Fighting Pax | Chapter 29 & Epilogues

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Who’s this guy? He reminds me of… someone I lost.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: So falls the Empire; with Plague and Fire and the Death of Innocents. So the Dawn Prince is brought low, so the cards are dealt and the wheel spun again. What sort of place is Mooncaster, truly? Perhaps it’s better that we’ll never know.

I can remember that after this trilogy finished, a lot of people were confused about the ending and asked if there would be another book, and I can understand why. That final epilogue does leave us with some rather pessimistic ideas about human nature, and it’s no wonder, I think, that everybody went ‘wait, that can’t be it, can it?’

But then, that’s what Robin’s endings do – they may not be neat or pretty, but they are honest. It would almost cheapen the messages of the trilogy at this point for him to say that actually, everything was fine and everybody found God and it was all sunshine and rainbows forever. The world doesn’t just get taken over by literal Satan and bounce back, this isn’t a hopeful YA dystopia (haw haw).

So, what are we left with? The splinter of AF in Maggie survived with her body, the bridges to that other realm were never truly closed, and the sad little toys Miss Blessing presents to her business partners each contain the soul of a person who was murdered the night Lucifer ascended. When the survivors sign those contracts and take home a cuddly companion, they’ll be signing away their last chance of ever being free of Austerly Fellows and the damnation he brings. Evil is a rot that no amount of kindness and compassion can scrub from the world, and in the end, it will always return.

The Devil is with us still, Sacred Strangers, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Matt’s Thoughts: I feel rather sheepish that my mind has blanked out Eun-mi/Arirang’s journey throughout the book. Here she is, the character who heroically takes out the Ismus and I forgot!

It’s possibly because that climax was overshadowed by the still more astonishing appearance of the shepherd who, now that he is out and about in our world, rather effortlessly dispatches Lucifer in just a few short paragraphs.

Of course, everything could have been left there in that final chapter (where joyously Spencer survives!), but instead there is that bleak single paragraph reminding us that the next un-Jax related murder took place 2.47 minutes later. You don’t need devilish activity for humanity to treat each other badly.

What I find fascinating about this ending (and I’m a little less gasping for air than I was after the first time I read it) is that there are two ideas wrestling here, almost an optimism and a pessimism. On the one hand, for a book that really couldn’t be classified as pro-church, there is – in its portrayal of the shepherd – a surprisingly positive portrayal of God or his prophet (it’s deliberately left non-specific). He has power to conquer the devil and he offers forgiveness of sins. It’s not something I would have expected from a secular YA novel at all.

But there is also the epilogue, which reminds us that evil is never fully defeated (at least not in this life), it just waits its turn to try again. And all this as fate or history counts down towards … the end of the world? Something apocalyptic? There are so many unanswered questions about the card-players as well.

We’ll cling to the hope that the heroes of the story did live happily ever after in Mooncaster (though we’d probably all love to know where the real Maggie ended up). And all agree that of course marketers, a sordid group to which I sadly belong, would be the ones likely to spread another crisis around the world …

So what are my final thoughts on this whole spectacular, dark and thought-provoking trilogy? I think what strikes me about it is a feeling that it comes from somewhere bigger than just Robin Jarvis’ imagination. The story is well-told of how Robin came up with the idea for the finale of Dancing Jax from a dream and then more or less wrote the book around that.

My speculation is: was it just a dream? It’s almost as if Robin has had an old-school vision of a world where our own shallowness and lack of direction makes it a perfect breeding ground for evil to spread. And then the trilogy is his way of working out the implications of that vision. In other words, if there was such an evil in the world, how might it be stopped? If we were consumed by guilt and shame on a mass scale, where might we find healing?

And while a novel like that could have ended in any number of ways, it instead ends with an act of sacrificial faith and total surrender and a good shepherd who defeats evil and offers forgiveness.

I’m fairly confident that Robin wouldn’t want this trilogy to be seen as promoting any particular religion, so I’m being careful not to insinuate that this is in any way a piece of propaganda. And with all its dark goings-on and imagery, I probably wouldn’t be handing out copies in large quantities in any of the Christian circles I move in.

But my curiosity would be – did he find himself searching for Someone or Something, some sort of higher power, as he wrote this novel? Or does he already believe in such a power anyway and was looking for a way to express it? Did you find yourself thinking along those lines as you read it?

If so, my hope and prayer would be that you find Whoever or Whatever you are looking for, in a day and age where it can (still) often feel as if there is only the trivia around us and not much else.

See you in December for the end of our re-read (for now) as we finish War in Hagwood!

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Fighting Pax | Chapter 28

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Faith ain’t no easy thing.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I think we all kind of knew that Lee wouldn’t go through with the Ismus’ demand. When you look at it logically, what reason did Lee ever have to believe that the happily ever after Austerly Fellows promised him would come to pass? Lee has seen what people become in Mooncaster when they die, he’s seen the card-players in the tower and experienced the Ismus’ regime first hand. He was never going to buy what the Ismus was peddling, even .

I love that it’s the memory of Charm that has kept Mr Despair from taking over Lee completely. It’s a very sincere thing to have in a young adult novel, what he says about not wanting the pain to stop because it means his love was real. I think maybe Lee becomes an adult in that moment, and the fact that those feelings were some of his last makes his entire character journey all the more profound and compelling.

Also, it’s just now struck me that Lee having the Healing Ruby in him was actually foreshadowed – what did he keep in memory of Charm? A pink crystal in the shape of a heart.

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m not sure whether the editors raised an eyebrow at this chapter or whether it sailed through. But I remember my sister and I swapping notes over the finale of Fighting Pax when we’d finished reading it and felt that there was almost something blasphemous about it. The idea of turning Jesus into essentially a cannibal and having him devour Lee’s heart is a pretty brave idea to put in a book, even if it is perfectly in keeping with where the plot was heading.

So I’ll admit, my initial reaction to this chapter ending was one of real discomfort about the whole thing. I think I had a tweet back and forth with Robin about it and he reminded me that, for him, it was about Lee and his decision of faith.

Coming at it with fresh eyes, I understand what he means. In fact, Mr Jarvis might have seen more than I did. Robin has actually tapped into some of the Biblical use of language about surrender to Jesus. The Bible does talk about giving your heart to God. Romans chapter 12, verse 1 uses even more striking language: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’

This is, of course, just a metaphor and refers more to the idea of wholehearted service rather than actual human sacrifice, but Robin has really turned the concept into something visceral in this chapter as Lee literally offers himself as a sacrifice.

Now reading it from that angle, I almost wept to see Lee – a character who has carried such anger and bitterness for so long – reach a point where he surrenders everything and finds something to believe in.

I’ll have more to say on all this in the next (and final!) chapter.

Meanwhile, I also enjoyed Spencer’s greatest moment and Martin and Carol vs Mauger. This multi-chapter finale surely must be Robin’s greatest achievement in terms of one sustained set piece?

Fighting Pax | Chapter 27

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

He wanted to turn and run, to hide or hurl himself from the tower – anything to escape the tide of horror beating from that shimmering shape upon the throne. It was all he could do to remain standing, and he prayed that those pitiless, blazing eyes did not turn his way.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Rereading this trilogy almost consecutively really does show the calculating perfidy of Austerly Fellows’ grand plan. We’ve been aware of both the Waiting Throne and the Dark Door since the first half of Dancing Jax; we’ve been aware that the Ismus is only Regent of Mooncaster and that at some point the Dawn Prince ruled, but until now, the actual reality of what that might mean was but a vague threat in the back of everyone’s mind.

That said, and as fun as the hellscape is, I find the Ismus’ pride in his own evil work and his basking in the approval of Lucifer to be a bit, well, premature. You would think that the Head of Cults and King of Witches, Founder of the Candle Faith and Abbot of the Angels, would know to dispatch all of his enemies before putting his feet up and catching some infernal rays. Watch out, AF, it’s not a done deal yet.

As a final note, I have to have a little smirk to myself over the cheeky self-awareness that is the Dark Door being called, well, the Dark Door, and the fact that the only description of Lucifer we get is of his blazing red eyes. You can swear up and down that it’s coincidence, Mr Jarvis, but that’s not going to erase the mental image I currently have of a certain ginger moggy ascending the Waiting Throne. Now wouldn’t that be a plot twist.

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s almost overwhelming the number of perilous choices and moral decisions being made in this chapter. Martin is going to kill Lee, the Jockey (again, the wild card!) helps him out, Kate Kryzewski comes back (if only to be filled with remorse).

Seeing Spencer arrive was great (I have a great soft spot for the young western fan) and he is almost the Audrey facing down Jupiter in The Final Reckoning. The last one left against unspeakable evil, and seemingly small and defenseless …

Fighting Pax | Chapter 26

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‘That’s my faith – I believe in them – in their goodness.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter crosses the line into hilarious at some points, top of the list for me being Emma slitting Captain Swazzle’s throat and exclaiming ‘now that’s the way to do it’. Snort-worthy though the first few pages are, it all goes down hill, and extremely quickly, even for a Robiny finale. I can’t decide what’s worse, Eun-mi’s torment, Maggie being taken over, or poor Evelyn and Gerald. At least their final act was a showstopper.

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is quite long but you would never know because it whips along with revelation after revelation, tragedy after tragedy, violence upon violence. For Maggie – surely a survivor if there ever was one – to have made it so far and to get taken out by the Fellows splinter is just horrendous. There is absolutely no fairness to that at all.

My head is spinning at the whole thing. It’s an undeniably exciting finale but it’s brutally dark.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 25

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Lucifer ascended the Waiting Throne.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Whenever I describe this series to people who’ve expressed an interest, I seem to always start off with some variation of ‘yeah it’s the one where literal Satan appears in the finale’. They tend to look mildly startled, then intrigued, and then, when I explain a bit, positively galvanized to start reading. Somewhere, the spores of Austerly Fellows must be laughing.

The Dancing Jax trilogy will forever and always be remembered as that time Robin really went there, a big ol’ finger in the eye to everybody who ever mocked his books for their grim cults, evil rituals, and sorcery in the highest degree. Forget the flayings, the plagues, the burnings and poisonings and sacrifices – if the YA rating means we can have devilry in the literal sense, then by the Ismus’ mouldy shirtsleeves, we’re having it.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Matt’s Thoughts: Even though we’d seen it coming since Book 1, still there’s something breathtaking when Robin Jarvis – inventor of any number of memorable evils gods and demons – decides to go the whole hog and wheel out Lucifer as the ultimate villain. Fascinatingly, he pops out of the Dark Door which is described as having ‘a glowing symbol of a serpent and a crescent moon’ on it. This is the closest we get to having any connection with the Deptford universe and may be coincidental, but it is a nice touch to have a sneaky reference to a serpent in this book.

But what fascinates me most about this chapter is the actual nature of the Satanic plot that is being unleashed – namely, the idea of a world of guilt with No One to grant forgiveness. This is the most unlikely plot twist I have ever seen in a book of this type and I’m staggered. Bear with me while I explain why.

Growing up Christian, there were really two great fantasy series that reflected my belief system – Narnia and Middle-Earth. I could read these and either very strongly (the Narnia books) or more obliquely (Lord of the Rings) I could find Christian themes. But most fantasy nowadays – if not most fiction – even if it veers into the realm of the religious, is still coming from a secular point of view.

And one of the most divergent points, I think, between Christianity and modern secular thinking is the idea of sin. Go back 100 years, most people in the West had an understanding of the concept of sin – bad stuff we did with varying levels of severity. And between the Church and our own conscience making us feel guilty, the message of Christianity spoke into that: Trust in Jesus and He will forgive your sins.

However, secularism, among many things really rejected the idea of a ‘sinful nature’ and ‘sin’. In fact, despite the fact that we know that we don’t treat each very well on the whole, we still tend to talk and think about the human race as being inherently good. It’s well documented that one of the biggest difficulties the Christian church has faced in the western world in recent decades is that when it tries to wheel out the old message about needing sins forgiven, most people say: What sins? I’m a pretty good person most of the time. Why do I need to be forgiven?

Thus, a lot of narratives in film and books have moved from the story of someone fighting to be a better person to stories about people accepting who they are and having other people accept them.

And so it’s fascinating to me the plot here in this chapter. It would be horrible enough for the Fighting Pax ebook to send everyone on a killing spree. That’s quite bad enough. But the real horror that Lucifer and Fellows want to unleash on the world is a world with no forgiveness. A world where everyone sees quite clearly that they are a sinner (except for the psychopaths!) but there is no one to forgive them.

A desperate need of mercy but none to be found.

I would never have seen a plot twist like this coming and it totally caught me by surprise.

Which now throws what’s going on with Lee into even greater relief. The idea of taking out the Bad Shepherd is no longer just an anti-religious move. It is to rob the world of a redemptive force.

There are levels of profundity here.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 24

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘See you real soon in the one true world – the Kingdom of the Dawn Prince.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Some wonderful character moments here. What really tugged at my heartstrings was how Martin was very quick to tell Paul that he had done nothing wrong and should not blame himself. That alone is an act of defiance against the Ismus’ grand plan – instead of coming out of the Jax fog and being wracked with guilt, Paul has someone there to console him and not let him take the blame on his 11-year-old shoulders. If only the rest of the world had the same.

Matt’s Thoughts: The reunion between Paul and Martin has certainly been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Again, this is another scene that benefits from being read so soon after rereading Dancing Jax. I now clearly remember poor old Paul, aged 11, wandering the streets of Felixstowe trying to escape from the madness and failing miserably. In fact, it’s a wonder he’s not a bit angry at Martin. I suppose it’s made up for by what he did to Martin’s sci-fi collection.

But the part that got to me was actually the throwaway moment where Kate goes to talk to an old lady only to find she’s been dead for three days. The callous approach to human life that is rising in humanity (at the time of year when there are normally tales told of a Prince of Peace) is deeply disturbing.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 23

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Like a determined hen with chicks, she led the girls to the secret entrance in the wall and the boys followed closely, keeping the angry crowflies at bay.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I love Maggie in this chapter. I mean I love Maggie at all times anyway, but the way she looks out for Charm’s girls and faces off Yikker is nothing short of heroic. (Also, her move with the scissors has got to be one of the goriest and most well-deserved deaths in Robin Jarvis canon.) Now that our two groups of protagonists from books 1 and 2 have finally met up properly, we must ask – will any of them get out alive?

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s such a solid chapter of action that it’s easy to forget that this chapter (along with the last few) have included some spectacular computer-generated illustrations by Robin of Mauger, the crowflies and even a particularly nasty one of Yikker. The level of detail put into them, given that they just show up as black-and-white images is quite spectacular. You can see them in full colour at his website.

There’s a grim irony to all the characters being dressed up as characters in the Christmas story but then getting fed to wild beasts. A nod to the early Roman Christians and the lions perhaps?

Whatever the cultural references, it’s always the characters who are front and centre in a Jarvis book and this is no exception. How kick-arse is Maggie in this chapter? All round icky and horrifying situations and she got out of all of them. I love her resilience, even when there is no logical reason to keep on going.