Deathscent | The Balm Trader

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Brindle’s eye glittered over him. ‘It is the breath of innocence,’ he answered gently. ‘When I dip into this beguilement, the burden of my tormenting guilt is lifted. Oh, I could live my life in this garden and never once yearn for home or kin.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: For me this is the most memorable and affecting chapter in this book, and one of my favourites in all Robin Jarvis canon. Nothing especially momentous happens, plot-wise – Brindle, who we now know is our Mr Eerie Elizabethan Alien from the cover, just kind of stumbles around Malmes-Wutton, sniffing the tapestries and being adorably amazed at everything he comes across. The impact of this chapter, at least to my mind, comes from the way he does these things.

It’s been established that Brindle is of a planet and people in some ways more sophisticated than the folk of the Uplifted Isles. His holographic, aerodynamic ‘nightboat’ is like something out of a 1950s sci-fi serial, as opposed to the floating wooden barges our human characters are used to. His ‘torc’ is really just a fancy portable translator, commonplace to us in the 21st Century, but a marvel to the beatified Elizabethans. Finally, his way of seeing the world (or worlds) is by nature more complex, if all his  senses besides scent are merely ‘complimentary.’

Yet despite all this, our Iribian visitor never once looks down on Malmes-Wutton. He doesn’t sneer at Mistress Dritchly for her rudimentary, rural medical skills, nor does he turn up his tremendous nose at the ageing, shabby Lord Richard. Best of all, he treats Adam and Henry, the young protagonists, as equals. It appears that Brindle’s default responses, stranded in an unfamiliar place and injured, are compassion, respect, and a childlike curiosity. A bona fide alien he may be, but he evidently comes in peace, at least for the moment.

Unfortunately, all this wiffly-waffly, whole-new-world business means we get to like Brindle rather quickly. It might be bias talking, but I say you’ve all hearts of stone if you aren’t even a little moved by that speech he gives about the roses, lying in the soggy grass while Adam looks on in amused bafflement. Alas, those of us who are accustomed to reading between the lines of Robin’s elegant, historically-accurate dialogue will spot those mentions of ‘damnation’ and ‘memory of wrong’ immediately. For now we may enjoy the roses, but we’d best watch out for the thorns.


Matt’s Thoughts: I can understand perhaps why this novel has never been as widely talked about in Jarvis circles. Relative to his other books, we’d be knee-deep in danger and suspense by now, but – apart from Old Scratch and the sabotaged mechanical horse – things are relatively calm.

But I, for one, am thoroughly enjoying the detail of this book. Mr Jarvis has always had a way with words and they rise to a new level of beauty and detail in the descriptions of Brindle and the way he perceives the world by scent. The scene in the rose garden was particularly memorable and – again, given everything the title suggests – I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

It also appears that I may be closer to having an answer about the food and where that came from! But that sounds like it will be revealed in the next chapter…

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