Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘I don’t want to see your face ever again – I’m sick of the sight of you! I hate you! I wish you’d never been born!’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I mentioned before that it was good to see Whortle’s friends rallying around him, but it’s even better to know that one among them actually believes his stories about the water voles and journeying into the past.
In the original trilogy, we never really had this problem because the supernatural threat was right there from the very beginning – it’s not a question of believing in Jupiter when his henchrats are trying to peel your face off! This book, however, has that classic theme of Young Protagonist Tries And Fails To Convince Everyone Else That The Magic Is Real And Dangerous, Guys. So, in the spirit of that, I did breathe a sigh of relief when Sammy seemed to take Whortle seriously.
On a less pleasant note, there’s that scene with Jenkin. This would be very mysterious to a new reader, but we know his grief is Isaac Nettle’s doing. Even in a series for younger readers, Robin has brought a deal of humanity to his mice, and this also extends to having Jenkin parrot what he has evidently heard fairly often from his father. It’s quite painful to read, and therefore highly effective – moment of adult tragedy that cannot be solved or made better with magic.
Matt’s Thoughts: A subtle but effective chapter here. First, there’s the cameo from Twit, getting just a passing mention from the perspective of our ‘main’ characters, but a reminder to all of us that he will do far more brave and heroic things than anyone could imagine.
It does make you wonder, who do we barely notice that would turn out to be great value in tough circumstances? Are we overlooking the everyday heroes amongst us?
But easily the most heartbreaking moment is the encounter with Jenkin. This is a very understated but strong way to introduce young readers to the idea of abuse and its consequences. (And this idea is carried even further in the next chapter.) Suffering at the hands of his father, Jenkin doesn’t act in an immediately likable way – he instead becomes more spiky, increasing his isolation from those who might be able to help him.
We knew from The Crystal Prison what Isaac Nettle was like, but this chapter gives us a view of that relationship and its impact on Jenkin that amplifies this even more. On the whole, I’m fascinated by how this book increases the overall character world of Fennywolde, even while being at heart a story about a kid trying to win an athletics competition by day and having strange encounters at night.