Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 6

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Are we done for?’ she asked.
The boy put his arm around her and hugged her. ‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘Not yet.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Even though it’s Finnen who saves the day in this chapter, I really like that Kernella doesn’t swoon on the sidelines, but actually actively helps him. If it weren’t for her dealing with the sprite’s disembodied arm, I doubt Finnen would’ve had the wherewithal to go on. Kernella might be drippy, but she’s far from a fainting damsel in distress, regardless of the songs she might warble to herself in her daydreams.

Matt’s Thoughts: And this was fun to see – a monster fight where our heroes win. After all the tentacles and giant toads in Freax and Rejex, where nobody seemed to stand much of a chance, watching Finnen and Kernalla defeat the candle sprite was something else.

It’s also important because as a non-wergling werling (how great are the fantasy words from this series?), Finnen could just be the spare wheel, putting everyone in danger because of his lack of powers. But this chapter clearly puts him as a force to be reckoned with, because he has courage.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 5

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Enchantment flows beneath these trees like summer breezes,’ she said quietly. ‘Deep within the forest there are secret pockets where those magical forces swirl and collect like water in deep puddles. As wells of power are they, waiting for someone to put a cup to their lips and drink.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I love how we’re only about five chapters into this book and already we’ve had more 90s Robin Jarvis Trademarks ™ than you can shake a stick at. Brooding prologue in which we meet a fascinating and highly-developed character who quickly dies a gory death. Hapless but adorable heroes over whom a heavy doom hangeth. Mysterious aged traveller possessing secrets about the plot-relevant magical artifact. Plot-relevant magical artifact. Senseless rodent slaughter, or at least an attempt at same. Sidelong references to archaic serpent magic. Soggy things in pools that want to eat your face. And now, in this chapter, a bit of fiery invocation.

Post-2000s Robin has it’s own charms, but after the harrowing slog of the first two Dancing Jax books, I can’t help but relish the abandonment of cynicism and genre commentary here. There’s such a sense of freedom in fantasy for fantasy’s sake, and although I remember some of it, I’m really excited to see the enchanted realms to which Dark Waters will take us. Just like old times.

Matt’s Thoughts: Sometimes, I like to dream that we will one day get a deluxe leather-bound edition of the Complete Works of Robin Jarvis, with beautifully enhanced versions of his illustrations. This chapter would be a good candidate for it. It’s a bit small in the paperback, but if you look at the illustration, it is just teeming with detail. All the personalities of the werlings are there to be seen, all the characters are distinctive. It’s really nicely done. As is Nanna’s trick to get some people to lead her to the Pool of the Dead…

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 4

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

With a final triumphant roar, the candle sprite claimed her and took the girl deep into the drowning dark.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At last, a genuine threat. After the twin false alarms of Nana Zingara and Grimditch, it’s some real danger is almost welcome. It also gives Gamaliel, as the one left behind, a chance to show his mettle. I like that he doesn’t dither around or consider turning back – the events of Thorn Ogres really brought him out of his shell, and now he proves that that courage wasn’t just a one-time thing .

For me, the saddest part of this chapter was just how easily Kernella fell for the call of the candle sprite. She had loving parents and a good upbringing, but I get the feeling that she maybe didn’t have many friends. Maybe she idolises Finnen so much because she simply wants to feel that someone her own age understands her. That line about her being a ‘plain and clumsy werling child’ who has often been disappointed in her reflection is quite pitiful. If she hasn’t been chewed by the sprite, I hope Kernella learns that love and admiration should not be conditional to her appearance at some point in this trilogy.

Matt’s Thoughts: The candle sprite is sort of another spin on a siren, isn’t it? It calls via song but turns out to be much nastier. If you stop and think about it long enough, there’s something singularly unpleasant about the idea of a creature whose base motivation in life appears to be eating things, and yet knows how to sing in such a way as to bestow love and care upon the listener.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if the candle sprite knew enough about the nature of creatures to be able to attract them, that it would be able to work out some some sort of cooperative arrangement with them. But isn’t that real life? That some of the most seductive people are the most dangerous.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 3

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Grimditch shuddered and cringed even farther away. “One of those vicious skin swappers!” he howled, jabbing a grubby finger at the wergle pouch that hung from the elder’s neck. “Keep back. You’ll not pluck out my beard to put in your nasty bag.”

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Grimditch is such a delight honestly. Even if – as is likely with this sort of character – he either turns evil or dies, I can’t say I’ll mind too much, because it’s just a joy to have him in the story at all. Critters like him make me wish this book hadn’t slept in a drawer for fourteen years, because I know he would’ve been a childhood favourite of mine. Having grown up reading Scottish folklore, I was well-acquainted with bogles and selkies and sidhe, and he would’ve fitted right in.

Matt’s Thoughts: Even on my second go through, I can’t remember exactly what Grimditch’s character arc is going to turn out to be. He’s all nervousness and clumsy grammar, but with the potential to Do Something Great.

Reading between the lines of the bogle’s backstory, I do feel that it would have been nice to know the farmer and his wife who came to settle here. Where did they come from? What led them out here? You sense a great deal of kindness in the wife, as she made clothes for Grimditch. But we can also feel stubbornness in the farmer – it’s what led him out to to the forest, played into the family choosing to stay, and ultimately caused his demise at the hand of the candle sprite.

And speaking of said sprite…

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 2

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Nanna is no enemy; every pocket of secret folk trusts her.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to Tollychook in Thorn Ogres, but I like that he’s been given this darkly humorous morbid streak. If I didn’t already know that Gamaliel is Robin, I would be guessing that Tollychuke might fit the bill for author-insert. If he survives this trilogy alive, I hope he grows up to be a storyteller.

As for Nanna Zingara, I want to believe that she’ll end up a sort of Madame Akkikuyu 2.0, but I’ve got to say I have my doubts. There’s something a little too coincidental about how she apparently knew the Wandering Smith, and her turning up out of nowhere during a time of strife for Hagwood – when travellers ought not to be travelling for their own safety – just seems a little suspect to me.

Finally, Moonfire Farm. The scene itself reminds me strongly of the one in The Oaken Throne where Ysabelle and her company come upon the Orchard of Duir, only to find it a crumbling, desecrated ruin. But I was intrigued by the mention of a ‘large book with tissue-fine pages.’ If that’s some kind of Bible that Rhiannon’s creatures have defaced, my Mooncaster theory from the prologue might be likelier than we think.

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, two chapters in and they’ve invited Nanna into the camp! Not looking good.

Meanwhile, the farmhouse is a curious thing. Obviously, by the time the werlings arrive, there are not really any humans to be found. But clearly some must have come from somewhere to settle here in the first place. Is this because all of this is taking place in some wood tucked away in the corner of England somewhere? Clearly all speculative at this stage, but hold that thought.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 1

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

With a spray of leaves in each hand and others twisted into a crown about her ears, Kernella was swaying from side to side, trilling a soppy song she had invented in which she was a princess waiting for her true love to rescue her. She looked ridiculous and sounded worse.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I was making wry comments about Mooncaster last post, but it struck me how interesting it would be if Kernella were getting her soppy squirrel romances from history. I’ve always kind of liked the idea that the events of The Oaken Throne are ubiquitous among all of Robin’s miniature creatures. I surmised in Thorn Ogres that the werlings were, in fact, kith or kin with the Hobbers, given their mutual mole-peeling habits and reverence for ancient forests, so it’s nice to see that my theory isn’t totally disproven in this next installment.

Though this chapter is mostly light in tone, I appreciate that there’s no glossing over of the pain and loss of the previous book. Gamaliel and Finnen still have to evade Rhiannon’s notice somehow, the werlings are still under threat from her hordes, and there’s still a quest to be quested.

Matt’s Thoughts: As a classical music fan, I hear variations on the word zingara a fair bit, because it’s the old Italian word for ‘gypsy’. And because gypsy music was a bit of a craze in the 1800s, you’ll hear a few old composers dropping that term when they throw something gypsy-sounding into their music. (Like this great example from Brahms.)

Of course, we can see Rhiannon’s plot from a mile away. While there are some genuine surprises where someone we thought was benign turns out to be sinister, we all know that what’s far more fun in the Jarvis world is where we can see the danger from a mile away but our friends cannot.

So that phrase ‘Yoori’s warning about Nanna Zingara never reached the ears of the other councillors’ is all the foreshadowing we need. I hadn’t quite noticed it as a theme quite so obviously before in Robin’s books, but a lot of the catastrophes that occur in his books are often triggered by dismissive or bad behaviour between characters. So if Yoori had been a bit more patient with Kernella, she might have done what he asked. But his impatience led to her getting huffy – and the damage is done.

It does give you pause, doesn’t it? There are many times we go through life speaking to people in a tone and manner that is less than ideal. Are we unwittingly unleashing bad chains of events? Or is this the sort of thing that only happens in novels?

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Prologue

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Drink whilst you can of my immortal loveliness,’ she commanded. ‘Remember it well, for you are doomed never to look on my beauty and splendor again.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Coming to this straight from Freax and Rejex is surreal. As I pass the medieval-esque ink drawings and arrive at the opening paragraphs describing the emerald glory of the faerie hill beneath a rosy dawn, I almost expect to feel a cold breath on the back of my neck and be transported to a strange alternate-Mooncaster in which the Holy Enchantress rules from her halls of stone, attended by her faithful Provost and defended by her fearsome spriggan guards.

But no Devil’s parody is this – Dark Waters of Hagwood was penned back in the 1990s, and waited (in crates?) for many years before Open Road picked it up. We’re back to solid, earnest Robin Jarvis middle-grade, with all the blindings and bloomerings it entails. Blessed be to that!

Matt’s Thoughts: I know the villains in Robin Jarvis are usually pretty nasty, but I think they do allow us different levels of detachment. I find it hard not to completely buy into the world of Dancing Jax, for instance, and thus I find the Ismus and Jangler pretty horrible bad guys.

But reading about Rhiannon I find blackly amusing. It’s like the reason gangster films keep getting made. When you throw in a sociopath who is capable of doing anything, it gives a sort of entertaining unpredictability to things.

In this one prologue alone, Rhiannon’s interaction with nearly every character is fraught with menace – the goblin nursemaid, the spriggan captain and the klurie. Ultimately it was the poor klurie who copped it in this case, but you felt like it could have been any of them.

Except maybe the owl. Maybe he’s a notch more useful than the others. Whatever his motives, he knows how Rhiannon works and can survive in a way nobody else can.

Which leads to my favourite paragraphs in recent Jarvis memory where Rhiannon feeds the librarian’s eyeballs to the owl in one paragraph and then the next paragraph contains a delightfully black use of the adverb ‘chewily’. Remember, this series started in Book 1 with cute little creatures who turn into squirrels and mice. And now, we’re not even into Chapter 1 of the second book and we’ve got chewy eyeballs.

We’re in for a fun ride.