Deathscent | O Mistress Mine

b_0002 copyWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The two mannequins began to play. The sound, however, was horrible to hear, for although the lutanist was performing the desired melody, the recorder player had launched into O Mistress Mine for the fifth time. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a lot of fascinating juxtaposition going on in the first half of this chapter. We have the comedic ruckus of the malfunctioning mechanical musicians contrasted with the extra-serious discussion of political alliances and impending war going on at Lord Richard’s table; but we also have the shabby, bygone sorriness of Malmes-Wutton placed against the sumptuous wealth and grandeur of the emissaries from Elizabeth I’s court.

There’s also an emphasis on the clear divide between the aristocracy, and craftspeople such as Edwin Dritchly. One, born into grand titles, commands battles to be fought and maneuvers courtiers to their liking. The other, despite being highly skilled, has no say at all in where or how they work. Richard Wutton, nobly born but at the mercy of those in power, is an interesting middle-ground between these, and we can’t help but feel for him as he gets thoroughly trounced once again by the Queen’s will.

Then, that wealth and grandeur we saw in the form of the mechanical steeds the visitors brought with them shows it’s true, darker nature. Having got to know Master Dritchly over the last chapter (and, more importantly perhaps, having understood that Adam, Henry, and Jack, our young protagonists, look to him as a paternal figure and share something like familial bonds with him) we instantly feel the emotional horror of his sudden and violent demise.

Master Dritchly’s death, again in contrast to the comedy of the wayward musicians just a few pages before, also illustrates the most looming and ominous problem of a world with such sophisticated technology. What happens when the mechanicals, through innocent ichor imbalance or more sinister intervention, decide to disobey?


Matt’s Thoughts: There were many intriguing aspects to this chapter, but the one that grabbed me the most was the food. If there are no animals except mechanical ones, where did the spiced chicken come from in the pastries? Or the mutton?

It’s tantalising details like this that make the whole concept of this book so fascinating. Also, loving all the mechanicals. I can’t remember if steampunk was as much a thing back in the early 2000s as it is now, but this a fantastic use of it. (Or it it the other way around, that steampunk was huge in the early 2000s and less prominent now? I’m not up on my subcultures!)

But a recreation of the English-French-Spanish wars with clockwork animals and weapons is a fantastic concept before we’ve even got there. (Even assuming that’s the direction this plot takes!) It does sound very much as if something strange is taking over the mechanicals to sabotage the English plan, but who? How?

Deathscent | Adam o’ the Cogs

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Yet the eyes which peered across the yard were lenses of polished glass set into a roughly carved wooden head, for Old Temperance was not a living creature. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I love that practically everything about the island of Malmes-Wutton is a good-natured roast of olde worlde historicale fantasye. A charming, orphaned apprentice tries and fails to catch a pig in the rolling grounds of a venerable stately home while the summer sun casts everything in the timeless glow of legend. Except, the apprentice has no ambitions of heroism, the pig is made of wood and disgruntlement, and the name of the stately home is a groan-worthy pun. Even the summer sky is false, devoid of romance, if not of mystery. (I’m sensing an Age of Enlightenment joke in all of this, but I won’t be the one to make it.)

My favourite thing in this chapter – apart from the mental image of actual Sir Francis Walsingham and actual Doctor John Dee sailing through outer space in a customised barge – is that Robin has taken the quintessentially Elizabethan concept of humouralism and made it literal in a wonderfully creative way. It’s interesting enough to incorporate the Four Humours into a fantasy setting at all, but to have them as part of a larger, really quite complex bit of worldbuilding, such as Motive Science is, strikes me as something special. I’m struggling to think of authors or other creators who have devised any such similar system for powering their clockwork characters, and I look forward to seeing this unique approach explored further.


Matt’s Thoughts: It’s always a strange thing, being in that part of a new sci-fi or fantasy book where the exact rules of the game haven’t been set down yet. So where exactly is this realm of Englandia located? Is it floating in space in the universe that we know? Somewhere else?

How come they could get humans to live but not living animals? Or are the humans all living?

And this is on top of the broader mystery of who are all these men (some of whom are actual historical figures) and how does that tie in with Lord Richard Wutton? Is Adam to be the hero of this story?

My hat is off to the copywriter who wrote the back cover copy on this one. I won’t reproduce it here because we’ve all seen it, but it is brilliant because it really doesn’t tell us anything much at all. So once again I find myself in the delightful hands of Robin Jarvis’ storytelling, with no idea of how all this will unfold. Can’t wait!

Deathscent | Prologue

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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.