…then let this be the lingering, sinister epilogue with a heart-wrenching plot-twist to turn the peeling blade at the last.
When Matt first suggested an online Robin Jarvis book group to me, one dismal September morning in 2016, I was checking out of a dingy hotel in a dingier seaside town after a publisher’s convention, and it was the best pitch I’d heard all weekend. As the project progressed, growing and writhing like the Dark Despoiler yet unborn, we found ourselves so caught up in the adventure of its day-to-day running that, apart from a monthly eyeball over the schedule, neither of us really gave much thought to the fact that we would, at some point, run out of books.
Now, after several cross-country moves and a veritable kaleidoscope of momentous life events, we have, impossible though it seems, come to the end of the Great Grand Robin Jarvis Reread. We have flown with Valkyrja and drowned with Deep Ones. We have gone to war in the name of the Green; of the Mighty Three, of the High Lady of the Hollow Hill. We have crossed the Outer Dark and rolled away the sun, to stand at last before Myth and Sacrifice and make the choice to be ordinary heroes.
Now I raise my cup as co-writer; a berrybrew toast to Matt, without whom the Great Grand Reread would never have been at all. It was your creativity and insight which brought this project to life, and without you I would still probably be languishing on chapter seven of The Dark Portal. With the patience and wisdom of a Master of Motive Science, you kept the ichors of this blog aligned and the gears turning – I merely polished the casing!
Another toast (perhaps with acorn cups?) to the tireless and devoted Starshine Squirrel, who not only saw the Reread through right from the beginning, but who has also been quietly crafting the marvellous, the magnificent, Deptford Mice Wiki. A vast and extremely useful resource for both the questing fan and bumbling bloggers such as Matt and I, it has grown with the Reread, watched over by its very own Handmaiden of Orion. Patricia, long may you reign.
Finally, and with trumpeting fanfare, to Mr Jarvis, sometime Sir Robin; author, artist, merciless murderer of mice. But for your Greenly grace goes this project, and but for your kind encouragement and avid attention to every chapter, who knows whether we would have had the wherewithal to carry through so epic an undertaking.
Honoured are we, humble Matt and humble Aufwader, to have had your unwavering support throughout, and honoured are we now to have a place online among your titles past and present. Green knows we have not enough words in our thesaurus to thank you for everything you have done, and continue to do, for your fans. Fair weather and fine writing to you Sirrah – sharp be your pencils and bright your lamps in the ravenous dark.
So concludes the Great Grand Reread, that is, until the finale of the Witching Legacy goes to print and we all start up again like Fennywolders peering out into the wan Spring sunshine. And here perhaps, comes the plot twist, for Matt and I have a few scratchings and scufflings planned before that eagerly-awaited day dawns. While all of Mr Jarvis’ books are present and correct, not all his writing is yet accounted for, nor indeed have we unearthed the many remarkable adaptations of his work which have shown themselves since he first divided The Dark Portal into a trilogy back in 1989. And what, then, lies beyond? Why, a silvering sea of possibility, Readers all.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: So we finally come to the death of one year and the birth of another. When the Almanack was published in 1997, we Robin Jarvis fans could not have known that in four years time we would depart from the rodenty world of Deptford and Greenwich, to crash-land in an entirely new, reflected, realm for a new millennium. We could not have guessed at the fire and bloodshed and adult themes which awaited us, first in the be-ruffed players of Deathscent, and then in stubborn stain of the Dancing Jax trilogy. Back in 1997, none of us, perhaps not even Mr Jarvis himself, supposed that a return to the looming crags of Whitby would be in the offing, over twenty years after The Whitby Child first terrified young readers. And maybe, in light of War in Hagwood, some of us returned to the Mouselets with renewed optimism that the Deptford Mice finale the Almanack promised would see the light of day after all.
For myself, the ending of the Almanack is basically perfect, and the only Deptford Mice closure I’ll ever require. Looking back on the whole of Robin Jarvis canon after two years of reading and writing my way through it, I would say that his greatest strength and brightest talent is his ability to hone in on one particular story and tell it well, while still giving the impression of thousands of other stories, happening off-page, but happening nonetheless. Robin Jarvis books come to an end, but life goes on in the worlds he has created, long after the reader has reached the last page.
Gervase gets up from his desk, puts on his squirrelly scarf against the weather, and goes to visit Thomas Triton. They have a drink, the bells chime. Somewhere out in the night, Modequai and Morella weave their devilish schemes. The Greenwich sentries chatter and wail. The rats of Deptford mutter about thrones and bones and daggers with amethyst pommels dredged up on the banks of the Thames. Perhaps Audrey seeks shelter with her brother Arthur and his family in Holeborn. Parhaps she flees into the dark.
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, I figured something bad was on its way, but I wasn’t sure what! Now I understand why everyone who reads the Almanack is hanging out for more Deptford books.
The fact that we got prequels instead (the Mouselets series) does make me think that we were going to be set up for the return of Mabb (and perhaps Hobb as well) for any future books. And I’m assuming that Morella is perhaps Alison Sedge, possessed by Mabb and transformed into a squirrel somehow?
Well, I guess until Mr Jarvis decides to tell that tale, we’ll either have to wait and see or imagine how such a showdown would play out.
And given that we’re still patiently (well, almost patiently) waiting for the final Witching Legacy book, that might be a while in coming.
Finally, what a cleverly done last twist. Here Thomas has been set up as the alcoholic loser all year long and now it’s Gervase that goes and joins him in hitting up the bottle. What an ironic way to finish the Almanack!
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.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is another one of my favourite calendar illustrations. The doughty squirrel warrior, sword gleaming; and the vile Hobber, eyes glinting just as brightly. Seeing it, one hears the echoes of war cries and pictures banners emblazoned with the silver crest of the Ancient, spattered with blood. Having been to Blackheath, I can well imagine such spectres flickering in and out of sight in the halflight of a red October sunset.
Of greatest note this month are the diaries of Gervase Brightkin, as he recounts his meetings with doddery informants, sightings of shady rats of Deptford past, and alarm at the wanton hedgehog murder happening right on his doorstep. What are these mysterious happenings leading to, we ask ourselves? Tune in for next month’s installment.
Matt’s Thoughts: Of course it was Halloween when Jupiter’s spirit returned. This was just one of a few grim things this month, including a football game with decapitated heads, a murdered hedgehog and the bats predicting that barely any squirrels will be left alive in a year.
But there is also so many strands that point tales we’ve never heard. The ghostly rat and squirrel warrior fighting in the colour illustration – who were they? Was this one of the many battles between squirrels and Hobbers? Or something else completely?
The more I read of the Almanack, the more I realise it was a small miracle for us Jarvis fans that a book with such lavish production values got to be in print.
The deceased of Dark Waters of Hagwood are as follows:
YIMWINTLE BILWIND (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Prologue) Faithful librarian and archivist of the Hollow Hill’s ancient texts for many generations, Master Bilwind was cruelly blinded by his Queen for failing to find any reference to the werlings in all the histories of Hagwood. He was later put to death by Her, and his bones are now dust among the tomes he cherished.
THE FARMER AT MOONFIRE AND HIS WIFE (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Ch 2) The couple who had so often offered their hearth and hospitality to the Wandering Smith were slain by Rhiannon’s spriggans upon their own doorstep. Their child was taken to the Hollow Hill and their home left abandoned, with none but the bogle, Grimditch, to tell their tale.
YOORI MATTOCK (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 1 – Dark Waters of Hagwood – Ch 11) Respected member of the werling council, Mr Mattock aided Gamaliel in his search for the casket of Rhiannon until he was killed in confrontation with the shades of the elfin barrows. He will forever be remembered as the one who began the quest to destroy the High Lady of the Hollow Hill in earnest.
UNNAMED BIRDS AND SPRIGGAN GUARDS (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Ch 20) Many of the Tower Lubber’s feathered companions, and many of Rhiannon’s spriggan guards, perished at the Battle of Watch Well. The birds were suitably laid to rest, but the spriggans, not so.
And so the golden casket that the Puccas had fashioned for the High Lady, many years ago, in which she had magically hidden her beating heart, was finally brought from the darkness.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Between the nine fragments, the nimius, and now Rhiannon’s golden casket, I’m beginning to picture a plausible alternate universe in which Robin was a goldsmith. He seems to have a bogle-like fascination with filigree, and I can’t say I blame him. We rereaders are glad you chose to be a writer, Mr Jarvis, but in another life, I for one would definitely attend an exhibition of your caskets, watches, clocks and miniature serpent-god-containing vessels.
I won’t lie, there is a little bit of sequel-lull about three quarters of the way through this book, but the cliffhanger here more than makes up for any dearth of suspense earlier on. I love both the implication that there really was some good in Rhiannon, and that Gamaliel might have actually got cold feet at the last moment and been unable to allow the heart to be destroyed.
Among these epic deeds and noble quests, there is still a thread of human emotion that makes us root for tiny shapeshifters who live in trees and grizzled, goblin-faced lovers. Sadly, that thread of emotion also means that War in Hagwood is going to hurt worse than a swarm of bloodmoths.
Matt’s Thoughts: Now as well as having a great second-book cliffhanger, one other thing which struck me about this chapter is that design of the infamous box in the illustration. Does anybody else feel like it bears a resemblance to the Nimius?
For some reason, I thought this second book of Hagwood was a lot more bloodthirsty than it actually turned out to be, but maybe reading it so closely to the Dancing Jax series takes the edge off! Or maybe it’s Book 3 that’s more of a bloodbath?
Whatever the case, it’s been enjoyable to have had this detour into Hagwood. I think I’m suitably mentally fortified for Fighting Pax…
“Clarisant,” he said lovingly. “Come back to me. Reclaim who you were.”
Aufwader’s Thoughts: First of all I really like this chapter’s header illustration. It’s one of my favourites in this trilogy, because it’s so – and I know this word is overused but I really mean it – cinematic. You can really feel Clarisant looking out of Meg’s eyes and remembering her life before she became queen of the under country.
As for Rhiannon’s entrance, I must say I was sort of expecting her to zap the werlings with her Troll Witch Powers Of Evil and was a little disappointed that she didn’t. I mean what’s the point of being Mistress of Darkness if you can’t zap things, and have to rely on a smarmy talking owl and your useless henchguards? Roslyn Crozier needs to give this witch some lessons in showing one’s enemies what’s what from the tops of cliffs while laughing villainously and such.
Still, as I’ve said, there’s a whole other book to go. Maybe Rhiannon is just biding her time.
Matt’s Thoughts: If you think about it, Peg-tooth Meg is almost like a Gollum character, isn’t she? She started life as something much more normal, but circumstances transformed her physically and mentally, and drove her to live far beneath the earth.
Though Gollum never really had the power to do much more than be either pitiable or aggravating. Knowing how to strategically flood a battlefield is much more of a Meg specialty!