Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 18

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Meg had summoned a flood.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: So the tides finally begin to turn in favour of our heroes, and, unlike some other Robiny titles we’ll forbear to mention, there’s a possibility, despite all the peril, that at least one of them might make it out alive.

Of course, there’s still tragedy in amongst the slapstick of the sluglung’s transformations – the idea that these amorphous blobs of goo were once solid creatures with whole lives and personalities above-ground. One has to wonder at the horror they might feel, regaining their true forms only to find that they have aged beyond all recognition and that much of life has passed them by.

Matt’s Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a good Jarvis action scene? I really love the resourcefulness and tenacity of Finnen, Gamaliel and Kernella. They’re wise-cracking at each other, coming up with clever ways to use the silver fire devil and just generally being awesome. In short, there’s a sense of fun about the whole proceedings that can be somewhat rare in the Jarvis world, so I’m enjoying it while it’s there.

I would also like to know what happened to the two de-transformed spriggans, given that they can’t really be transformed back into sluglungs, but with all the noise and excitement, I’m not sure that we discover their fate.

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Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 17

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Strange, bright pictures flickered in his sluggish mind: a green, dappled world, a kindly old face, himself secretly entering the Silent Grove and paring slivers of bark from the Lufkin beech—a terrible feeling of shame and guilt…

Aufwader’s Thoughts: It’s absolutely the dreamy-eyed sap in me, but I was kind of hoping that Kernella’s smooch might be what would change Finnen back. It’d be both a somewhat farcical princess-and-frog moment, and also a nice role reversal of traditional fairytale, in that it would be Kernella saving Finnen with true love’s kiss. Really though, I musn’t tarnish Jarvis canon with any such vomitous cliche – after all, there’s far more at stake here than some paltry werling romance.

Matt’s Thoughts: If it wasn’t for how violent I know these books can get, a chapter like this in isolation makes me think this would be a great animated kids’ movie. Gamaliel really comes into his own, there’s a funny scene with Kernella kissing a sluglung and finally Finnen is back! I really enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because when occasionally things go right in this book, I can see some sort of end in sight and it gives me a bit of hope. (Relative to, say, Freax and Rejex, where nothing went right and everything got worse and worse.)

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 16

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Meg stretched out her arms and caught it in her eager hands. ‘The love is not dead yet,’ she said softly. ‘Not yet.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a kind of poetry to the way Meg has kept the memory of Prince Alisander, her brother, alive. It should be repellent that she made a harp from his bones, but, like the Tower Lubber’s peg eyes, it inspires pity and sadness for things long lost, rather than dread. A bit like the werlings’ Silent Grove, it’s an unconventional yet understandable-in-context way to treat a dead body. Meg might’ve left Alisander to rot, but instead she chose to preserve a part of him in a way that made sense to her, and we can’t fault her for that.

Matt’s Thoughts: Clearly the years have taken a bigger toll on Meg than they have for the Tower Lubber. He can still remember clearly everything that happened, whereas Meg seems to go through the daily ritual of the ‘bright circle’ without realising its true meaning.

Was it in the new edition of The Whitby Witches that Robin was quoted as saying that one of the saddest things for him was the idea of losing your identity? (I gave my copy away to a friend, so I actually can’t remember!) Even if I did just imagine that quote, it’s a common-enough theme in his stories. The Webster sisters drifting in and out of senility, Madame Akkikuyu having lost her mind, and now Meg in this trilogy.

Maybe it’s because it’s a rainy morning as I type this, but it does make me muse about the fragility of the human mind. Sometimes we are able to muster up incredible courage to stare our troubles in the face. Other times, it’s all too much for us and we become something other than what we started out. It resonates because it’s true.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 15

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Down there she dwells,’ the Tower Lubber breathed. ‘My beautiful Clarisant, the one and only love of my life. Alone in the caves and caverns, sitting out these despairing, sundered years in the dark, far from the spying eyes of her sister’s agents.’

 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This kind of thing is what makes a Robin Jarvis book a Robin Jarvis book. ‘Once upon a time, a beautiful princess and brave knight where cursed by an evil queen’ is all very well, but it’s the details that give this oft-repeated staple of legend a new heartstring-plucking pull. The yellow flower and the little bullfinch who delivers it. The melancholy melody rising up from the depths. The long, long years.

I’ve always loved Robin’s favourite ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ motif, but it really shows here, with one of the most tragic couples in the canon. The way he redefines storytelling concepts that we think we know, like nobility and beauty, is what makes the world of Hagwood so special.

In this world, the blind and grotesque goblin hermit is really a deeply lonely and sad lover, whose care for his feathered companions is the only thing that gets him through the endless days away from his beloved. In turn, the mad old crone who rules a subterranean empire is really a lost princess, slowly sinking into the dark waters of her own mind. It’s not enough that Clarisant and Tammedor have been separated for three hundred years, we also have the possibility that they might never get the chance to be reunited. I’m already weeping and we’re not even at the end of the second book.

Matt’s Thoughts: In lesser hands, this would have been a fairly interesting piece of back history. Because after this chapter, we now understand the Lubber, we understand Meg, we see how everything fits together and have a glimmer of how Rhiannon might be stopped.

But it’s the overwhelming sense of tragedy that pervades here in the details that makes this memorable: A love that can only be communicated by a dropped flower and a returned song. The idea that Clarisant might have gone insane down in the deep.

Maybe it’s because there is an irreversibility to these proceedings. Even if Rhiannon is stopped – and she clearly needs to be – it’s doubtful that there will be a simple return to the way things were in the past.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 14

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

No one who is so beloved by so many living things could be evil, thought Liffidia.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’ve speculated jokingly before that Hagwood is one of the lands beyond the thirteen hills of Mooncaster, and I think this chapter was where that idea originally came from. There is a mention of distant ‘verdant hills’, and the Tower Lubber really is the kind of being who would’ve been oppressed by the Dawn Prince, but to be honest I’m rather glad that theory carries little to no weight, because the poor Lubber has enough to worry about as is.

I really love the heartfelt, fairytale-like simplicity of the Lubber in his lonely tower, blind and languishing under a curse, yet noble still. It seems that every small pocket of Hagwood carries its own tale, and ‘The Lubber and His Children’ is my favourite yet.

Matt’s Thoughts: The Tower Lubber might just be one of the nicest characters that Mr Jarvis has ever created. He reminds me a bit of Thomas Triton in that he’s a loner with a tragic past, but he’s also completely different. If you can get past the grossness of the wooden pegs, the tower and its collection of birds is wondrous.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 13

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘And then, My Lady,’ he said grimly, ‘your reign must end. By the lives of everyone who has ever suffered and died at your command—I, Gamaliel Tumpin, swear to do my very best to destroy you.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: A wonderfully atmospheric chapter with the showdown at the Crone’s Maw. When a villain reveals their true identity in a Robin Jarvis book, it’s always a show worth watching, but Rhiannon goes above and beyond in her dramatic transformation. I do feel a little sorry for the spriggans (they were just following orders, after all) but I feel worse for Grimditch, who actually had the presence of mind to resist the High Lady before he was finally brought low.

Now Gamaliel must struggle on alone, and it’s a dark, watery road.

Matt’s Thoughts: Another case in point why you don’t want to lose the illustrations from Jarvis books. In the text, the Crone’s Maw is described as being a crack in a cliff where a waterfall gushes out. In the illustration, it has a face. 

But my favourite invention in this chapter is blood moths. Most kids, when they are little, get a bit wary of moths. But we just get told by our parents that they’re harmless, they don’t bite, etc.

So having moths that drink blood is another classic Jarvis way of bringing childhood fears to life …

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Their grotesque faces were blank masks of death, and they stole toward the unsuspecting werling with open jaws and outstretched arms.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The illustration for this chapter is, I think, one of the scariest Robin has ever drawn. The only other header I can think of that gave me such a fright is the grinning skull of Galatea from The Fatal Strand, and that seems positively tame in comparison to the emaciated, leering monstrosity featured here. No wonder Grimditch tells Gamaliel to use his eyes only to find the next foothold away from that thing!

Speaking of, it’s rather touching the way Gamaliel seems to be bonding with the bogle. Too often, heroes make life difficult for themselves by shunning all help and companionship even when it’s repeatedly offered. It looks as if Gamaliel has a bit more sense, however, realising that though this may be his quest, he can’t go it alone. I just hope Grimditch is what he seems. After nearly two years of Robin Jarvis canon, I’m inclined to see spies everywhere…

Matt’s Thoughts: There’s something of the joy of the original Deptford series in this book – joy, I’m aware, being a relative word. But between creepy undead characters, a tragic death and the rising heroism of Grimditch, all the elements are there.

Even Captain Grittle and his men, with their incompetent way of confounding their mistresses’ plans, are somewhat endearing. If only because we suspect they’re going to cop it from Rhiannon eventually.