Warning: Contains Spoilers!
The spectre reached up a glimmering hand, and the ghastly light flooded Bufus’s mournful face.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: See this is what sets a good storyteller apart from a great one – unpredictability, peril with no clear solution, and above all, emotional weight.
It’s not enough for Bufus to have squandered the magic of the Pool of the Dead to talk to his brother, he has to have a solid, serious reason for acting as he does. Instead of being a selfish blunder, the act then becomes the culmination of a deeply important piece of character growth which has been a full book in the making.
Bufus’s trauma stems from Mufus’s murder at the claws of the thorn ogres, back in Book 1. In that book, the main conflict starts from there and just keeps going, so Bufus has had no time to adjust or properly grieve between then and this chapter, and we as readers haven’t had time to consider how he might be coping.
His reaction to this distress has been, we now see, to shut down emotionally and come to the conclusion that the only option left to him is suicide. This is really, really heartbreaking for us readers, since we’ve got to know the Doolan brothers and have already suffered through one of them dying a horrific death. So the misuse of the the Pool of the Dead carries an additional, more personal, emotional heft, along with the larger prospect of everyone being doomed.
Thank goodness for those birds!
Matt’s Thoughts: If there’s one thing I love about the Jarvis Canon is that, even when he is dealing with tropes that are familiar from other genres, there are always surprises along the way. For instance, we’ve had all these chapters building us up to the Pool of the Dead, so of course we assume there will be an Important Plot Point where the shade of the Wandering Smith explains how to destroy Rhiannon.
Instead, Bufus has a chat with his departed brother, Mufus. (I did not remember that scene!) Which on one hand is going to delay any chance of taking down Rhiannon but on the other hand is incredibly moving. It’s little beats like this that give these characters weight.
And also, assuming these birds are friends not foe, it’s a nice nod to The Hobbit that our friends get rescued by birds when things are at their most dire.