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 18

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Her eyes glinted and the malevolence that beat out of her caused each of them to catch his breath. In her face, they saw their deaths and knew they were inescapable.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I can’t decide which mental image I like the best – Finnen actually riding on Frighty Aggie’s back as if she were his noble steed, the stampede of bristling hog demons from Nest-only-knows where turning out to be the werlings all along, the last members of the Unseelie Court kneeling before Clarisant and honouring her as their Queen, or even Grimditch turning up with the rescused mortal child and asking if Gamaliel wants to ‘be friends’ in the midst of a ferocious battle for all Hagwood. However, Rhiannon has flown off unfazed, and our tiny heroes are not out of the woods just yet. 

Matt’s Thoughts: Of all the big Jarvis battles, this just might have become my all-time favourite after this chapter. Everything was super dire at the end of Chapter 17 and then look at the reversals:

Frighty Aggie comes back to save the day!

The transformed werlings arrive!

All the troll witches are killed!

Rhiannon loses her staff!

It’s just moment after moment of bold, noble exhilaration, and I can’t help but love every second. 

War in Hagwood | Chapter 17

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Not yet,’ Gamaliel answered with a defiant grin. ‘There’s still a chance—a mad, stupid, tiny scrap of a chance!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Some small yet touching scenes here, with Master Gibble finally coming to understand that ‘wergling can happen on the inside’, and Bufus not being allowed to leap to his death and sacrifice himself needlessly, even as it seems that the world the werlings knew is vanishing forever. Great deeds and feats of cunning are all well and good, but in the end, what makes Robin’s heroes truly brave is that, even when all hope seems lost, they are not at home to Mr Despair.

Matt’s Thoughts: I must confess that I thought it was going to be a bit anticlimactic going from the Dancing Jax series back to Hagwood and was expecting the reread of this book to be a bit lighter.

But the character beats in this chapter were really moving. Bufus is still dealing with the pain of losing his brother and thus the witch-induced suicidal thoughts so tragically appeal to him. It was years between books for us readers but for him, it has really only been a few days since he lost his brother so we can forget how traumatised he still is by that whole event.

However, surely, the greatest moment – perhaps in the whole trilogy – is the double pay-off of Gamaliel being gracious to Gibble and letting him go and then Gibble’s return to save his young pupils. On the Hollow Hill side of the tale, the characters seem to operate out of places of extreme selfishness and, in the case of Rhiannon, sadism. But there is beauty and light to be found among the werlings.


War in Hagwood | Chapter 16

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

She raised her staff and gave a commanding shout: ‘Come forth, my loathly sisters!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I must say, the troll witches are wonderfully grotesque and sinister in this chapter’s illustration. The banner which Robin very kindly created to announce the Reread depicts one in a slightly less intimidating, more cuddly light, so it’s rather enjoyable to finally see them in there original form; that is to say, hideous and ravening. 

From then on, it’s all highly dramatic and theatrical, with Clarisant wielding a Pucca-wrought sword and blood raining from the sky as friend and foe are hewn asunder. Ah, nothing like a Robin Jarvis battle scene for a spot of cosy bedtime reading.

Matt’s Thoughts: I do wonder, reading this, whether Robin back in his TV days used to hang out with the sound guys a lot. 

The reason for this is the sound design on Robin’s books is quite loud and dynamic. We usually think of reading as a silent pursuit but this chapter is as good an example of any of Robin’s relentless use of sound to paint his world.

Electric jags snake and spark, breastplates shatter, forks of fire blast down. It’s DTS 5.1 surround sound at full volume plus an extra-loud subwoofer. And this happens all the time in Jarvis climaxes. Is it just his way of fleshing out scenes? Or being helpful to that film crew we’re all waiting to come along and make a movie of these books?

War in Hagwood | Chapter 15

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The Queen is dead. Her reign is ended. The days of evil are over!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: A skillful building up of tension all through this chapter, only to be followed by the terrible revelation that the High Lady remains unharmed and undefeated, and that poor old Grimditch has killed the friend who was so kind to him and who allowed him to escape with the mortal infant. So Rhiannon’s reign of horror truly begins. 

Matt’s Thoughts: This was a great chapter twist with the fake Rhiannon but having Grimditch be the one to kill her, only to find it’s Gabbity, is just cruel. After all, she only just saved his life a couple of chapters ago!

But the job has been done – all of the Hollow Hill have outed themselves as enemies of the Queen, and the androgynous owl (still can’t believe I missed that for two and a half books!) is there to dob them all in.

The final battle is on. 

War in Hagwood | Chapter 14

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Suddenly, the fearsome noise blasted out again. This time it was louder and nearer and unmistakable. It was the howl of a wolf.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter has all the atmosphere of rollicking derring-do that the finale of Thorn Ogres had, yet this time, there is a far more serious edge to the werling’s defense of their realm. Like the disgrace of Master Gibble, there is a sense of tables turning among werling society – what was once a lifelong shame, consuming the debris of the Silent Grove, now becomes the one thing that could have saved all their lives.

The Nest was right, there is a kind of respect in the Grove, even when it’s burning to ashes. The history of werlingkind lives on, even if the little folk are too blind at present to see that their heritage dwells less within the trees, as within the hearts of young werlings like Finnen, and the wisdom the Grove has imparted to him.

Matt’s Thoughts: The blurb on the back of this book does include a quote by Publisher’s Weekly (talking about the original Thorn Ogres) that says it will be fun for ‘Hobbit-addicts and Potter-philes of all ages’. I’m not sure if I’d let all ages read this one, but there is a sense of the great English fantasy tradition of a final battle in this book. (A Last Battle, even?)

The stakes are high, and no one can stay neutral in this struggle. Watching the werlings send the message that they will not be mucked around with is exhilarating fun. And when their trees are burned, tragic as it is, we know this is what will tip the whole tribe into an act of heroic bravery.

War in Hagwood | Chapter 13

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

One by one, the nobles climbed from their horses and then knelt with their heads bowed.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now the drums of war truly sound, and the descent toward the finale begins. The sense of dread at the start of this chapter seeps from every page, and is expertly contrasted with the glorious, albeit brief, moment where Clarisant persuades the nobles of the Hollow Hill to join her. Would that they had had more of a chance against the Redcaps. 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m really quite warming to this book the second time around! The way Meg manages to win over the hearts of the Lords and Ladies from the Court is particularly impressive. My favourite line is this one:

It was as if the supreme ugliness was but a dense veil concealing a majestic light within, yet glimmers of that radiance were still shining through.

How gorgeous is that? 

War in Hagwood | Chapter 12

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘If you love him as I does, then bear the little lordling far from this evil place.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: And so Rhiannon’s subjects learn the full extent of her perfidy. Only now does it become apparent what a heavy burden the Wandering Smith must have had to shoulder all those long years. Did he know that Morthanna murdered her own mother in an attempt to snuff the life from her own sister? Did he guess that the dread High Lady was in league with the troll witches?

Then at last, a moment of heroism for Grimditch, albeit executed with the utmost reluctance. How in the serpent’s name(s?) will he keep the child from harm in the dark world that is unfolding?

Matt’s Thoughts: Just as Sacrifice was the correct serpent for the werlings to pick, so it seems to be the path through this book. Gabbity rises to the occasion and gives the sort of noble sacrifice we’ve come to love in Jarvis books. Grimditch also shakes off his silliness and becomes a hero.

As dark as these books get, I do feel like there is an undercurrent of optimism in the Jarvis world that we can become better than who we are currently.

War in Hagwood | Chapter 11

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Wergling happens on the inside as well,’ Gamaliel said softly.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: If Master Gibble were truly based on an amalgamation of Robin’s most loathed and fearsome teachers, I daresay this must have been a very satisfying chapter for him to write. I can’t imagine any of us readers have much sympathy for old Gibble after his treachery in Thorn Ogres, and to see Gamaliel square up to him really demonstrates how far our young hero has come. Onward, then, with Master No-nose (something something Oldnose?) in tow. 

Matt’s Thoughts: And the Great Grand Wergle Master is back! I had forgotten this chapter and so was fascinated to discover that the werlings had once lived in the Hollow Hill.

The other aspect I like of this part of the story is Gamaliel’s compassion for Master Gibble. In fact, I like the way that, for all their squabbling, Robin’s characters ultimately end up being great role models for his readers: not paying back unkindness with unkindness, showing mercy when they don’t have to. We could do with more of that nowadays!

War in Hagwood | Chapter 10

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Go away!’ the boy shouted angrily. ‘You’re disgusting. I always thought the Dooits were amazing, wise wizards, but you’re just foul killers.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What a truly bizarre, and yet neccessary, chapter. All through the trilogy we’ve heard mention of the ‘Dooits’, and the Hag’s Finger was the first mystical site young Gamaliel ever came across, way back in Thorn Ogres. The werling’s encounter with Gwydion, though peculiar and seemingly out of place among the greater struggles of the narrative, does serve a very important purpose.

From now on, Gamaliel, disillusioned with the magic-workers of Hagwood’s past, must rely on himself and his friends to defeat Rhiannon. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the traditional hero’s journey of epic fantasy – for Gamaliel, there are no more mentors or guides, no more enchanted artifacts to be conveyed hither and yon, and certainly no prophecies to be fulfilled. He is a werling alone, with only his courage to light the way.

Matt’s Thoughts: I think this chapter and the one with Nest are the two best chapters in the book. In some ways this interlude breaks the action – I remember Robin told me on Twitter that there was some pressure on him to cut Gwyddion from the book.

But in other ways, it pauses for a moment to put the werlings into a much bigger context. So the forces that they are up against are so severe that a bunch of ancient druids have been waiting for it for centuries and have worked out a way to time travel forward in time to see how the battle all pans out?

Oh yeah, and they’ve had a prophecy about how Gamaliel is the Blessed One and is going to destroy evil?

It’s just a fascinating concept that any battle between good and evil that goes on in this book (or any Jarvis book, really) is not localised. Things are not not just going on in Hagwood (or Deptford or Whitby). Instead, these epic showdowns are the outward manifestation of bigger struggles that have been going on for centuries in different forms.