Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘Who’s this guy? He reminds me of… someone I lost.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: So falls the Empire; with Plague and Fire and the Death of Innocents. So the Dawn Prince is brought low, so the cards are dealt and the wheel spun again. What sort of place is Mooncaster, truly? Perhaps it’s better that we’ll never know.
I can remember that after this trilogy finished, a lot of people were confused about the ending and asked if there would be another book, and I can understand why. That final epilogue does leave us with some rather pessimistic ideas about human nature, and it’s no wonder, I think, that everybody went ‘wait, that can’t be it, can it?’
But then, that’s what Robin’s endings do – they may not be neat or pretty, but they are honest. It would almost cheapen the messages of the trilogy at this point for him to say that actually, everything was fine and everybody found God and it was all sunshine and rainbows forever. The world doesn’t just get taken over by literal Satan and bounce back, this isn’t a hopeful YA dystopia (haw haw).
So, what are we left with? The splinter of AF in Maggie survived with her body, the bridges to that other realm were never truly closed, and the sad little toys Miss Blessing presents to her business partners each contain the soul of a person who was murdered the night Lucifer ascended. When the survivors sign those contracts and take home a cuddly companion, they’ll be signing away their last chance of ever being free of Austerly Fellows and the damnation he brings. Evil is a rot that no amount of kindness and compassion can scrub from the world, and in the end, it will always return.
The Devil is with us still, Sacred Strangers, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Matt’s Thoughts: I feel rather sheepish that my mind has blanked out Eun-mi/Arirang’s journey throughout the book. Here she is, the character who heroically takes out the Ismus and I forgot!
It’s possibly because that climax was overshadowed by the still more astonishing appearance of the shepherd who, now that he is out and about in our world, rather effortlessly dispatches Lucifer in just a few short paragraphs.
Of course, everything could have been left there in that final chapter (where joyously Spencer survives!), but instead there is that bleak single paragraph reminding us that the next un-Jax related murder took place 2.47 minutes later. You don’t need devilish activity for humanity to treat each other badly.
What I find fascinating about this ending (and I’m a little less gasping for air than I was after the first time I read it) is that there are two ideas wrestling here, almost an optimism and a pessimism. On the one hand, for a book that really couldn’t be classified as pro-church, there is – in its portrayal of the shepherd – a surprisingly positive portrayal of God or his prophet (it’s deliberately left non-specific). He has power to conquer the devil and he offers forgiveness of sins. It’s not something I would have expected from a secular YA novel at all.
But there is also the epilogue, which reminds us that evil is never fully defeated (at least not in this life), it just waits its turn to try again. And all this as fate or history counts down towards … the end of the world? Something apocalyptic? There are so many unanswered questions about the card-players as well.
We’ll cling to the hope that the heroes of the story did live happily ever after in Mooncaster (though we’d probably all love to know where the real Maggie ended up). And all agree that of course marketers, a sordid group to which I sadly belong, would be the ones likely to spread another crisis around the world …
So what are my final thoughts on this whole spectacular, dark and thought-provoking trilogy? I think what strikes me about it is a feeling that it comes from somewhere bigger than just Robin Jarvis’ imagination. The story is well-told of how Robin came up with the idea for the finale of Dancing Jax from a dream and then more or less wrote the book around that.
My speculation is: was it just a dream? It’s almost as if Robin has had an old-school vision of a world where our own shallowness and lack of direction makes it a perfect breeding ground for evil to spread. And then the trilogy is his way of working out the implications of that vision. In other words, if there was such an evil in the world, how might it be stopped? If we were consumed by guilt and shame on a mass scale, where might we find healing?
And while a novel like that could have ended in any number of ways, it instead ends with an act of sacrificial faith and total surrender and a good shepherd who defeats evil and offers forgiveness.
I’m fairly confident that Robin wouldn’t want this trilogy to be seen as promoting any particular religion, so I’m being careful not to insinuate that this is in any way a piece of propaganda. And with all its dark goings-on and imagery, I probably wouldn’t be handing out copies in large quantities in any of the Christian circles I move in.
But my curiosity would be – did he find himself searching for Someone or Something, some sort of higher power, as he wrote this novel? Or does he already believe in such a power anyway and was looking for a way to express it? Did you find yourself thinking along those lines as you read it?
If so, my hope and prayer would be that you find Whoever or Whatever you are looking for, in a day and age where it can (still) often feel as if there is only the trivia around us and not much else.
See you in December for the end of our re-read (for now) as we finish War in Hagwood!