Warning: Contains Spoilers!
On the shore of the Thames, Adam o’ the Cogs bowed his head.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Are you all ready? No? You’re still so emotionally dismantled over this finale you can barely read this post through your tears? I can relate, and it doesn’t get any easier on reread. Sorry in advance for making it worse by suggesting this piece by Chesnokov as a soundtrack.
Back to Iribians, and Special Ambassadors, and gardens of paradise, and falling from grace.
I think more than any other book on this project, Deathscent invites rereading; not just for enjoyment (if indeed we could ever be said to ‘enjoy’ the most recent chapters), but also for re-examination of its themes and motifs. I’ve been saying, quietly but for a long time, that it is Mr Jarvis’ best work to date, and a lot of why I feel that way is due to how this book reveals and reveals itself, a bit like when art conservators X-ray Old Masters paintings and find alternative poses and colours beneath the finished piece.
The first part of this lies in the series title: Intrigues of the Reflected Realm. In the prologue, we get a hint as to what the ‘reflected’ aspect of that might mean for the series universe as a whole – Bosco-Uttwar and Arvel make their escape through what appears to be a portal activated by a mirror, and, in the scintillating refractions, flee the original Elizabethan England. Since this event never comes up again, we can only assume that it would have had some significance in the following, unpublished, books.
However, there is another reflection at the heart of Deathscent. Brindle, a lone visitor stranded by circumstance, is a mirroring of the people of the Uplifted Isles.
Consider the duality of the Elizabethan age; the strength of belief in deliverance through faith and good works, the embracing of Enlightenment thinking, the atmosphere of discovery and exploration. All standing side-by-side with insular dogma, persecution and oppression, war-making, and unspeakable violence.
Just as Brindle seeks deliverance from his guilt and the guilt of his people, so do the Elizabethans turn to God, and the event of what they believe to be Beatification, as evidence that they can overcome Original Sin. On the face of it, the finale tells us that since Brindle managed to find absolution, so too may the Elizabethans. But is that truly possible?
This ‘reflecting’ of the people of the Uplifted Realm through Brindle forces us to ask: who gets to be forgiven, and where does that forgiveness come from? In Part Two, Mistress Dritchly comments that the England she remembers from before the Beatification was ‘a wicked place, overflowing with sin’. True, Malmes-Wutton is in some ways like its own little garden of paradise, cut off in blissful ignorance from the rest of Englandia. But outside its small environs, it’s quite clear that there is little difference between the new Isles and the England of old. Before we even get to London, Thomas Herrick demonstrates that vanity and greed still exist, while Clink Kitson shows us in no uncertain terms that crime and violence are still very much a part of life.
The presence of evil in an apparently divinely-ordained world is of course made clear by the reveal in this chapter: the Uplifted Isles are no Godly design, but a rotting pleasure garden built by a massacred alien species.
What does that then say about the Uplifted Realm’s relationship to the divine? With that reveal, God has effectively abandoned Englandia (there’s a Protestant Reformation reference in there too if you can spot it) and the people of the Uplifted Isles are no more holy, nor protected, than their old-world counterparts. In losing the Special Ambassadors, the people of the Uplifted Isles had their own Fall orchestrated for them, and they must now spend the rest of their artificially-lengthened lives searching for the grace they have lost.
So, where is their deliverance going to come from, if neither God nor alien guides can help them? Brindle’s character arc, reflecting the journey of Englandia since the Beatification, would suggest that absolution must come from within. It must come from the belief by those we love that we are worthy of saving, and from a measure of trying in the whole business of rising above the pull of violence.
That Adam survives the finale gives us (in theory, ignoring for the moment the Iribian fleet headed right for Englandia) a modicum of hope for the future. Furnished with his new knowledge about the Special Ambassadors and his curiosity about the workings of his world, perhaps our young hero will be the one to usher in a new Enlightenment for the Uplifted Isles. The folk of Englandia may never regain their innocent belief in their ‘chosen’ status, but perhaps the knowledge of how their world was really created will be the very thing that saves them.
In conclusion, ‘Reflected Realm’ means more than a bit of fancy work with mirrors, Englandia is mostly doomed, and Adam is very aptly named. I love Deathscent, it’s complex without condescension and effortlessly poignant, and I really wish people would stop asking about the sequels because it stands alone as a work of underappreciated art.
Thank you and good night.
Matt’s Thoughts: This is probably one of the greatest Jarvis finales of all time. First off, you can tell a good finale because all sense of the words and it being a book just disappear. I was seeing the whole thing play out in full colour and reality around me. You can’t help it, what with the breathless cinematic finale, the giant Gog statue, the Torture Master, the fire, nightboats being sucked into space…
But above all of this is something even more fascinating – redemption. Whenever the monster has been dispatched and our heroes regather their shattered selves, we normally feel a great relief. But Brindle’s final return to heroism and goodness – even though there was no way he could really survive – was utterly moving. The slow-burn beginning and the care and detail used to establish the characters all paid off in this last chapter. It was immensely moving and sad but also utterly satisfying as well.
In fact, it was so grand and tragic, it reminded me a bit of the Evanescence + Orchestra concert I went to earlier in the year …I’m still not sure if liking this track writes me off as Hopelessly Tacky, but I don’t care!