Fifty-eight new feathery creatures were blinking and looking about them with sharp, jerky movements. When they tried to speak, only a dry croaking came from their now-rigid lips and they scurried around the encircling crowd, bewildered.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is by far the most surreal ‘battle’ scene in Jarvis canon so far. It’s not really even a battle so much as each side reacting to the other amid an atmosphere of general chaos. One has to wonder what the Men who once guarded the tower would make of Redcaps who can chew through doors, hideous transformations into avian monstrosities, or creatures made entirely of slime who expel apples and pears down upon their enemies. The Tower Lubber said last chapter that no Man can dwell nigh Hagwood long without going mad, and to be honest it’s easy to see why!
Matt’s Thoughts: See, this chapter right here is what makes this story so unusual. We’ve got dead birds being devoured, a gory end to a bunch of Redcaps, friends missing (presumed dead) down a hole but it ends with a set piece of a bunch of slime monsters belching at their enemies.
I love it. There just weren’t many books like this when I was a kid, but Robin recognised that it was fun to have a bit of gore and some bodily function humour at the same time.
The shield tilted and tipped. Clinging on for their very lives, the werlings went shooting down into the vast, gaping pit.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Once again we’re reminded that the werlings are quite young still, with Tollychook being perhaps the most naive. Considering the trouble he gets everyone into in this chapter, it’d be easy to treat him merely as an annoyance, and in a television series or film I daresay he might be reduced to the role of comedic sidekick.
But it’s not actually his fault that the sluglungs clear the Tower Lubber’s larder – it wasn’t he who suggested it, and despite his own rumbling belly he actually tries to stop the crazed feasting, knowing what the consequences will be. Similarly, he couldn’t have helped knocking over the weapons, the poor kid was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m still holding out hope that he’ll turn out to be a Twit, with a secret brave and resourceful streak just waiting for the right moment to show itself. Come on Tolly, I believe in you!
Matt’s Thoughts: I had forgotten how much early Jarvis was a nod to animated films and TV. The rather thundering sequence with our small characters dodging falling weapons or even the sluglungs pigging out on the Lubber’s food – all of this was the kind of sequence that we would expect from a good animated film in the 80s.
Having said that, I’m pretty sure the idea of dousing a whole bunch of dead birds in transformative juice so they could be devoured by carnivorous baddies was not a staple of 80s animation, so there are limits to how far I can push the connection!
The immortal splendor of the Tyrant of the Hollow Hill, wrapped in the nourishing flame of human innocence, was an injury to the eyes and made her feel faint. Never had the world seen anything so monumentally worshipful yet so wincingly cruel and repellent.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: The scene with the High Lady and the human child brings us neatly round, right back to Chapter 5 of Thorn Ogres, in which Gamiliel and his friends witness the Trooping Ride and see Rhiannon for the first time, the doomed infant in her arms. There’s myths a-plenty about babies being snatched by the fair folk, but most of them, as far as I’m aware, focus more on the human families now left with a fairy in the cradle, and don’t really tell us much about what becomes of the stolen, mortal children.
That Rhiannon should have been slowly leeching the life force from the child of Moonfire Farm is an interesting explanation, and if you really think about it, no less dire than the infant having been cooked and eaten by imps, or given to the Devil, or any number of other terrible fates recorded in Celtic folklore. After all, what ghastly death would befall the baby if he were ever to leave the Hill?
Matt’s Thoughts: I must say that the owl makes me curious. This sentence is fascinating: ‘Like everybody else in her realm, it feared her, yet that fear was matched in equal measure by love and adoration.’
First thing that’s interesting is simply that the owl is seemingly one of the most clever characters in the whole of the Hollow Hill. Certainly smart enough to know how all the politics of the place works and how easily it is to get killed. And yet, despite mounting evidence that Rhiannon completely operates in her own self-interest – and is freaking dangerous – the owl loves and adores her anyway.
Is there some sort of metaphor in here about people who enable toxic personalities?
Second interesting thing, especially because didn’t notice it until this chapter, is that the owl is genderless. For some reason, I had just assumed that it was a he-owl but scouring through this book I have only found it referred to as ‘the owl’ or ‘it’. Robin’s not one to use his words casually so I would be fascinated what his thinking was behind this decision.
Finally, I’m sure I wasn’t meant to make this mental connection at all, but Rhiannon’s cry of ‘No milk today’ immediately put me in mind of Herman’s Hermits …
‘In my old kingdom, there were few knights as stout of heart as you small folk!’ he exclaimed. ‘Great courage blazes in the littlest breast. We shall make one last stand against Rhiannon Rigantona and Her bloodthirsty horde. One final battle before the eternal dark takes us.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: It’s quite easy to forget that all the events since the routing of the thorn ogres from the werling’s homes have really only taken place over a span of about a week or so. In epic fantasy, we the readers don’t tend to stop and wonder when our heroes last ate, or slept in proper beds, or missed their families back home, unless the text draws our attention to these things, and sometimes there can be a sort of disconnection between the vast and gruelling nature of the quest and the heroes’ needs as individuals.
In this case though, we are reminded that everything has been happening very, very fast for the werlings, who are really only young people still. Imagine if you, as a young tween, were suddenly uprooted from your home where you’d lived all your days and forced to embark upon life-threatening adventures that will most likely end in the gory demise of yourself and everyone you love? It’s a wonder they’re all still standing, let alone having the the courage to challenge the High Lady’s rule one final time. But werlingkind are stout of heart, and it’s this tenacity that means, despite everything, that they stand a fighting chance.
Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t remember many of the details of this book (apart from the decapitated horse!), even though I didn’t read it all that long ago, so this may be a bit of a journey for me!
All the werlings are coming back to me, and again I appreciate that Robin’s characters are so sharply delineated that you only have to read a couple of pages and they all stand out. I do feel rather sorry for Gamaliel, but I’m sure he’ll be able to redeem himself by the end of the story.
At the same time, I also feel as if I’ve just been dropped in the story. The second book ended with an almighty battle and now we suddenly have another one about to start two chapters in to the third book? Relentless! It gives me a feeling of stress before I’ve even had a chance to settle back into the book. (Well, it is called War in Hagwood, right?)
She rose like a spectre from a ruin. Her gown was torn and the knife she still clutched in her hand rained a scarlet drizzle into the grass.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: If we’re counting Belladonna in Deathscent, that makes two horses having died gruesome and undeserved deaths in Jarvis canon so far. What do you have against those noble beasts, Robin?!
Aside from the gratuitous equine violence, I do love the description of Rhiannon transforming into a hind. I would’ve thought her maybe a raven or hawk sort of person, but at this point it’s established that she, like the High Priest of the Scale, can wear pretty much any form she likes. So why not a sable deer? It’s an elegant look.
After that blood-soaked stampede through the forest, we swoop right into Intrigues of the Hollow Hill with the wily Lord Fanderyn and the arrival of poor old Grimditch, beset by spriggans. It’s fascinating that in this final book, we’re allowed a glimpse at the lives of other fair folk than the highest of high or lowest of low. We have to wonder what fae of the middling sort must have been thinking of Rhiannon’s reign this whole time. If Waggarinzil’s conversation with Fanderyn is anything to go by, it’s nothing good.
Matt’s Thoughts: Horse decapitation! Has there ever been a more gruesome beginning to a Jarvis novel? I feel like it’s designed to send a message to readers everywhere: This novel is pretty violent and probably NOT suitable for young kids, but you should read it anyway because it will be great fun.
And so we’re back to the Hollow Hill, but this time with some new expanded treacherous characters. This does make things interesting, because it means that as well as the basic conflict between Rhiannon and the forces of good (wergles / Land Lubber / Meg), she’ll also have to take care of all the intrigues of the court as well. Though if I was taking bets on the outcome of a conflict between Lord Fanderyn and Co vs Rhiannon, my money would be on Rhiannon!
Finally, eagle-eyed supporters of the Robin Jarvis Universe theory might have been interested to note two things: a) the mention of the ‘twin serpents’ when Rhiannon curses her dead horse – a throwback to the Scale and Morgawrus? And b) the placement – in the opening section of Chapter 1 – of Hagwood as being a sort of faerie land separate but close to the world of men. Thus indicating that all of this could very well be taking place in a corner of England somewhere. But as to when or where, who would know?
Aufwader’s Thoughts: After an unexpected hiatus, we’re back, belated but bushy-tailed, with November’s entry. This is another of my favourites in the Almanack calendar – a festive, mildly unnerving scene, reminiscent of the Guy Fawkes tradition but featuring an effigy of Jupiter in place of the Guy. I love the gleeful expressions on the mice’s faces as they watch the Lord of the Winter burn, knowing that he really is burning still, somewhere out in the cosmos.
The entry to accompany this illustration, dated, of course, the 5th, is also an interesting look at the aftermath of large-scale mouse trauma. The youngsters, too little to recall the Eternal Winter, have diminished that past horror into a raucous, celebratory ritual, while the older mice, the ones who were there, dammit, clutch their brasses at the memory. Remember, remember, the Day of Deliverance.
As always, there are many notable dates this month following our main plot, not least the discovery of Mabb’s altar by Gervase and the Starwife’s sentries. The image of those quivering squirrels coming across the gored corpse of old Dodder is the kind of grotesque scene that deserves a Penny-Dreadful-like engraving. I can just see their horrified little faces, and the lurid printed caption “Another Sacrifice Had Been Made In The Temple Of The Unholy Three!”
On a slightly more heartwarming note, I’ve always liked the four day spread of the Quilt Festival. There’s something so Brambly Hedge about all the mice gathering together for this most cosy of annual celebrations, but of course, being Robin Jarvis mice, they’re busy sewing in iron for good luck and rowan to keep evil at bay.
Finally, in the Rat Zodiac, we enter the Sign of Discord, and though it be Hobbish heathenry and though “kill-ems” apparently have ‘many friends, all dead’, I daresay I could do worse than share a sign with Black Ratchet.
Matt’s Thoughts: Now this is fascinating. Because I have never read the Almanack before this reread (so this is just a read for me!), I didn’t realise that the story of ‘Orace Baldmony was traced out in 1997 back in this Almanack (rather than appearing in Fleabee’s Fortune, where I first read about it.
There we go – so many intricate parts of the Deptford landscape floating around in Robin’s brain!
Highlights for me were the Nepwort story (I know it’s meant to be something that scares mice, but it is rather blackly comic, don’t you think?) and Widdershins Eve (which is so flat out bizarre, I can’t help but like it).
Clearly, there were plans also – in the current-day narrative part of the story – for some sort of return of the Raith Sidhe, but that one might just have to wait. Or be crowd-sourced. Or if Aufwader gets her way, never written at all so we can imagine how it all plays out!
THIS ENTRY STANDS IN MEMORY OF THE COUNTLESS UNNAMED PEOPLE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES DURING AUSTERLY FELLOWS’ TYRANNICAL REIGN. MAY THE POWER OF THE HEALING RUBY RESTORE THEM TO THEIR DESERVED REST.
MRS BENEDICT (Freax and Rejex | Ch 4 – Fighting Pax | Ch 2) Beloved mother of Charm, Mrs Benedict was sadly taken by the power of Dancing Jax and could not live with the grief of her daughter’s death upon returning to her true self. She committed suicide in the North Korean refugee camp, to the lasting sorrow of all. She is remembered by Martin, Spencer, and the rest of those brave young people who survived the Ismus’ regime.
SEVEN UNNAMED NORTH KOREAN FARMING FAMILIES (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) Having been taken over by Dancing Jax, these innocent people were shot on the order of Marshal Tark Hyun-ki. May they rest in peace.
TWELVE UNNAMED SOLDIERS OF THE PEOPLE’S ARMY (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) Cut down in their country’s ill-fated resistance against Dancing Jax, these unnamed men died, escaping the blight of that evil book forever.
MARSHAL TARK HYUN-KI (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) This violent military leader was shot after being taken over by Dancing Jax. He will not be remembered favourably by many.
DU KWAN (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) Young aide of Marshal Tark, Du Kwan was killed with his superior under suspicion of having been taken over by Dancing Jax. He was, however, as yet unturned, and his death was a needless waste. He will perhaps be remembered only by Arirang.
UNNAMED PEOPLE’S ARMY SOLDIERS (Fighting Pax | Ch 8) During the rampage of the kirin, the skeletal unicorn which crossed over from Mooncaster, through the refugee camp, many nameless People’s Army soldiers met their deaths. May they rest in peace.
DOCTOR CHOE SOO-JIN (Fighting Pax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 8) A respected scientist and surgeon, Dr Choe allowed ambition and obsession to overtake her following the advent of Dancing Jax upon the outer world. Aiming to find a cure to what she believed to be the ‘disease’ of the book, she sought to experiment on the refugees, and only the quick action of Spencer saved them from her saw. She died in the massacre at the North Korean border, following the invasion of Dancing Jax.
GENERAL CHUNG (Fighting Pax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 8) Killed by Eun-mi during the incursion of Dancing Jax into North Korea, General Chung was a formidable figure in his country’s regime. His relationship with eldest daughter was a complex and bitter one, and he chose to lavish attention and affection upon his youngest child, Nabi. He fought the will of Austerly Fellows for some time before eventually succumbing to the pull of Mooncaster.
UNNAMED SQUIRREL (Fighting Pax | Ch 9) A Mooncaster squirrel was shot by one of Lee’s North Korean guards on their arrival into the Kingdom of the Dawn Prince. It is not known what wisdom this creature of the enchanted forests might have imparted, had it been allowed to live.
NIMBLESEWSKIN (Fighting Pax | Ch 9) Goblin tailor of Mooncaster and minor blight upon the Dawn Prince’s land, Nimblesewskin was killed by Lee’s guards as they struggled to control their nerves. The diminutive tailor was later discovered to have been a serial murderer, re-stitching and reanimating the corpses of his victims to serve his foul whims. He was not missed even by the Ismus, who described him as as unpleasant neighbour.
UNNAMED PEOPLE’S ARMY SOLDIER AND GUARD (Fighting Pax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 10) Nicknamed ‘Scary Spice’ by Lee, this unnamed guard was gored and butchered by the servants of Nimblesewskin. It is unknown whether his soul remained in Mooncaster after death.
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS [FORMERLY, MANDA] AND THE QUEEN OF SPADES [FORMERLY, QUEENIE] (Dancing Jax | Ch 5 – Fighting Pax | Ch 10) The first to read the unpublished manuscript of Fighting Pax, Queenie awoke to her true self and beheld the murder she had committed as the Queen of Spades. For some unspecified slight brought on by the new and evil atmosphere in Mooncaster, the Queen of Spades beat the Queen of Hearts about the head with a ladle, before drowning her in a vat of porridge during the Ismus’ promotional gathering at the CN Tower in Toronto. Unable to live with what she had done and despairing at the horror of the world she had awoken to, Queenie plummeted to her death from the Tower. Whether any of the Ismus’ inner circle recalled her thereafter is unknown.
NICHOLAS AND ESTHER (Freax and Rejex | Ch 15 – Fighting Pax | Ch 21) Killed in the Ismus’ vile ‘Flee the Beast’ campaign, these young teens endured countless horrors at the new Forest camp before being slaughtered. Esther, while not well-liked by the other refugees, survived longer than Nicholas through sheer self-preservation. Both young people were innocent, however, and murdered long before their time.
YIKKER (Freax and Rejex | Ch 13 – Fighting Pax | Ch 23) One of the vile punchinello guards first brought over from Mooncaster to keep the New Forest aberrants in line, Yikker had a particular hatred for Marcus, and forever regretted that he had never had the chance to kill him. Maggie, who had had feelings for Marcus before his death, eventually avenged herself upon Yikker by dealing him a gory death with a pair of sewing scissors. He will not be missed.
UNNAMED ELDERLY WOMAN (Fighting Pax | Ch 24) This poor lady was just one of the countless people present at Kent during the lead up to the release of Fighting Pax. She died three days before Christmas Eve – perhaps one of the more fortunate.
THE HARLEQUIN PRIESTS [FORMERLY, TOMMO AND MILLER] (Dancing Jax | Ch 1 – Fighting Pax | Ch 25) The former accomplices of Jezza died worshipping the Dawn Prince as He arose in infernal splendor, never recalling their former lives. May they find what peace they can.
CAPTAIN SWAZZLE (Freax and Rejex | Ch 5 – Fighting Pax | Ch 26) Leader of the foul punchinello guards both in Mooncaster and at the New Forest camp, Captain Swazzle at last met his deserved end upon the Jill of Spades’ dagger. Returned to her true self, Emma Taylor made short work of the Ismus’ repellent servant using the lethal skills she had learnt as the daughter of an Under Queen, and not even Swazzle’s fellow guards wasted their breath mourning him.
SIR GERALD BENNING & PROFESSOR EVELYN HOLE (Dancing Jax | Ch 6 – Fighting Pax | Ch 26) Proprietors of the Duntinkling guest house in Felixstowe before Dancing Jax took over, former comedy artists and stage musicians Gerald and Evelyn were among that handful of brave ‘aberrant’ souls who fought the power of Austerly Fellows until the very end. Gerald is most remembered for his courageous action with Martin’s rebel group, and his compassion toward the refugee children imprisoned in North Korea, while Evelyn took down the Ismus’ fearsome punchinello guard and dispatched a spore of Fellows, himself. Sadly, this last act also brought about Gerald and Evelyn’s death. They are now honoured as a hero of international renown.
THE JOCKEY [FORMERLY, BARRY MILLIGAN] (Dancing Jax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 27) Previously headmaster at the school where Martin worked, Barry Milligan had a reputation for being old-fashioned yet dependable. His hobbies included rugby, making merry at the local pub, and mouthing off about the state of the English education system. When Dancing Jax arrived, he resisted for longer than most before finally succumbing. As the Jockey, Mooncaster’s consummate and consummately unpleasant trickster, he practiced countless mischiefs with varying degrees of severity, until the release of Fighting Pax caused his character to turn sour. He was eventually throttled to death by the kitchen maid, Columbine.
COLUMBINE [FORMERLY, KATE KRYZEWSKI] (Freax and Rejex | Ch 2 – Fighting Pax | Ch 27) Formerly an internationally acclaimed journalist, Kate Kryzewski reported on the rise of Dancing Jax in America, before being lured, with her cameraman Sam, to the UK. Once she had delivered her piece about the Ismus’ apparently benign intentions for the New Forest camp, she was forbidden to leave, and forcibly turned. As Columbine, she attained the help of the witch Haxxentrot to protect herself from the Jockey’s violent advances, until Fighting Pax denied her that agency. Having dispatched the Jockey and awoken as herself in the real world, she witnessed Lucifer upon the Waiting Throne and committed suicide. May she rest in peace with the unnumbered others who met a similar fate.
KIZKA THE PUNCHINELLO (Fighting Pax | Ch 27) One of the guards stationed on the outer wall of the replica White Castle, Kizka was flung to his death by Carol after threatening her son. He is not recalled by many among his kind.
THE CINNAMON BEAR (Freax and Rejex | Ch 12 – Fighting Pax | Ch 28) Mythical beast of Mooncaster, resident of Hunter’s Chase and the only creature ever to carry Malinda the fairy godmother upon its back, the Cinnamon Bear was killed and devoured by the Bad Shepherd, sustaining him in Mooncaster for many months. Whether it knew his true identity before its death is a question that only the card dealers can answer, and they are not forthcoming.
LEE JULES SHERLON CHARLES (Freax and Rejex | Ch 2 – Fighting Pax | Ch 28) Originally from Peckham in London, Lee was one of the young people taken to the New Forest camp after Dancing Jax had no effect on him. During his ordeal at the camp, it was discovered that he was the Castle Creeper – a singular and unique character in Mooncaster, able to pass from the Kingdom of the Dawn Prince to the true world and back again at will. The Ismus sought to use Lee to his evil advantage, promising him a perfect life in Mooncaster with his deceased girlfriend, Charm, in exchange for the murder of the Bad Shepherd. But Lee, aware of the Shepherd’s true identity, instead allowed that being to end his life, thereby releasing the Healing Ruby and banishing the Dawn Prince from the world. Martin’s stepson Paul has since given interview stating that he has recurring dreams in which he sees the White Castle painted pink, and it is still unclear why Lee’s body, along with that of Gerald and certain others, was never recovered.
THE ISMUS [REGENT OF MOONCASTER; ONE OF THE MANY FACES OF AUSTERLY FELLOWS; ABBOT OF THE ANGELS, FOUNDER OF THE CANDLE FAITH, AND HERALD OF THE DAWN PRINCE] (Dancing Jax | Ch 1 – Fighting Pax | Ch 29) Once a petty thief by the name of Jezza, the Ismus was the embodiment of Austerly Fellows’ grand plan for the world. Ruthless, soulless, and impeccably stylish, he rose to power as the blight of Dancing Jax spread, and achieved absolute triumph in the name of the Dawn Prince, before suffering absolute defeat. Too hasty to celebrate his victory over the unhappy world and the return of his Master to the Waiting Throne, he failed to recognise the treat those who had resisted him posed to his hellish regime. At the hand of Arirang, he was impaled upon Malinda’s wand and scattered as ash upon the wind, his empire in ruins.
MAGGIE BLESSING (Freax and Rejex | Ch 9 – Fighting Pax | Ch 26) An outgoing yet troubled young woman, Maggie resisted capture and imprisonment in the New Forest camp for longer than any of the other young ‘aberrants’, even going so far as to disguise herself as the Jill of Hearts in an attempt to escape to the French border. She was a true friend to Charm and Lee, protecting Charm’s girls after her death and doing all she could to boost morale among the other young people in the North Korean refugee camp. Maggie bonded especially with Gerald, and would have been adopted by him, had circumstances been different. As things stand, however, only Evelyn could have revealed the truth about what happened beneath the replica White Castle on the night of Austerly Fellows’ downfall.