of the trilogy has Alan Garner and Susan Cooper all over it, and honestly if Mr Jarvis had just decided to write about Lauren and old Tommy solving pastoral mysteries, I wouldn’t have minded at all.

Speaking of Lauren, here’s the elder sister of every Dancing Jax teen, and an excellent example she is to those who will follow. She’s definitely one of those ‘deserves better’ sort of characters, and I can only hope that she’ll survive whatever darkness is coming to the Tor. It’s also worth noting that we have the first of two Sheilas here, another echo from the future of Robin Jarvis canon.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s always a difficult thing meeting new characters in the second book of a series when you’ve gotten used to all the characters from the first book. There’s a sense in which you’ve got less patience for meeting new characters and just want to get on with the ones that you know and love. (Or is that just me?)

But I’m enjoying this group of secondary characters – who may well go on to become primary characters as the story progresses. Lauren’s character is great, especially since she instantly resonates, as the victim of body-shaming and bullying. But also because she humorously undercuts Robin’s dramatic mystical prose.

I love the passage where Robin has spent several paragraphs describing the mystical appeal of Glastonbury Tor and the village. And then he throws in that single sentence: ‘Lauren hated it.’ Best line in the whole chapter.

Now, Tommy – interesting character this one. Is he as simple as he appears? Is he an innocent sort of person like Twit? Or is he someone / something more unknowable like Bauchan? I’m not sure yet, but if his intended purpose was to make me freak out about Glastonbury after dark, he has succeeded very well.

Finally, Sheila is also enigmatic. Clearly, Lauren doesn’t like her, but she (and therefore we) can’t put her finger on why. Is this just background detail? Or is there going to be more to her character as well? And after Chapter 3 and the introduction of Thought, surely nothing good can come of a doll that looks like a crow, right?

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 5

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The World Tree was injured and we did not know how to heal it.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I like that Edie is gaining steadily more voice as this series progresses. Last book she was more of an emblem than a character – she was the ghost’s protector, Neil’s clue, the Webster’s promised heir, but a bit lacking in personality. Here, however, she has had the chance to reveal some of her own traits beyond being a waifish symbol of legend.

We now know that the Wyrd Museum holds no terror for her; what Neil and his family find peculiar or sinister, she delights in. She feels at home with the Websters and the prospect of living with them is for her an inviting adventure, rather than a death sentence. Finally, and most tellingly, she seems to have inherited some of the commanding traits of Miss Ursula. ‘I thought you were here to look after us,’ Celandine says, and maybe that is still the case, though she cannot yet see it.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This might just be the most elaborate back story that Mr Jarvis has ever set up for one of his stories. I really appreciate his ability to juggle three things simultaneously in this chapter:

  1. Explain more of the past events that have led to where we are now.
  2. Give us even more particular details that make Veronica, Ursula, Celandine and Edie unique characters. (This is trickier than it looks – the three sisters could easily become interchangeable in the hands of less competent writer!)
  3. Leave enough questions that we’re curious and wanting to read more!

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 4

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Peter ripped open his cassock to reveal a full length black leotard.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: From theatrical fantasy to bleak mundanity, as Neil finds out that even if you travel back in time through a vortex of doom with a talking teddy-bear to rescue your kid brother, survive air raids, dance with fate, and defeat ravaging demons, you still have to wake up the next morning and go to school.

Apologies for mentioning late 90s/early 2000s YA in as many consecutive posts, but I could not help but be reminded of The Saga of Darren Shan in this chapter. In the eighth instalment of that venerable series, the hero, having faced countless horrors both alive and undead and been crowned a vampire prince, finds, for plot reasons that currently evade me, that he has to return to school.

It’s a sharp contrast to the seven books of supernatural drama that preceded it, and, like Neil, Darren struggles to reconcile the fantastical world he has grown accustomed to with that of grey, 21st Century reality. (Not to get deep, but I’m imagining that this might be something that both Mr Jarvis’s and Mr Shan’s readers might have empathised with. Being ten is basically rubbish – when you’re done getting lost in the Wyrd Museum and fighting off Belial, you too have to go to school!)

Here, also, are shadows of the Dancing Jacks to come. Neil’s discontent with the boring, grey ordinariness of his world, the dismal English comprehensive setting, the caricature teachers, the mockery of overzealous belief, it’s all there. ‘Now the real, normal world seemed pale and unimportant by comparison’ boy oh boy, could any of us have guessed that such sentiments would come up a full decade later, in a far more ominous context?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Not having read this book before, I was fascinated by the wild-eyed curly-haired guy in the illustration and I was assuming that this would be the person that the Allfather was talking about in the previous chapter.

But I was not expecting the chapter to go like this!

First off, school. This is the first time in the Robin Jarvis worlds so far where something as mundane as school has presented itself. But then again, that’s the whole point. In the same way that Neil was sucked into a fantastical adventure that took him out of the real world, so too were we the readers thrown into that journey.

So therefore it’s as much a shock to our sensibilities as it is to Neil.

But nothing conveys shock so much as the scene with Reverend Galloway. As a Christian myself, there is always a slight moment of inner cringe that I get from reading descriptions like this, but at the same time there is an element of truth to this that Mr Jarvis has nailed very well.

Apart from the leotard, I’m pretty sure I’ve sat through several gore-filled crucifixion talks in my time as well. And as we’re entering a period where many older traditional forms of Christianity are on the wane – I’m looking at you, Anglicans and Presbyterians – a certain sense of desperation and looking for a successful ‘strike rate’ can easily set in.

In fact, the realism of the illustration at the beginning of the chapter and the attention to detail actually does make me wonder whether this entire chapter has been lifted from an awkward school assembly that Robin had to sit through at some stage in his life.

But the sinister side of it is clear for us as readers – a Reverend who believes angels might take on other forms, desperate for some sort of way to influence young people. Perfectly gullible person to be tricked into leading a dark army in Glastonbury, right? I think this book is going to be full on …

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 3

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I charge you by your ancient names – Thought and Memory.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I love the introduction of the Wotan here. Mr Jarvis is always very free and creative with artistic licence when it comes to mythology, and if this showed with the Websters, it shows even moreso with the Allfather and his motley henchraven. I’ve rarely ever seen this deity portrayed in so sinister and furtive a manner, especially in a middle-grade novel.

The closest I can think of in terms of comparison would be Melvin Burgess’s Bloodtide, a somewhat traumatic YA dystopia from 1999 over which the Norse pantheon hangs as if from meathooks, but even that didn’t really feature the Allfather in a villainous role. Help me out here, guys. Are there other MG or YA examples of not-especially-noble Odin that you know?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I hadn’t expected to get the king of the gods, Odin (or the Allfather as they call him in this chapter) quite so fast! I’m also feeling like I ought to be reading the Prose Edda or something just to keep up with all of this.

But all thoughts of what I should be reading can be shoved aside as extra guilt inducement. The fact is that Mr Jarvis’ take on this mythology works quite well whether you know the basis for the story or you don’t. (After all, do many of the Marvel Universe fans go tracking down this stuff to watch the latest Thor movie? I don’t think so.)

The thing that is interesting, though, is that coming from the Wagnerian take on the myth in Ring Cycle, I’m used to Wotan (as Odin is known there) being quite a noble character – he’s certainly given the most noble music. But having him as the villain of the piece, with an evil raven for a henchman is quite a different take.

Or is this like Thomas where all is not quite as it seems? We’ve seen the manipulative side of the Webster sisters, sending Neil and Ted back in time just so that they could get Edie.

(Actually, question here – is there a reason why the Websters, who seem to be outside of time, couldn’t just go set up the vortex themselves and have popped back to the 1940s to get Edie? Or is this a time paradox where they knew Belial would be a problem and so therefore Ted and Neil had to be sent back to deal with Belial – the paradox being that Belial wouldn’t have been there if Ted and Neil hadn’t gone there? That book somewhat tied me in knots …)

But, back to my main point, the Websters seem to very much think the end justifies the means, so are they really to be trusted much more than the Allfather on the other side? I’ll be interested to see how this plays out.

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 2

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘We are in the presence of the last vestige of the legendary World Tree- Yggdrasill.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The scene where Miss Veronica attempts to recall her former life really serves to bring home the story that Miss Ursula was telling Edie in a personal, and rather tragic, way. What was the ‘something’ that Veronica felt compelled to do as Verdandi, those many ages ago? Since this is Veronica’s book, I have no doubt that we will shortly find out.

I have to say that I envy Matt a little, getting to read this trilogy for the first time. At this point I’ve become so accustomed to the Websters really being the age-old Nornir that Miss Ursula’s grim reveals about ice giants and Yggdrasill and the fall of Askar have begun to feel somewhat like ancient history. On rereading this series, I was actually quite surprised by how little is revealed about the sisters in The Woven Path – Mr Jarvis does like to make his readers wait for clues, and that’s no bad thing.

What about our readers? Are any of you new Edies, listening in awe as Miss Ursula recounts the völva in dramatic and personal terms? Or are we all old hands who first stood beneath the World Tree?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: The root of a giant tree is fairly self-explanatory, and the back story of the ice giants and their bridge is awesome. I feel pretty sure we’re going to have a showdown with those characters at some stage – whether in this book or the next one, I’m not sure. Also, I’m now more curious about the three sisters. In the first book, they sort of appear to manipulate events, but they’re a bit hard to like.

But now we’re starting to see a more personal side to them and realise that there are clearly some murky tales in their past that will all be brought up as the story goes forward. For some reason, I don’t feel that this book will be anywhere near as friendly to its readers as the last one. (And I didn’t think Woven Path was particularly reader-friendly either!)

However, the part that caught my attention – and hopefully that of most eagle-eyed Jarvis fans – was the mention of the carving of the ‘monstrous serpents’ on the wall. We’ve now got a mention of a serpent in the Deptford universe (with a whole cult built around it), the Whitby universe (which is built on top of a giant serpent) and now the Wyrd Museum.

Who’s not excited about that?