Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 12

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Remember always,’ the water vole said as he replaced the brass around the fieldmouse’s neck. ‘Travel your own best way, in all things, Master Nep.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter almost feels as if we’re back in Hagwood, with the shapechanging and the mastering of new skills in tune with nature. It makes me wonder whether whatever power dwells within the werlings might have some relation to the power of the Green, or vice versa. Who’s to say what manner of creatures Virianna might have met in her long life, after all…

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s almost like a small interlude, this chapter, as we experience the joy of Whortle’s swimming lesson. I have been wondering about the spirit of the Glinty Water. Not remembering how this book plays out, I’m wondering whether it’s something along the lines of the Undine that we encountered in The Wyrd Museum series?

Whatever it is, it’s a reminder that whatever mysterious and magical creatures you find yourself encountering in a Jarvis book, there are always older and more mysterious creatures that have been around for centuries longer again. All just biding their time.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 11

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Alison wanted to say that she would go with him, but she held back. The moment passed and she was to regret it for the rest of her life. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What really caught me at the start of this chapter was Whortle joyfully playing in the mist. It’s a small moment, but one laced with sombre foreshadowing – none of the Fennywolders, least of all our young hero, have the slightest inkling of the terrors that mist will hold for them but a few short months later.

We see this grim foreshadowing again when Figgy tells Jenkin that ‘his head could fall off and we wouldn’t care’. It’s really quite grisly considering the manner of Jenkin’s death (and that too will come all too soon). It’s also pretty painful to see Jenkin become so angry over Hodge mocking Isaac Nettle – we know the Nettles will never have a chance for reconciliation and that Mr Nettle will end up a shell of his former self, having lost his son before time without ever really being a proper father to him. Then there’s the business with Alison, which really speaks for itself. Mousey soap opera at its finest and most miserable!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Somewhere, amidst all the frivolity of two groups fighting over a raft, a great pall of tragedy lurks. It starts with Whortle and Co being somewhat oblivious to the source of Jenkin’s pain. (Granted, it’s not helped by his own sense of self-blame as well. The moment where he describes his father as ‘better than the lot of you put together’ is heart-rending.)

But the grand irony is that Alison, despite all the damage she will do, actually does understand what’s going on for Jenkin and has a perception that others do not. Good qualities are not doled out equally in the Jarvis universe, with good and bad qualities existing side-by-side in many of his characters. (Except for Twit, who – whatever you may query about his intelligence – is pure sunshine.)

And then, finally, the oath. We’re not saying that this oath necessarily caused the problems of The Crystal Prison – we know too well the source of the issues there – but there’s yet another dose of grim irony that they unwittingly swear a doom upon themselves that actually does transpire in just a few months.

Up Next | Dancing Jax

 

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Hi all, Matt here. It’s with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I announce that we have finally arrived at the beginning of the astonishing Dancing Jax trilogy. Excitement, because I believe that this trilogy – and particularly the second book – is the greatest piece of writing of Mr Jarvis’ career. Trepidation, because I find this trilogy to also be one of the most bleak, traumatic and troubling things that he has ever written. Those two things might sound like a contradiction, but you will understand what I mean as you read.

By way of background, the last thing Robin had written previous to Dancing Jax were the two Deptford Mouselets books, and nothing in those books – or really, anything in the Jarvis canon up till then – prepared his readers for the tonal leap that he took with the Jax series. Writing now for an older teen audience rather than his normal 8-12 age group allowed Robin a freedom to experiment with edgy and potentially controversial material in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in his earlier books.

In the course of a gripping and darkly magical tale, which moves along with the trademark pace, characterisation, and rising intensity we’ve come to expect from a Jarvis novel, the Dancing Jax trilogy also touches on a whole range of topics that are very relevant to the modern world. Belief, morality, religion, control, family, race – it’s all up for discussion in this series.

Dancing Jax is also not just relevant to the modern world, it’s set in the modern world. Prior to the introduction of mobile phones in the Witching Legacy series, or the particular historical setting of some of his stories, it was difficult to work out when Jarvis books were set. They were so much in a realm of magic and mystery that the real world seemed sometimes to disappear. But pop culture references abound in the Dancing Jax series. TV, movies, music, the state of world politics in 2010 when the first book was written, not to mention a broader diversity in the background and sexual orientation of his characters – all of these are drawn upon in this tale of a sinister children’s book, found in the basement of a creepy house, that starts to extend its influence in an ever-broadening reach.

I don’t want to spoil the plot if you’ve never read them – I envy anybody coming to it for the first time – but I do need to warn you that if you’re under the age of 15, particularly sensitive, or deeply religious, you may find this series confronting.

With regards to editions of Dancing Jax, you can buy it brand new in paperback, or on ebook. There was also a limited hardback version, which is still available on the secondhand market. However, the caveat with the hardback is that sadly, the publishers put out books 1 and 2 of this trilogy in hardback, and then only brought out book 3 in paperback, thus ensuring that the more perfectionist Jarvis fans would forever-after feel exasperated looking at their incomplete collections…

So, yes, it’s going to be a grueling test for us bloggers, trying to write through every chapter of the Jax books (they are also a deal longer than regular Jarvis offerings!) but I can’t wait to tackle it.

Blessed be!

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 10

Scan_20180702Warning: 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.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 9

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‘Mortal speck of bone and flesh!’ the Goddess roared. ‘You have earned my attention and you will suffer.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh boy oh boy, a nice big showy fight! Fire in the sky, Mabb screaming, voles getting possessed and mice getting hanged and everything going to pot! Horror, tragedy, doooooom! I feel like Scabmona at the Goregut festival. What a delight.

There were two details which caught my eye in between all the zap zap and floom floom, and they are these: Virianna describes herself as a ‘Daughter of Thamesis’, and makes mention of a prophecy wherein ‘the final end shall be shaped’ at Fennywolde. The powers of Light and Dark will apparently do battle, and ‘a God shall perish’ during this cataclysmic conflict.

The ‘Daughter of Thamesis’ thing is some solid in-universe lore – that would be the Thames Virianna is referring to, implying that it was once one of the Green’s sacred sites. This carries neatly into that scene at the start of The Crystal Prison where the river rejects Jupiter’s corpse, and brings with it the suggestion that, however polluted it will become by the time the Unbeest rears his ugly head in The Final Reckoning, a hint of the Green’s power might still remain there.

Virianna’s prophecy, however, is a giant great wodge of foreshadowing. She is clearly describing the finale of the unpublished fourth Deptford Mice book, and since we know that that would have involved the return of the Raith Sidhe in full force, it may well be Mabb who meets her end at Fennywolde.

For the time being, however, the powers of the Green are not enough to save poor old Fenny from the noose, and Young Whortle will never see his beloved home the same way again.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: We’re back in solid Jarvis territory with this chapter. It’s got everything – a spectacular reveal of the truth about Fenny, the grand tragedy of Virianna, the return of Mabb.

But the best thing about this chapter is how it makes the story even more complicated. Woppenfrake’s faltering step near the end of the chapter could take on a couple of meanings. On the one hand, it might mean that he is feeling sad, remembering what happened to his mother. On the other hand, it could mean that he is full of barely contained hatred for the mice and Whortle is in big trouble hanging around with him and his brothers.

Either way, we can never go back to the happy field.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 8

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Lines of care crinkled the corners of her soft brown eyes but though they were gentle, they were not safe or tame. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: And we’re back to the life-threatening drama. I said there would be more for Whortle in the past than bloodless little war games, and this seems to be it – a confrontation with Mabb, and with Virianna; the water vole’s mother, who was, as it turns out, a goody-goody Greenie all along.

There’s a lot of time-travel-related plot puzzling to do in this chapter, but I had to laugh at Virianna mistaking Young Whortle for Bauchan. There’s definitely a hint of self-deprecating humour in that exchange where the vole witch tries to ‘cast him out’ in Genuine Original Oaken Throne Dialogue while Whortle just yells at her to get stuffed. Our young hero might’ve heard all the stories, but he could use a few lessons in how to comport himself with dignity and respect during his trips through the lands of legend.

As for Mabb, well, I think it’s fairly safe to say she would have been the arch villainess of the Mouselets. Considering that Bauchan gets all of The Final Reckoning and Hobb a large chunk of The Oaken Throne, it seems only fair that Mabb, Our Lady of Nightmare and if I may say so a highly underappreciated goddess, should have some page-time of her own.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m curious on whether there is a time paradox here. When the voles send Whortle back in time, there seems to be a quirk whereby he can interact with the past. He’s not just there passively watching.

Particularly when it comes to that velvet bag. It’s clear that Virianna meant to do good all those years past and is not the dreaded ratwitch everyone thought. However, would she have been able to hold off Mabb much better if Whortle hadn’t chucked her velvet bag into the pond.

In other words, was Fenny undone by the rash actions of a mouse who’d zapped in from several hundred years in the future? Who was sent there to find out how Fenny had been killed? (Thus the paradox.)

 

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 7

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Recovering from a stitch in his side, Young Whortle gazed at the raft and loved it deeply. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: A characteristic of the Mouselets is that there are chapters like these at regular intervals, so instead of getting full-throttle thrills and chills all the way through, we have time to breathe in between each major moment of life-threatening drama. There is still the lingering worry of the truth about Fenny at the back of Whortle’s mind, however, and it’s understandable that he just doesn’t have the full capacity at the moment for his training.

What I thought was really sweet was how his friends notice his moods and do all they can to encourage him, while also letting him have space if he needs it. None of them are really out for their own ends or harboring ill-feeling, as they might in a story for older readers. Instead, they all band together to help Whortle achieve his dream out of sheer kindness – not something often seen in Robin Jarvis canon.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, vomit jokes …we haven’t had too much of that in the Jarvis canon, but two spews in one chapter is good fun.

But while the world of the Fennywolde Games is fun, the plot strand that is really intriguing is the water voles and the truth about their mother …

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 6

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘There ain’t not tales of Cap’n Fenny’s life here in Fennywolde,’ he began slowly. ‘Cos …he didn’t have one.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is what I was saying about pastoral horrors masquerading as friendly mouse adventures and so forth. They might be cushioned by rat sitcoms and frolics in sunny fields, but the Mouselets are still Robin Jarvis canon, and they can never quite gloss over the grotesque melodrama of their roots.

I have to say, there is a definite smugness to the reveal in this chapter; almost, dare I say it, a whisper of proto-Dancing Jax bitterness. What happened to the beloved hero of Fennywolde after he came to rest in his fair field with his weary band? Did he live out the remainder of his days in peace and contentment? Nah, kid, he hanged himself from that tree yonder. 

Fenny’s demise is certainly as lonely, miserable and pathetic as every other Deptford revenge murder, from Vesper’s poisoning to Woodget’s drowning – perhaps more so, because Fenny was looked up to and adored by so many. It proves that there has always been a pall of horror over Fennywolde, that, far from being a tranquil idyll, it was cursed from the day it was named.

It also occurred to me on reread that the manner of Fenny’s death adds a truly horrible addendum to Whortle’s own demise in The Crystal Prison. How does he die? Throttled by the enchanted corn dolly, crying the alarm, which just happens to be the name of Fenny. You’re welcome.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, there we go. There was no way that much sunshine and goodness could last very long. So here we have the dreadful backstory of what happened to Captain Fenny.

How morbid is all this? The whole place is called Fennywolde after the great hero who amazingly survived through to the end of The Oaken Throne – which we agreed statistically last year was the most violent Jarvis book. And yet it now turns out that, in addition to the dreadful fate which befell poor Vesper, Captain Fenny got bumped off at almost exactly the same time! What is it with malicious revenge killings in Jarvis books after the main villain has been dispatched??

But the bigger question, of course, is exactly how sinister does this make our water vole friends?

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 5

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‘Call it the Silver Hare,’ he said softly. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The start of this chapter really just adds to what I was saying last time about the dream-like quality of Whortle’s moment in the past – not because he wakes up from it, but because he never actually reaches the Hobbers. 

I said previously that the journey to the past was all exactly what Whortle must’ve been wishing for, and that it was odd that he wasn’t more traumatised by the vicious battle taking place before his eyes. If Whortle’s trip into history was constructed as an exercise in wish-fulfilment for him by the water voles, it would make sense that he would never actually engage in any real fighting. He can go on all he likes about bashing evil meanie devils, but Whortle is still a very young mouse who has never seen real hardship, and the thought of having to actually slaughter other creatures in battle probably isn’t something he likes to dwell on.

Aside from all this rimpti-too theorising, we’ve got a very sweet chapter with some gentle humour and a dash of boat-building. I love the sneaky way in which the mice conceal the Silver Hare for the next day – there must be no end of rivals out to beat them to their prize, and I’m looking forward to meeting them.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I might have imagined this, but in this whole chapter – apart from some confusion on Whortle’s part when he woke up – almost nothing sinister happened at all.

It does give us a chance, however, to get a feel for all of Whortle’s friends in a way we never quite got with The Crystal Prison. Given that I fondly remember reading the original Deptford Mice to my siblings with all the voices, I did have a chuckle that Hodge – my namesake – is reigning Fennywolde King of Impressions.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 4

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘From peril we have come and into worse danger we now charge. Some of us will not return but if your hearts are quailing, I say to you – ignore them, for what we do this night shall echo down the ages.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: For new readers, this is a lovely moment for Whortle as he is punted back in time to take up arms against real, genuine Hobbers and be twinkled at by Fenny. For us, however, the segment in which Whortle finds himself in the midst of the bat-squirrel wars is an intriguing conundrum.

I’d like to put forward a theory that only occurred to me on reread: that Whortle’s brief sojourn into the past really was a fantasy. Not a fantasy of our young hero’s imagination, but an amalgamation of real past events with those of legend, created for him by the water voles. It’s unclear at this point whether they have an ulterior motive for sending him back in time, but it’s evidently not for the purposes of putting him in immediate harm’s way, otherwise he would’ve been cut down by the forces of the Raith Sidhe before he’d so much as looked up from the horn.

This in mind, let’s consider that it was an indulgence on their part. They were so pleased to see a mouse who still upheld the name of Fenny and the history of the Wolde that they let Whortle have his moment of glory, so to speak. For the sake of this post, let’s say Whortle’s field trip to the past was a bit of fun. Now read it over, ye veterans of The Oaken Throne. Isn’t something slightly off about it all?

Whortle literally watches ‘blood rain from the sky’ and sees squirrels cleaved in two, yet these nightmares of war are strangely remote. When Vesper and Ysabelle saw the same carnage, they, roughly Whortle’s age, were stricken with horror. It was real to them, because Whortle’s world of distant legend was their daily reality. In a segment like this, we would expect that Whortle’s bubble of wonder would be burst by the dreadful truths of the violent, blood-soaked past, but apart from one small cinder and a few evil looks from the Hobbers, the devastation does not touch him. Even under the ‘minimal gore, all deaths off-page’ remit, that’s a very kind sort of battlefield.

Then look at Fenny. I don’t know about you, but it seems a bit woolly to me that he would immediately notice Whortle out of every barely-of-age mouse in his legion. The exchange between them is reasonable enough, but that Fenny should salute Whortle with his own sword seems just a little, well, wish-fulfilmenty. (And this is glorious Captain Fenlyn ‘the mouse, the legend’ Purfote we’re talking about. He does everything as if he knows it’s going to be recorded on a tapestry later.)

Far be it from me to say exactly what went on during the last stand at Greenreach, but please consider that everything about the time-travel segment is exactly what Whortle must’ve been longing for ever since he first heard Old Todmore recount it in inaccurate but fulsome detail. It’s all just a bit too polished, a bit too dream-like, and the fact that Whortle charges gamely into battle serves to emphasise the peculiar, theatrical element to it all.

Okay, so it’s great fun to read and in retrospect perfectly placed in the course of the book, but now that Whortle has had a taste of time-travel, there’s got to be more in store for him in the past than chats with his hero and waving spears at the baddies. Since this is the Mouselets and we already know the manner of Whortle’s death, I hesitate to make too many dire predictions, but I daresay things will get, at the very least, creative from here on out.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This book makes so much more sense if you read it in close proximity to The Oaken Throne! Reading it now, I see that the end of this chapter gives us a magic transportation from one Jarvis series into another, as we’re transported back to the ferocious climactic battle against the Hobbers. (Albeit from a different point of view.)

While I’m at it, I love the experimentation with the double-page spread illustration in this chapter. In fact, this series probably contains the only double-pagers in any of the Jarvis books, so they’re worth collecting just from that angle.