Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 21

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The barn owl stared at the sluglungs in disbelief. Too many strange things were happening that day. Where was the Lady Rhiannon? She should have been here by now.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I rather like how the Tower Lubber has a little bit of resentment for Rhiannon and her servants (to put it mildly). He could too easily be too good and kind, but a little anger makes him human and relatable, and gives him a personal motivation to help the werlings. It also gives punch to his speech against the provost – take that, flatface!

As for the spriggans v. sluglungs battle, well, it’s not exactly ice-wraiths aboard the Cutty Sark. But then, there’s a whole ‘nother book still to go called War in Hagwood, so we can’t fault this finale for being a bit of fun when the real bloodshed is yet to set in.

Matt’s Thoughts: Big battle scenes were a feature of 90s Jarvis (I’m thinking particularly of The Final Reckoning, The Oaken Throne and Thomas). But I’m not sure there was a battle that was quite as much fun as this one – rubbery soldiers that you can’t slice up, a device that transforms the bad guys into giant rabbits.

And while I do tend to imagine The Deptford Mice as hand-drawn animation, I could buy this one as stop motion.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 20

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Within every spriggan breast burns the desire for bloodshed. They are naturally vicious, and crimson war banners billow through their dreams.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Honestly this chapter should just be silliness and irrelevant filler – it’s just minor characters fighting minor characters, after all. But it’s the level to which Robin gets invested in it that makes it so enjoyable to read. Who cares if all it is is a bunch of spriggans facing off a bunch of the Tower Lubber’s bird friends? Let’s give it the same weighty prose as the siege of Hara or the fall of the Hallowed Oak, why not! You can really tell that Mr Jarvis loves playing about in the sandbox of Hagwood, finding little scenes, like the one with the provost and the silent bird army, and polishing them up till they shine.

Matt’s Thoughts: A nod to The Birds, perhaps? Under the hand of Hitchcock, swarms of birds silently waiting was unsettling. And it is a bit here but it’s also just plain awesome as well. Who else so far has managed to unsettle Rhiannon’s owl?

The birds here very much reminds me of the heroic peregrine falcon from The Oaken Throne (possibly the greatest anonymous Jarvis character of all time). Certainly the cooperation between the birds and other characters here is rousing to see. And much more useful than the odd taxi job by the Middle-earth eagles.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 19

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

A serenity she had never felt before flooded her mind. Whatever her enemies attempted, they could never overthrow her. Now her true reign could commence, and she threw back her head and laughed.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The most compelling part of this chapter for me is the glimpse we get of Rhiannon’s girlhood as Morthanna. ‘The enmity and lust for power was already within you,’ Black Howla says, but how much of that is really true? Was Rhiannon shobble and mootied even as her brother and sister, but in a far more insidious way? Did the troll witches twist her childish longing for attention and praise into something darker, just as the ratlings of Deptford are swayed by the bloodlust? Or was she, like Jupiter himself, simply born beneath an evil star?

Matt’s Thoughts: So, there is a power behind the power. Here we were, thinking that Rhiannon and her lackeys were as bad as it got, and now we discover the ghost of Black Howla and an army of boar-riding troll hags.

The beauty of this is that it both caught me by surprise the first time I read it and seemed blindingly obvious at the same time. The world is called Hagwood. The cliff is called Witches Leap. The waterfall is called Crones Maw. All through the tale, we have been set up for witches and now here they are …

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 18

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Meg had summoned a flood.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: So the tides finally begin to turn in favour of our heroes, and, unlike some other Robiny titles we’ll forbear to mention, there’s a possibility, despite all the peril, that at least one of them might make it out alive.

Of course, there’s still tragedy in amongst the slapstick of the sluglung’s transformations – the idea that these amorphous blobs of goo were once solid creatures with whole lives and personalities above-ground. One has to wonder at the horror they might feel, regaining their true forms only to find that they have aged beyond all recognition and that much of life has passed them by.

Matt’s Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a good Jarvis action scene? I really love the resourcefulness and tenacity of Finnen, Gamaliel and Kernella. They’re wise-cracking at each other, coming up with clever ways to use the silver fire devil and just generally being awesome. In short, there’s a sense of fun about the whole proceedings that can be somewhat rare in the Jarvis world, so I’m enjoying it while it’s there.

I would also like to know what happened to the two de-transformed spriggans, given that they can’t really be transformed back into sluglungs, but with all the noise and excitement, I’m not sure that we discover their fate.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 17

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Strange, bright pictures flickered in his sluggish mind: a green, dappled world, a kindly old face, himself secretly entering the Silent Grove and paring slivers of bark from the Lufkin beech—a terrible feeling of shame and guilt…

Aufwader’s Thoughts: It’s absolutely the dreamy-eyed sap in me, but I was kind of hoping that Kernella’s smooch might be what would change Finnen back. It’d be both a somewhat farcical princess-and-frog moment, and also a nice role reversal of traditional fairytale, in that it would be Kernella saving Finnen with true love’s kiss. Really though, I musn’t tarnish Jarvis canon with any such vomitous cliche – after all, there’s far more at stake here than some paltry werling romance.

Matt’s Thoughts: If it wasn’t for how violent I know these books can get, a chapter like this in isolation makes me think this would be a great animated kids’ movie. Gamaliel really comes into his own, there’s a funny scene with Kernella kissing a sluglung and finally Finnen is back! I really enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because when occasionally things go right in this book, I can see some sort of end in sight and it gives me a bit of hope. (Relative to, say, Freax and Rejex, where nothing went right and everything got worse and worse.)

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 16

dwh

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Meg stretched out her arms and caught it in her eager hands. ‘The love is not dead yet,’ she said softly. ‘Not yet.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a kind of poetry to the way Meg has kept the memory of Prince Alisander, her brother, alive. It should be repellent that she made a harp from his bones, but, like the Tower Lubber’s peg eyes, it inspires pity and sadness for things long lost, rather than dread. A bit like the werlings’ Silent Grove, it’s an unconventional yet understandable-in-context way to treat a dead body. Meg might’ve left Alisander to rot, but instead she chose to preserve a part of him in a way that made sense to her, and we can’t fault her for that.

Matt’s Thoughts: Clearly the years have taken a bigger toll on Meg than they have for the Tower Lubber. He can still remember clearly everything that happened, whereas Meg seems to go through the daily ritual of the ‘bright circle’ without realising its true meaning.

Was it in the new edition of The Whitby Witches that Robin was quoted as saying that one of the saddest things for him was the idea of losing your identity? (I gave my copy away to a friend, so I actually can’t remember!) Even if I did just imagine that quote, it’s a common-enough theme in his stories. The Webster sisters drifting in and out of senility, Madame Akkikuyu having lost her mind, and now Meg in this trilogy.

Maybe it’s because it’s a rainy morning as I type this, but it does make me muse about the fragility of the human mind. Sometimes we are able to muster up incredible courage to stare our troubles in the face. Other times, it’s all too much for us and we become something other than what we started out. It resonates because it’s true.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 15

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Down there she dwells,’ the Tower Lubber breathed. ‘My beautiful Clarisant, the one and only love of my life. Alone in the caves and caverns, sitting out these despairing, sundered years in the dark, far from the spying eyes of her sister’s agents.’

 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This kind of thing is what makes a Robin Jarvis book a Robin Jarvis book. ‘Once upon a time, a beautiful princess and brave knight where cursed by an evil queen’ is all very well, but it’s the details that give this oft-repeated staple of legend a new heartstring-plucking pull. The yellow flower and the little bullfinch who delivers it. The melancholy melody rising up from the depths. The long, long years.

I’ve always loved Robin’s favourite ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ motif, but it really shows here, with one of the most tragic couples in the canon. The way he redefines storytelling concepts that we think we know, like nobility and beauty, is what makes the world of Hagwood so special.

In this world, the blind and grotesque goblin hermit is really a deeply lonely and sad lover, whose care for his feathered companions is the only thing that gets him through the endless days away from his beloved. In turn, the mad old crone who rules a subterranean empire is really a lost princess, slowly sinking into the dark waters of her own mind. It’s not enough that Clarisant and Tammedor have been separated for three hundred years, we also have the possibility that they might never get the chance to be reunited. I’m already weeping and we’re not even at the end of the second book.

Matt’s Thoughts: In lesser hands, this would have been a fairly interesting piece of back history. Because after this chapter, we now understand the Lubber, we understand Meg, we see how everything fits together and have a glimmer of how Rhiannon might be stopped.

But it’s the overwhelming sense of tragedy that pervades here in the details that makes this memorable: A love that can only be communicated by a dropped flower and a returned song. The idea that Clarisant might have gone insane down in the deep.

Maybe it’s because there is an irreversibility to these proceedings. Even if Rhiannon is stopped – and she clearly needs to be – it’s doubtful that there will be a simple return to the way things were in the past.