If the final Almanack entry were the finale of this project…

…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.

myth & sacrifice.

Advertisements

The Deptford Mice Almanack | December

the deptford mice almanack _0014
What sinister darkness lies in store for us all? Audrey Scuttle was placed upon the Living Throne by the Green himself, a madness has consumed the folk of Greenwich and I fear for what will undoubtedly befall them. A distant, unpleasant place has my home become, and I shall not spend the eve here!

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!

War in Hagwood | Chapter 19 & Epilogue

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Gamaliel Tumpin—the savior of Hagwood and the world beyond.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This ending was a lot the first time around, and it’s still a lot on reread. It’s definitely one of the most elegantly crafted, yet deeply surreal series finales in all Robin Jarvis canon. Who would have guessed that the High Lady’s provost was nursing this secret obsession with its monarch in its fluffy little owl breast? Who would have thought that Gabbity’s curse upon it would come true, and that it would indeed fall from the sky, drenched in its own blood, slain at the talons of the Queen it so adored? 

Stranger still, who would have even thought for a moment that the solution to the locked casket would be that Gamaliel would wergle his finger into the key? Robin, I have to know, did you plan that one from the start, or did it come upon you in a flash of inspiration, mere mintues before a deadline? Either way, it’s a gloriously, marvellously peculiar way to end this most weird and wergly of trilogies, and now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it working out differently. 

And so, we come at last to the end of the Hagwood trilogy, and the final book in Robin Jarvis canon, barring the Witching Legacy, to date. May all who perished in the terrible Hag Wars be at rest, reviled or honoured as their deeds in life so dictate. May the trees of old Dunwrach stand tall, may bogles be brave and wergle pouches ever untidy. And may we rereaders remember one small shapeshifter’s courage in our own choices, be they myth, or sacrifice. 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, despite all the foreshadowing, I never saw this ending coming when I read this the first time. What a brilliantly clever tragic device – from Book 1, Gamaliel has been set up with the power to wergle into strange shapes and it’s all been leading to this chapter.

As always with the end of Jarvis trilogies, evil will be defeated but it won’t be a happy ending. The cost is always extraordinarily high. I really love the idea of Gamaliel now being a figure at the top of a fountain for all time. And doesn’t that second-last sentence just sum up every Jarvis book ever written: ‘His selfless act not only brought lasting joy and peace to the realm, it was also an inspiration, for all who lived through those perilous times and the generations that followed.’

One other interesting thing which I picked up this time – for one brief paragraph, the owl becomes male: ‘He had never seen her assume that shape before and the sight of it beguiled him. Had she done it especially to please him?’

It’s the only time it occurs as far as I can tell, so I’m fascinated as to whether the owl was male in the original draft of the trilogy then carefully re-written to become an ‘it’. (The owl is an ‘it’ even back in the first published version of Thorn Ogres, as far as I can tell). So are these two rogue sentences then something that slipped past the eye of the editor?

Regardless, it is a spectacular (and bravely adult) way of dispatching the owl from the story. The owl is almost literally torn apart because of his love for Rhiannon.

War in Hagwood | Chapter 2

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘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?)

The Deptford Mice Almanack | November

The night when the effigies of enemies – or merely those who are resented – are paraded from door to door, before being sat atop a bonfire and ceremoniously set alight. In the past, the Skirtings mice would always make an image of Master Oldnose. Now, however, the youngsters love to make an effigy of Jupiter, though some of the older mice cling tightly to their brasses as the fire is lit.

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!

 

The Deptford Mice Almanack | October

the deptford mice almanack _0012
Occasionally figures have been glimpsed – dim and indistinct, yet all locked in a fearful combat. Perhaps in the dawn of days when the Raith Sidhe ruled the land, a conflict took place that was so ghastly that its memory was imprinted upon the aether, doomed to be performed at this time throughout the ages. Maybe it is a warning of some kind, or a reminder of ancient horrors. 

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.

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 …