Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 8

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Standing by the entrance of her tent, Madame Akkikuyu was trembling. She had done many foul and heinous deeds in the past, but this was one of the worst. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The thing about the Deptford universe being so developed is that there’s always going to be those moments where you look at what happened in the original trilogy and slot yet another tragic detail to yet another tragic character’s backstory. In this case, it’s now abundantly clear how Madame Akkikuyu, hardened ratwitch, ended up so moved by Audrey. If Akkikuyu never attended Firstblood that year, she never saw the outcome of Fleabee’s fortune, and the guilt over sending a young rat to her death must have been gnawing at her ever since.

This is a parallel to Thomas, who sees Woodget in Twit, but not in a way that is any good for either mouse. Just as the guilt of Woodget’s ‘death’ is a worse punishment for the midshipmouse than if he had died on his Scalian adventures, Madame Akkikuyu ends up dwelling on Audrey and, in her unhinged state in The Crystal Prison, putting her on a pedestal in some ways. Now we understand the origin of that guilt – Akkikuyu sees hapless, innocent Fleabee, the ratling she believes she killed, in Audrey.

Who knows, perhaps Thomas might have had a chance to rescue Twit from something, exorcising his Woodget-shaped demons in the process. But, whether Fleabee survives her book or not, we know that Madame Akkikuyu’s self-forgiveness came in her sacrificing herself for Alison Sedge, who herself took Audrey’s place in Nicodemus’ plans. Still, it doesn’t make the end of this chapter any easier.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’d completely forgotten about Mongolian gerbils as well. But I would agree that chocolate fingers work well in any language.

But the really interesting thing here to me is the mention of Mabb. It reminds me of something that I’d long-forgotten which is that way back when I was first reading The Dark Portal, I had no idea that the Raith Sidhe were actually real. They could have just been an interesting side detail to cause more conflict among the rats between Jupiter-followers and followers of the Three.

It’s not really until the dying Starwife calls Old Barker by his real name – Bauchan – that we as readers realise that there is a whole extra depth to the mythology. There’s not just Jupiter and whatever he is doing. The Old Gods are real. So Jupiter, in taking command of the sewers, did not just take charge of a bunch of rats, he managed to somehow take down their deities at the same time.

By the time we get to The Oaken Throne, we know they’re all real, so when Lord Hobb shows up, it’s no big surprise.

But I’m pretty sure we haven’t had an appearance yet by Mabb, have we?

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 7

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Fleabee frowned. ‘The Three what?’ she asked. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Back to the rat sitcom, but with a mysterious edge to proceedings as Klakkweena and Alf mutter darkly about forbidden this and secret that and ‘them that was here before Him’. I don’t think the identity of ‘them’ escapes any of us here on this project, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what the Raith Sidhe make of Fleabee. As in Audrey’s time, that particular cult is very much alive and thriving down in the Deptford sewers, even if any and all cultish doings have to be undertaken on the sly.

Speaking (quietly) of Hobbery business, did I just spy the name ‘Fletch’ in this chapter? On their way out, do Klakkwenna and Fleabee, in fact, pass Hagnakker, Fletch’s wife? Would that maybe be the very same, the self-same, the one and only Fletch who would be gorily slain in sacrifice upon the altar of Bauchan by One-Eyed Jake in a certain very memorable scene in The Dark Portal? There’s a special irony to Hagnakker’s suspicion over Klakkweena’s doings, considering her very own other half will later end up bleeding out in the name of the Mighty Three.

Lastly, Matt pointed out the creativity in the illustrations for this book last chapter, and I have to agree. We’ve got one-off character portraits, double-page spreads, vertical ladders scurrying up the side of the text, and, at the end of this chapter, a lovely footer of Fleabee among the tires; gazing up toward the moon, far above at the top of the opposite page. I’m not sure if the empty space between those two illustrations was intentional, but I hope it was, because it really does give the impression of a vast night’s sky.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I will confess, the first time I read this, I did think all the rats were a bit two-dimensional. But rereading it now, I can see that there is something under the surface. I wouldn’t call it kindness. They’re not that sort of people. But family loyalty and caring for your bloodline, that sort of thing.

That was probably more a part of their lives before Jupiter came along. So in that moment when Klakkweena and Alf are discussing the most likely demise of Fleabee, this line really hits home: ‘Having been brought up under Jupiter’s harsh regime, neither of them could admit to what they really felt.’

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 6

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The dappled light that shone through the small window above trembled slightly and, as it played over the wooden image, the shadows beneath the cheeks lifted. It was as if ‘Orace had smiled at her. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m intrigued at the unspoken balance between Robiny deities here. Before the Dark Portal, Fleabee is just as affected by the bloodlust as her fellow ratlings; yet, brought to the Chambers of Summer and Winter by chance, the fetters of Jupiter’s evil fall from her as easily as shaking rain from her fur.

There is a sense of two vast powers vying for our heroine’s soul, but although Fleabee seems drawn to ‘Orace Baldmony and his story, she doesn’t exactly fall to her knees in the cellar and start singing Greenie hymns. Things are as yet undecided for her, and it may be that her destiny has nothing to do with Jupiter or the Green. If that is the case, whoever really has claim on her had better hurry up – we’re halfway through the book, and Firstblood is hoving into view.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: First, I must mention the first illustration in this chapter which is spread across two pages. I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen a double-page spread from Mr Jarvis, and I love the scope it gives to the sewer tunnels.

But what will ultimately stick to me in this chapter is the sad irony which again I must have missed on my first time reading this a few years ago. First off, the beautiful scene with the wooden carving of ‘Orace followed by a small cameo by Albert Brown, one character I would have loved to have seen more of, if he’d made it. ‘There’s no hideous rats down there and never will be neither – I promise,’ he says.

Tragically, we know better than that.

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 5

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The crimson eyes flashed in the portal and with that, their fears were forgotten. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Ah, what a heartwarming chapter. So nice to see the rats of Deptford bringing up their young’uns proper, teaching them their bad manners and putting the fear of Jupiter into them at a suitably formative age. It brings a tear to my eye to see those wan little milksops turn to the path of tooth and claw so readily, ensuring that blood will flow in the underground for another generation. Sure, I’d always rather they turned to Sarpedon the Mighty, but it makes me proud all the same.

Speaking of blood flowing in the underground, it occurred to me that the infamous ‘bloodlust’ which Morgan brings to the City rats in The Final Reckoning was maybe more than just metaphor. Perhaps, having been so saturated for so long in Jupiter’s malevolence, Morgan unwittingly acquired a smidgeon of his Lord’s mesmeric power? It’s one explanation for the sudden and dramatic change in the City rats, anyway.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I love that this chapter – in true non-spoilery fashion – doesn’t give you any hint of Jupiter’s true nature but if you do know all about Jupiter, then it’s extra thrilling.

You get the idea that it’s not just sheer force of personality that made Jupiter become God of the Rats. He has a dark, malevolent streak of magic that inspires hatred – it’s compelling stuff.

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 4

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I’ll tell you what that shameful, soap-livered piece of scum did with those mice – he made friends with them!’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I really, really, really, bleedin’, bloomerin’, blitherin’ love Scabmona. I love how she and Fleabee are total opposites, and I love how Robin seems to have such fun writing our heroine’s horrible little sister. If this book were a 90s Saturday morning cartoon for all the little rotters of the sewers, Scabmona would be the star, having increasingly nasty adventures each week and facing down such nefarious always-do-wells as the traitorous ‘Orace Baldmony.

It makes me chortle how the idea of ‘Orace befriending the mice is positively tear-inducing to her – it’s not the killings or the peelings that make this little goblin cry, but that a fine, upstanding rat would go singing and dancing with prissy, goody-goody little mice. Then there’s the part where hardened ratwife Klakkweena describes being summoned before Jupiter for the first time in a traumatised whisper, only for Scabmona to exclaim ‘Can’t wait!’. Same girl, same.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I had completely forgotten the story of ‘Orace in this chapter. That actually explains quite a few things that I hadn’t fully appreciated before:

  • Way back in Chapter 1 of The Dark Portal, Albert Brown was telling Piccadilly about how bad the rats were around Deptford, and Piccadilly was quite skeptical of this. But now if we know there was a story passed down to the mice (if not in living memory of people like Master Oldnose) of a massacre caused by a bad friendship with a rat, that would explain their fear.
  • It also explains the origin of the enchantment on the Grill (with no e, regardless of what the book says!) and why that particular house had a cursed Grill, not all the houses in Deptford alike.
  • It also means that that particular community of mice were always in the back of Jupiter’s mind from a long time back.

And speaking of Jupiter, guess we’ll see him in the next chapter!

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 3

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

There were no words in her clumsy rat vocabulary to describe her first sight of the stars, but tears brimmed in her eyes and she held her breath. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: My favourite moment in this chapter is when Fleabee has that confrontation with the mallard, and Rancid Alf just kind of looks on, knowing that his daughter is saving his skin, but not how. It’s almost as if there’s something supernatural around Fleabee, especially when Alf later says that he doesn’t understand her and never will. As much as her parents always go on about her being an embarrassment, there’s a kind of respect there; an idea that Fleabee might be more than merely odd, that she is different for a reason. Let’s see where that takes us!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: You’ve got to feel sorry for the local wildlife in Jarvis books. We had foxes being picked off in Hagwood and now a troupe of rats having a go at a duck.

However, it all worked out well in the end – just – for the duck. It is also the turning point for Fleabee where we can tell there’s no way she’s going to follow in her parents’ footsteps…

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 2

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I reckon I know what a peeled mouse feels like, except them lucky little beggars only get to be skinned once!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This book is 90% rat sitcom, and I love every second. The arguments between Rancid Alf and Klakkweena are the kind of thing small, Deptford-cassette-listening me was imagining taking place between cultist couples over a decade earlier, and they’re a delightful (or should that be despicable?) antidote to the prim and proper mouse families of the original trilogy.

In terms of behind-the-scenes stuff, this book is notable for being the first since the original trilogy to have a heroine in the limelight. Yes, we had Ysabelle in The Oaken Throne and Edie in the Wyrd Museum books, but they co-starred with the male heroes. We will also have Lil later on, but at this point the Witching Legacy wasn’t due for another twelve years, so Fleabee counts as a break in the pattern. Furthermore, three years after Deathscent, Fleabee deals with a similar conflict: here is another gentle, troubled character, born to murder and bloodshed but not too happy about the prospect of killing things. (It’s amazing what you notice about these books when you read them in order of publication!)

So now we must ask: will Fleabee turn out to be an Audrey in miniature, perhaps not slaying the Unbeest and saving the world, but at least rising above her upbringing? Or is she just as much of a bloody-clawed little heathen as her family, deep down?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And our first crossover characters from The Dark Portal arrive as Vinegar Pete and Leering Macky make a return. Which is a good time to point out that I really enjoyed the cast of characters in this book, with an illustration per character. For instance, I knew Leering Macky was a bit funny-looking, but who knew he had that epic squint? Mr Jarvis’ ability to come up with endless variants on these rat characters is quite impressive.

It’s all good fun, what with flaking scalps, overlong tongues, and ‘runny stuff with chewy lumps’, but we’ll see what happens in the great outdoors.