Fighting Pax | Chapter 22

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The Jill of Spades might’ve been sly an’ deadly, but she weren’t no Suffolk girl. We ain’t subtle!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: One of the really interesting things this trilogy explores is the traumatic aftermath of supernatural events. Conor, Emma, and Sandra now have to get through at least the next few minutes with the knowledge of everything they’ve done and said as the Jacks and Jills fresh in their minds, and each reacts in a different,yet completely realistic, way.

Having not really warmed to Emma in the first book, I now find that her relentless self-assurance and bravado are actually really well suited to the life-or-death situation. In a crisis, she (and the Jill of Spades’ knives) are quite handy to have around, and maybe a bit of conceit is what’s required in a world where nobody has any personality left.

Perhaps I missed it, but there’s one thing I have to ask – Conor, Sandra, and Emma end up de-jaxed and fleeing the beast, but where is Paul? 

Matt’s Thoughts: Maybe I blanked this out, but I did not remember there being quite so much mass slaughter in this book the first time around. (I pity poor Aufwader, keeping careful notes for the obituaries on this one!) If it consisted of the kids going down heroically – somewhat like the 90s Jarvis battles we’ve just been enjoying in Hagwood 2 – it wouldn’t be so bad. But scenes like the slaying of the ‘choir’ are just horrific.

The highlight of the chapter, without a doubt, was having Sandra, Connor and Emma come back (particularly Emma!). The last time I read Fighting Pax, because I had left it so long since reading Dancing Jax, I actually couldn’t remember much of who the three of them were. But being only a few months ago on the reread, memories of them from Dancing Jax were much more fresh in my mind.

When you consider Emma’s last memories as Emma were running from Mauger in Felixstowe and standing up to a huge horde of Jaxers, it’s immensely satisfying to see her instantly at her obnoxious best when she is dragged out of the dream world!

Fighting Pax | Chapter 21

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – and everything in between!’ he exulted. ‘A most heartfelt greeting to you all. Here we are – we made it: the night before Christmas when, all through the house, everyone will be reading Fighting Pax!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What makes this trilogy so remarkable is that Mr Jarvis could have played the story of Dancing Jax completely straight. We might’ve got a traditional horror tale in which a deceased occultist possesses a petty thief to take over the world in Satan’s name. That would’ve been perfectly fine, but instead, we got this surreal discussion of evil in all its forms, and the truly horrific mental image of Austerly Fellows in skintight leather.

Instead of focusing solely on traditional villainous antics like world domination or dark magic, Robin has stopped and asked what an old-fashioned villain might look like if you punted them into 2010. The black robes and occult doings are all well and bad, but in the digital age, with its celebrity culture and its mass media, they’re a little outdated. So what are the new evils, the ones that will pull an audience? Brainwashing? A soulless hunger for fame and power at the sacrifice of all else including basic human decency? The absence of a benevolent higher being? This Ismus is all of these, and more.

There’s also the YA parody aspect, which at this point is blazingly obvious. Of course a diabolical occultist would also be a celebrity, dictator, and social media influencer all at once, if he found himself in the modern age. Of course he would stage his world takeover like a tacky reality TV show, with audience votes on how his enemies should perish. Of course he would have a twenty-minute guitar solo before summoning Satan and plunging all of humanity into a hell on earth.

AF’s grand plan isn’t thrilling and chilling – it doesn’t make us boo while secretly rooting for him. It’s tasteless and bombastic, typical of Austerly Fellows but entirely lacking substance, because, like everything in this trilogy, he himself is a parody character. In the grandest irony of all, even the Ismus isn’t real.

Matt’s Thoughts: One can only speculate whether Mr Jarvis has a slight anti-Christmas streak that runs through his veins. Or whether he quite likes Christmas and has therefore crafted something that horrifies himself as well.

Wherever it comes from in his imagination, it’s fevered and diabolical.

The to-the-death gameshow has obviously been done in The Hunger Games but not on this kind of level. It’s the combination of Christmas TV spectacular, gameshow and ruthless sadism that makes this finale like nothing I’ve ever read before. (Or are ever likely to read again.) Not to mention the running commentary from the Ismus, a sort of manic cross between Richard Dawkins and Russell Brand.

Again, I don’t know why this trilogy works so well, when it throws so many different ideas together. By rights, the whole thing should have fallen apart by now. But instead, I don’t want to stop reading …

Fighting Pax | Chapter 20

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

In Felixstowe, the sea and the sky were an angry red. Across the harbour, Harwich was ablaze and the immense pall of black smoke kept the dawn at bay.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: By far the most frustrating thing about this finale is that nobody knows anybody else is alive. Martin and Maggie and the other aberrants still think Gerald and Spencer died in North Korea – Gerald and Spencer themselves don’t hold out much hope for the aberrants, and absolutely nobody seems to have given Lee a thought since he got pulled into Mooncaster with his four guards. But then I suppose that’s the point – if the aberrants knew they still had friends out there, things might not seem so incredibly bleak, and we wouldn’t have these profound moments of humanity in a world

Matt’s Thoughts: I had forgotten about Eun-mi’s back story. That was somewhat more messed up than I expected and will make look twice at grand pianos from now on…

Only slightly more messed up than nativity costumes for the aberrants! I know young kids being thrown into brutal situations is the norm in YA nowadays, but this whole thing still feels like a level darker than the average dystopian vision.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 19

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Where there was discord, I brought harmony. Where there was error, I dispensed my truth. Where there was doubt, I gave them faith. And where there was despair, I delivered a new and better life.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At long last, very near the finale and just as we’re getting eyebrows deep into the action, a beautiful, hopeful character moment.

Horrible as he might’ve been to Lee and fame-hungry though he seemed, it’s very, very hard not to feel sorry for Martin as he hugs a toy rabbit and pretends it’s his brainwashed fiancée. What gets me in the heart just as much as his tearful confession, though, is the attitude of the young girls who Charm looked out for back at the New Forest camp, and of the young German aberrants. It shows us, just for a moment, that maybe Gerald was right when he said that there must be a ‘bloody big light on somewhere’.

Matt’s Thoughts: For me, this is possibly the most emotional chapter in the whole book. The conversation between Ingrid and Martin. Martin’s despair and soul-searching. The little reversal where the German aberrants arrive and remind us what Martin meant to them. It’s all beautifully done and I got teary about it.

Also, the over-arching presence of Charm in the story – despite her physical absence since the last book – is beautiful as well.

In short, Robin Jarvis has almost closed the arc on everyone’s personal journey and now all bets are off as to who is going to make it through the final chapters.

Topping it off is the spectacular scene – and I really do imagine anything to do with this castle on an IMAX level – between the Ismus and Martin on top of the castle. The journey that this trilogy has taken us, from the book being quietly passed around in Felixstowe to now being consumed by the masses around the world, is staggering. I can’t think of anything that Mr Jarvis has tried on this scale of ambition before.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 18

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Soon the White Castle rang with the wrathful clashing of many swords, as battles to the death between the four Royal Houses erupted.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The talking fox was just another interesting addition to Mooncaster lore the last time we met him, but now he’s positively pivotal, and in a way that nobody would have suspected. Everything in this bizarre fairytale hellscape is layered with myth upon symbolism upon allegory, and so we find ourselves asking – if the Bad Shepherd is every prophet and the Dawn Prince is literal Satan, who is the talking fox? I’m inclined to see a red-haired (or furred) trickster and leap to all sorts of conclusions, but I love that this, like so much about Mooncaster before the Ismus’ takeover, is never answered.

Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t remember all this mayhem the first time I read this but possibly because there is so much craziness in one chapter. The chaos that is taking place in the real world as everyone migrates to Kent is mirroring the chaos in the fantasy world as the paradise of Mooncaster turns sour.

Lee’s goal keeps shifting rapidly as well, causing extra confusion. One minute it’s getting to Haxxentrot to find the ruby, now it’s back to slaying the Bad Shepherd. That said, it’s not all bad – I won’t complain about another appearance of the talking fox!

Fighting Pax | Chapter 17

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Warning: Contains Spoilers

‘Have a care. There are other dangers than the shepherd here.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: So the cracks begin to really show in Austerly’s perfect, twee little world. The goodly folks of Moocaster are at each other’s throats even more than usual, there’s a Healing Ruby at large, and Lee seems to be getting nowhere fast, even on his patched-up leg.

Speaking of Lee,  the language he uses toward the Jill of Hearts in this chapter did raise my eyebrows slightly. All recent trials and tribulations considered, it does still seem a little out-of-character of Lee, ever vocal with his respect for the women in his life, to be spouting judgement calls at the Jill – even if he is aware that ‘that’s just how she was written’. I would expect him to curse out Austerly Fellows instead for leaning on 1930s misogyny, but then, perhaps even the Castle Creeper is not immune to the hostile new atmosphere of Mooncaster.

Matt’s Thoughts: Quite peculiar. For the first time, Lee seems openly welcomed (by some) but only because he’s hear to take out the Bad Shepherd.

But it is also clear from the myriad of little dark subplots that this is a far more dangerous version of Mooncaster than the one we have known. None of the regular rules apply. I love the surreal nature of Mooncaster as it starts to transform. Everything is pointing towards a vast collapse.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 16

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

“That’s what all this has been about, the real purpose behind the book. Austerly Fellows planned all of this from the very start.”

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Well this chapter is the elephant’s eyebrows and no mistake. I had actually forgotten that we meet Estelle Winyard again, so she was a… well not a pleasant surprise, exactly. An interesting surprise. She adds some spark to proceedings, let’s say.

The whole scene at Fellows End would make a great short story in its own right, and, like a lot of plot threads in this trilogy, seems to contain an entire novel of its own just beneath the surface. I love how the Dancing Jax books really are so ‘genre-busting’ that one minute we can be in the middle of huge Hollywood-like action scenes, and the next, we’ve got an old-fashioned M. R. James ghost story going on, and yet it all fits together as seamlessly ol’ Austerly’s circuits.

And of course, the big reveal about the Ismus’ special plan for this world. We all guessed way back in Dancing Jax, but it’s important to finally hear it from the characters, because now all the cards really are on the table.

Matt’s Thoughts: So maybe this chapter was a sly insert to a) show us a potential way to defeat the powers of evil and b) ensure that Evelyn could make another appearance, but I’m not going to complain about a potential detour to the Fellows home where all of this started.

Estelle Winyard makes a brilliant one-chapter villainness and I’m only sorry that there wasn’t some way for her character to have been a sort of sidekick to the Ismus way back at the beginning of this. What a pair they would have made, eh? I’m guessing that her character possibly wasn’t created until her stunning appearance in Freax and Rejex, which would explain why she didn’t just take over Shiela in the first book and wreak havoc from there …

As we approach this finale, while there are some things that are seared in my brain from the first time I read it, I will be honest that the fate of Eun-mi is not one of them. So I am now curious to see what happens to the ‘angel’ of this chapter. We now want her to turn good and join forces with the aberrants, but will she be able to get past her own upbringing?

Which is, of course, another thing I meant to mention in passing earlier. While the Jax series may have been started in England, where the parody was having a dig at British shallowness and a lack of belief in anything, I feel like Robin’s portrayal of the North Koreans is dropping the hint that there are other systems of thought – besides a messed-up kids’ book – that can take over a whole nation…