Dancing Jax | Chapter 31

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Shun the Bad Shepherd. Shun all enemies of the Dawn Prince.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now to the chapter that started it all. I have to say, I don’t envy Mr Jarvis his dreams.

The imagery that struck me the most on reread was the moment where Martin enters the Ismus’ ‘court’ and is greeted with what sounds like a farmer’s market by way of Hieronymus Bosch. Already in recent chapters we’ve had several characters mention that the minchet will be used to feed the ‘other things’ Austerly will be welcoming to the unhappy world, but it’s intriguing to discover that michet was not the only produce being grown in the diabolical conservatory at Fellows End. The odorous, fibrous question here, however, is where, exactly, are these plants native to? Where did the seeds come from, and where, by extension, do Austerly’s magickal little friends hail from? (I think we all know who they hail, but I refuse to say it until we’ve all read it on the page.)

Then, of course, there’s the part everybody remembers with the sales director from the London publishing house. Oh boy. Being a publishing student myself I could write an essay on the ways this scene is hilarious (I can’t believe Robin actually name-dropped The Bookseller, but then, I can) but really the most important part is the in-universe change from Dancing Jacks to Dancing Jax. In one pithy sentence, the fourth wall is broken, and the book that we, in our real lives, are reading, takes on a new and forbidding air.

Look at those long paragraphs of text describing Felixstowe landmarks in meticulous detail for no apparent reason. Consider the strangely flat characters we’ve been introduced to, all of whom are either too real or not quite real enough. Think about the way the relentless plot pulls you in and keeps you turning the pages until you look up and realise you’ve been reading for hours (don’t lie, you know you read this one in about two days the first time around). Examine the map at the start of chapters 5 and 20 (spoiler: it’s one image), or the Dancing Jacks cavorting their way across the header of Chapter 29. Try to keep the exact positions of their heads and limbs in your memory (spoiler: you can’t). Is that Terry Johnson’s favourite embossing and foil on the cover? And is it Mauger’s face leering out at us, crowned with horns, or a lurid, demonic distortion of Austerly Fellows, himself?

Hang on a second, there’s a weird spot in the corner of my screen…

Matt’s Thoughts: Of all Jarvis finales, this one is possibly the bleakest. While we only one lose character to death at the end of all this – what a horrific ending for Shiela! – that brutal finale, where Carol, Paul and Barry go to join the Ismus, just leaves the whole thing hanging bleakly.

Where was the big showdown with Mauger or some other baddy of horrific description? Why wasn’t there a massive foiling of the Ismus’ plot, so that he would have to come back with something even nastier for Book 2?

But Mr Jarvis – as with everything else about this book – has changed up the formula on us. There’s no brave, heroic showdown here. Just Martin Baxter, too late to save the loved ones in his life. There is a glimpse of hope in his rescue by Gerald and at least he gets away. But that’s it.

At least in the short term, Austerly Fellows has won. The city of Felixstowe has pretty much entirely fallen, and if the slimy book sales director, Terry Johnson, has anything to do with it, the rest of the world is on the way out as well. I will admit, I do think there was a bit more cynical Jarvis humour in the portrayal of the agent, especially his lines: ‘You wouldn’t believe the power we sales guys have in there now. The editors can’t do anything if we turn our noses up at the pretentious stuff they try to show us. They have to publish what we want to sell and if we don’t like it, they effing well have to change it till we do.’

One can only wonder if there is a story behind that quote!

Finally, those who are a bit more knowledgeable in some of the references thrown in here may have had their suspicions about the identities of things like the Bad Shepherd and the Dawn Prince and had a bad feeling about where all this is headed. For the rest of you, the answers are all coming and we’ll see you shortly for Book 2.

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