The Deptford Mice Almanack | October

the deptford mice almanack _0012
Occasionally figures have been glimpsed – dim and indistinct, yet all locked in a fearful combat. Perhaps in the dawn of days when the Raith Sidhe ruled the land, a conflict took place that was so ghastly that its memory was imprinted upon the aether, doomed to be performed at this time throughout the ages. Maybe it is a warning of some kind, or a reminder of ancient horrors. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is another one of my favourite calendar illustrations. The doughty squirrel warrior, sword gleaming; and the vile Hobber, eyes glinting just as brightly. Seeing it, one hears the echoes of war cries and pictures banners emblazoned with the silver crest of the Ancient, spattered with blood. Having been to Blackheath, I can well imagine such spectres flickering in and out of sight in the halflight of a red October sunset.

Of greatest note this month are the diaries of Gervase Brightkin, as he recounts his meetings with doddery informants, sightings of shady rats of Deptford past, and alarm at the wanton hedgehog murder happening right on his doorstep. What are these mysterious happenings leading to, we ask ourselves? Tune in for next month’s installment.

Matt’s Thoughts: Of course it was Halloween when Jupiter’s spirit returned. This was just one of a few grim things this month, including a football game with decapitated heads, a murdered hedgehog and the bats predicting that barely any squirrels will be left alive in a year.

But there is also so many strands that point tales we’ve never heard. The ghostly rat and squirrel warrior fighting in the colour illustration – who were they? Was this one of the many battles between squirrels and Hobbers? Or something else completely?

The more I read of the Almanack, the more I realise it was a small miracle for us Jarvis fans that a book with such lavish production values got to be in print.

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Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | Dark Waters of Hagwood

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance the names of all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater myth of the story.

The deceased of Dark Waters of Hagwood are as follows: 

YIMWINTLE BILWIND  (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Prologue)  Faithful librarian and archivist of the Hollow Hill’s ancient texts for many generations, Master Bilwind was cruelly blinded by his Queen for failing to find any reference to the werlings in all the histories of Hagwood. He was later put to death by Her, and his bones are now dust among the tomes he cherished.

THE FARMER AT MOONFIRE AND HIS WIFE  (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Ch 2) The couple who had so often offered their hearth and hospitality to the Wandering Smith were slain by Rhiannon’s spriggans upon their own doorstep. Their child was taken to the Hollow Hill and their home left abandoned, with none but the bogle, Grimditch, to tell their tale.

YOORI MATTOCK  (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 1 – Dark Waters of Hagwood – Ch 11) Respected member of the werling council, Mr Mattock aided Gamaliel in his search for the casket of Rhiannon until he was killed in confrontation with the shades of the elfin barrows. He will forever be remembered as the one who began the quest to destroy the High Lady of the Hollow Hill in earnest.

UNNAMED BIRDS AND SPRIGGAN GUARDS  (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Ch 20)  Many of the Tower Lubber’s feathered companions, and many of Rhiannon’s spriggan guards, perished at the Battle of Watch Well. The birds were suitably laid to rest, but the spriggans, not so.

 

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 23

dwh

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

And so the golden casket that the Puccas had fashioned for the High Lady, many years ago, in which she had magically hidden her beating heart, was finally brought from the darkness.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Between the nine fragments, the nimius, and now Rhiannon’s golden casket, I’m beginning to picture a plausible alternate universe in which Robin was a goldsmith. He seems to have a bogle-like fascination with filigree, and I can’t say I blame him. We rereaders are glad you chose to be a writer, Mr Jarvis, but in another life, I for one would definitely attend an exhibition of your caskets, watches, clocks and miniature serpent-god-containing vessels.

I won’t lie, there is a little bit of sequel-lull about three quarters of the way through this book, but the cliffhanger here more than makes up for any dearth of suspense earlier on. I love both the implication that there really was some good in Rhiannon, and that Gamaliel might have actually got cold feet at the last moment and been unable to allow the heart to be destroyed.

Among these epic deeds and noble quests, there is still a thread of human emotion that makes us root for tiny shapeshifters who live in trees and grizzled, goblin-faced lovers. Sadly, that thread of emotion also means that War in Hagwood is going to hurt worse than a swarm of bloodmoths.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Now as well as having a great second-book cliffhanger, one other thing which struck me about this chapter is that design of the infamous box in the illustration. Does anybody else feel like it bears a resemblance to the Nimius?

For some reason, I thought this second book of Hagwood was a lot more bloodthirsty than it actually turned out to be, but maybe reading it so closely to the Dancing Jax series takes the edge off! Or maybe it’s Book 3 that’s more of a bloodbath?

Whatever the case, it’s been enjoyable to have had this detour into Hagwood. I think I’m suitably mentally fortified for Fighting Pax…

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 22

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

“Clarisant,” he said lovingly. “Come back to me. Reclaim who you were.”

Aufwader’s Thoughts: First of all I really like this chapter’s header illustration. It’s one of my favourites in this trilogy, because it’s so – and I know this word is overused but I really mean it – cinematic. You can really feel Clarisant looking out of Meg’s eyes and remembering her life before she became queen of the under country.

As for Rhiannon’s entrance, I must say I was sort of expecting her to zap the werlings with her Troll Witch Powers Of Evil and was a little disappointed that she didn’t. I mean what’s the point of being Mistress of Darkness if you can’t zap things, and have to rely on a smarmy talking owl and your useless henchguards? Roslyn Crozier needs to give this witch some lessons in showing one’s enemies what’s what from the tops of cliffs while laughing villainously and such.

Still, as I’ve said, there’s a whole other book to go. Maybe Rhiannon is just biding her time.

Matt’s Thoughts: If you think about it, Peg-tooth Meg is almost like a Gollum character, isn’t she? She started life as something much more normal, but circumstances transformed her physically and mentally, and drove her to live far beneath the earth.

Though Gollum never really had the power to do much more than be either pitiable or aggravating. Knowing how to strategically flood a battlefield is much more of a Meg specialty!

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 21

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The barn owl stared at the sluglungs in disbelief. Too many strange things were happening that day. Where was the Lady Rhiannon? She should have been here by now.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I rather like how the Tower Lubber has a little bit of resentment for Rhiannon and her servants (to put it mildly). He could too easily be too good and kind, but a little anger makes him human and relatable, and gives him a personal motivation to help the werlings. It also gives punch to his speech against the provost – take that, flatface!

As for the spriggans v. sluglungs battle, well, it’s not exactly ice-wraiths aboard the Cutty Sark. But then, there’s a whole ‘nother book still to go called War in Hagwood, so we can’t fault this finale for being a bit of fun when the real bloodshed is yet to set in.

Matt’s Thoughts: Big battle scenes were a feature of 90s Jarvis (I’m thinking particularly of The Final Reckoning, The Oaken Throne and Thomas). But I’m not sure there was a battle that was quite as much fun as this one – rubbery soldiers that you can’t slice up, a device that transforms the bad guys into giant rabbits.

And while I do tend to imagine The Deptford Mice as hand-drawn animation, I could buy this one as stop motion.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 20

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Within every spriggan breast burns the desire for bloodshed. They are naturally vicious, and crimson war banners billow through their dreams.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Honestly this chapter should just be silliness and irrelevant filler – it’s just minor characters fighting minor characters, after all. But it’s the level to which Robin gets invested in it that makes it so enjoyable to read. Who cares if all it is is a bunch of spriggans facing off a bunch of the Tower Lubber’s bird friends? Let’s give it the same weighty prose as the siege of Hara or the fall of the Hallowed Oak, why not! You can really tell that Mr Jarvis loves playing about in the sandbox of Hagwood, finding little scenes, like the one with the provost and the silent bird army, and polishing them up till they shine.

Matt’s Thoughts: A nod to The Birds, perhaps? Under the hand of Hitchcock, swarms of birds silently waiting was unsettling. And it is a bit here but it’s also just plain awesome as well. Who else so far has managed to unsettle Rhiannon’s owl?

The birds here very much reminds me of the heroic peregrine falcon from The Oaken Throne (possibly the greatest anonymous Jarvis character of all time). Certainly the cooperation between the birds and other characters here is rousing to see. And much more useful than the odd taxi job by the Middle-earth eagles.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 19

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

A serenity she had never felt before flooded her mind. Whatever her enemies attempted, they could never overthrow her. Now her true reign could commence, and she threw back her head and laughed.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The most compelling part of this chapter for me is the glimpse we get of Rhiannon’s girlhood as Morthanna. ‘The enmity and lust for power was already within you,’ Black Howla says, but how much of that is really true? Was Rhiannon shobble and mootied even as her brother and sister, but in a far more insidious way? Did the troll witches twist her childish longing for attention and praise into something darker, just as the ratlings of Deptford are swayed by the bloodlust? Or was she, like Jupiter himself, simply born beneath an evil star?

Matt’s Thoughts: So, there is a power behind the power. Here we were, thinking that Rhiannon and her lackeys were as bad as it got, and now we discover the ghost of Black Howla and an army of boar-riding troll hags.

The beauty of this is that it both caught me by surprise the first time I read it and seemed blindingly obvious at the same time. The world is called Hagwood. The cliff is called Witches Leap. The waterfall is called Crones Maw. All through the tale, we have been set up for witches and now here they are …