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…

Fighting Pax | Chapter 15

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‘We’re up to our necks in shadows, Spence, but you can’t have them without there being a bloody big light on somewhere.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Honestly, the fact that Spencer, Eun-Mi, sand Gerald actually make it to the UK alive is in itself proof of some sort of force for good out there somewhere. The exploding mountain is bad enough, but the plane ride? The complete absence of security or safely regulations? The two old ladies pedalling out into the Atlantic? Absolutely horrifying. Robin doesn’t ever actually say ‘billions upon billions of people are dying gruesome deaths all around the globe and smiling while they do’ – the implication is enough!

Matt’s Thoughts: And, miraculously, as if in answer to my existential questions from the previous chapter, it is Gerald who believes in God. Who holds out hope that as bleak as all these goings-on are, there is some hope. It remains to be seen how his optimism plays out, but for the first time in this book, someone has offered a chance of something bigger going on. He’s such a great character.

Of course, in this chapter, you could just like Gerald for being clever enough to one-up Eun-mi by sneakily emptying her gun! It’s a humorous moment in what is otherwise a visceral representation of a world gone mad. What’s fascinating is that the Jaxers, while they don’t take part in crime, theft, etc. – though that is arguable, when you see the way they treat aberrants – have clearly lost any care for humanity (thus the plane crashes and other assorted horrors).

In other words, if the world’s crime rate has lowered, it isn’t because humankind has became less selfish, but more because they have a new object of selfishness – the Mooncaster world.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 14

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Is there anything out there?’ her cracked voice rasped in hollow desperation. ‘Is there? Anything? Anyone? Up there?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What disturbs me the most about this chapter is the horrible fact that the Jockey’s story that he tricked Martin with a few chapters earlier turned out to be completely true. Those who read Fighting Pax before the release date (oof, I can feel the publishing industry collectively frown, unsure whether to be offended or not) do, in fact, exit Mooncaster stage left and return to their own selves.

In any other YA series, this would turn out as the Jockey surmised. But this is not any other YA series, and instead of returning to fight the good fight, Queenie is consumed with what can only be the boundless rage and hatred of the Dawn Prince, Himself, and compelled to beat Manda, her erstwhile friend, half to death with a ladle before drowning her in porridge. The hope would be that this ghastly turn of events was a malfunction, the result of her premature reading, and not what awful Austerly plans to roll out to the entire world on Christmas Day. One look at the Ismus’ smug face, however, might tell us otherwise.

Matt’s Thoughts: I’ve always found this to be the most bleak of all chapters – certainly in this book and quite possibly in the whole Jarvis canon. I think it’s because Queenie’s question: Is there anything out there? has echoed through this whole trilogy.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the things I find slightly disconcerting about horror novels that deal with anything Satanic or Devilish is that they seem to take place in a world where there is no higher Good Power. Or at least not a Power that is doing anything to stand up against evil.

And so Queenie’s question becomes the question of the whole trilogy: Who’s out there? And why are they letting all this happen? And so when Queenie hears nothing but a howling silence from the top of the CN Tower, it breaks my heart.

Also fascinating is the idea that what she most wants from God is forgiveness. To find that in a book that has come from a secular publishing house is most unusual in my experience. I would say more on this topic, but there will be opportunity for that further down the track in this book.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 13

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The risen sun formed a halo round his head, as he intended it to. He pressed his fingertips together as if in prayer, but his dark eyes continued to glint into the lens.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The parody aspect of this series comes back in full force, with commentary on everything from the evils of technology manufacture to the choreographed insincerity of televised addresses by world leaders.

The part that gets me the most is the shriekingly awful stopmotion segment, reminiscent of low-budget religious education cartoons and complete with far and away the most painful rhymes in Jarvis canon. The digitally rendered illustrations actually make the experience worse, stomping on everything that’s good and precious about Mr Jarvis’ artwork even as the Ismus serves as a mouthpiece for biting satire of the ebook industry. Frankly, even the leering, hallucinogenic covers of these books don’t do justice to quite how surreal the Dancing Jax trilogy can get.

Matt’s Thoughts: So we now have a surprise Canadian detour and a stop-motion animation all in the one chapter. I remember thinking the first time I read this book that by rights, something that throws in this many seemingly disparate ideas should utterly fall apart but instead it just magically seems to work. No matter how crazy the events get, it manages to hang together with a sort of mad logic of its own.

And since Mr Jarvis has been so particular with his cultural references in this chapter, you should check out the utterly terrifying EdgeWalk on the CN Tower and the peculiar world of Edward Gorey.

Of course, like the rest of us, you may be more curious about the contents of what the Queen of Spades is reading on that laptop …

Fighting Pax | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Behind them, the firestorm roared through the half-open barrier and came raging down the tunnel.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What really struck me in this chapter were the moments of humanity. Doctor Choe’s idolisation of Marie Curie. Eun-mi saying goodbye to her father. Spencer being reunited with his stetson (honestly that hat has been through more adventures than Indiana Jones’ fedora). And Gerald, brought round not by friend or foe, but by Evelyn, his other half. I knew she wouldn’t let him lie around in corridors.

Matt’s Thoughts: There aren’t many spots in a Jarvis tale where you can throw in a huge, Bond-movie-scale car chase – and even less likely one with a raging fireball pinging down the tunnel behind said car. And yet, the man managed to do it! I like to think Robin got not a small bit of satisfaction in managing to work this epic action sequence into the Dancing Jax story.

But then again, one of the interesting aspects of this trilogy is its multi-genre nature. It has had elements of thriller, horror, fantasy, soap, social commentary. So why not a big military action set piece? Oh yeah, and martial arts! I’m so glad Eun-Mi is along for the ride.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 11

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Lee couldn’t believe it. Here was the Ismus, the mighty Austerly Fellows, scared by something out of a heavy-metal video.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s an awful lot to chew over in this chapter, but my favourite detail is the brief paragraph about the Dawn Prince facing down Mauger and capturing the beast to be Growly Guardian of Mooncaster’s gate. Thus far, the Dawn Prince has been a name to inspire terror and little else, but the section about Mauger gives tangible weight to the idea of him (Him?) in exile.

No matter what grandiose claims he makes, the Ismus is and always will be a regent and representative. Austerly Fellows just got lucky, latching onto a power greater than himself – he was never Mooncaster’s true ruler, and all he can really do at the end of the day is pave to road to hell. Which card will the hooded figures draw for him, we ask ourselves. Rise of a Tyrant? The False Prophet? Death of Innocents? Plague? Flood? Fire?

Or what about Downfall of Empires.

Matt’s Thoughts: Where do we start with so much brain-bending mythology packed into this chapter?

Lee is a ferociously brave character, and the idea of a love strong enough to kill the prophets of all world religions is somewhat breathtaking. (Though I would be interested in whether secular readers feel as much of the weight of what Lee is being asked to do.) But I’m not sure if any of us believe that this fairytale will have a happy ending.

Finally, the idea that life is somehow an epic card game is tantalising. Is it a game of chance? Is it a game of strategy? Is it played for fun? Is it serious? Will we ever find out?

 

Fighting Pax | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Every one of Nimbelsewskin’s victims that had been hanging from the oak tree was there – moving and yet not alive.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s something so deeply, deeply messed-up about Dora and the other skin-puppets actually mourning for Nimblesewskin. It implies that not only are they somehow still aware in there, but also that they actually do have emotions other than face-eating rage. Do you think they celebrated when a new puppet was made? Had happy little Night of All Dark parties? Did Nimblesewskin ever face moments of regret for his ghastly deeds, and did Dora, or any of the others, ever feel any flicker of resentment toward him? What a cobbled-together quilt is Mooncaster!

I hate to say it, but I really enjoy the way the Ismus turns up at the close of this chapter. Just floating in, casual as you please, blasting trees and being smug at Lee for the fun of it. With everything that’s happened at the North Korean base, it was easy to forget that we hadn’t actually seen our lead villain since before Dark Waters of Hagwood, so some theatrics are warranted. If any of you haven’t heard Nigel Peever’s fantastic narration of this book, I highly recommend it – his renditions of all the characters are superb, and his Ismus, in particular, is pitch perfect.

Matt’s Thoughts: The unfiltered imagination of Robin Jarvis is extraordinary. There was not necessarily any plot need to insert the Nimblesewskin cottage – I’m sure there were any number of crazy ways that Lee could have gotten away from his military captors.

But this is the one we’ve got – full of reanimated corpses and meathooks. It’s gross and would almost be fun, except for the mention of Jim. It’s only a couple of paragraphs but it’s easily the most horrific thing in the chapter; the idea that you can die a double death – a brutal one in our world and an even more horrendous one in the next. But isn’t that the idea of Hell?