Warning: Contains Spoilers!
The vivid glare flashed across Lord Robert’s face. Squinting, he saw within the room innumerable visions of the villainous physicians. Over every surface their fractured likenesses flared, but even as he marvelled, the wonder vanished and all was dark once more.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Some stories come to you at exactly the right time, and for me, Deathscent was one of those. I can remember seeing it on cassette at the library during my Deptford-audiobook-borrowing days, but something stopped me from picking it up then. It might’ve been the grandiose sci-fa blurb, or the disturbingly life-like portrait on the cover, staring wordlessly out with that expression of wistful melancholy even as the CGI flames consumed it, but something about this particular Jarvis offering said ‘avaunt, thou art too young for this as yet’.
Wind forward a few years – I turn fourteen, my reading preferences mature a little, and suddenly eerie Elizabethan aliens courtesy of a writer who is still one of my favourites start to look rather appealing. I knew at the time that I was letting myself in for something special, but could never have guessed that the world of Deathscent would be so formative. It instilled in me a fascination with the Tudor dynasty that I still have today; it persuaded me to appreciate historic manor houses; it introduced me to the folklore and mythology of London, and it, er, made me a goth.
Of all the stories which shaped my teenage years, Deathscent is the one I bring up – with that hint of rueful embarrassment with which most of us refer to our teens – when I tell the story of how I discovered the metal genre. Specifically, gothy, early 2000s folk metal with tacky Renaissance-esque album art, peaky, long-haired band members, and lyrics about decadence, deceit, and of course, death.
It all came about because of my library-borrowing routine. If I was consuming media of my own choice as a young’un, it most likely came from my local library. In a twist of fate so deft that it might have been looped by the Websters themselves, the very first metal album I ever heard was on sale for a tiny sum on the very same day that I finally added Deathscent, in neat new paperback, to my borrowing pile.
For me it was the beginning of a miniature epoch, as I did what a lot of adolescent girls do and transformed from pop-loving, roller-skating kid to melodramatic, lace-gloved teen. (I suppose I was lucky that my internet access was limited at the time, otherwise goodness only knows what dreadful red and black, glitter-adorned web pages fourteen-year-old me might’ve blithely created to broadcast my love for certain eerie Elizabethan aliens who shall at this point remain unnamed.)
Though I’ve long since shed the lace gloves, my enjoyment of Deathscent, and the happy memories associated with it, remain. As well as being an interesting look a new Robiny world with new rules, this part of the Reread will be, for me, a chance to reminisce about a work which influenced me in a multitude of ways, and maybe dust off my portable CD player.
Right, enough reflecting, there’s islands to see and stars to steer by.
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, this is somewhat momentous! This is the very last Robin Jarvis book that I have yet to read. (Well, okay, there is the Almanack which I’m reading one month at a time, but this is the last novel.) I remember finding it at a small bookshop in Melbourne when I was there one weekend for a wedding a long time back, but sadly I never got around to reading it … until now.
Let me pause for a minute and say, what a masterpiece of book design and layout just to start with. It’s the juxtaposition of the ‘Ye Olde Englishness’ of it (the font, the woodcut-like gears, the timelessness of the ink chapter headers) jarringly combined with the unsettling humanoid character on the front, that immediately draws me in. Is he good, evil, or something else? And why does he have a rose?
Then, on the back cover, there is that strange mechanical creature, reminding me a bit of Tik-Tok from Return to Oz, but with an Elizabethan twist.
Then the prologue itself becomes even more intriguing. We know from the blurb that the story is set in some sort of alternative, fantasy England, but the tale seems to begin in the real, historic England we recognise, as two strangers posing as physicians seek to drain something (Her soul? Her essence?) from a dying Queen Elizabeth I.
I have no idea exactly what is going on. Are they from another dimension? Outer space? Will we be told all this anyway?
Whatever it is, this is one of the most unique set-ups that I’ve ever seen for a Jarvis novel, and I’m fascinated to see where it all goes.