War in Hagwood | Chapter 5

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Fifty-eight new feathery creatures were blinking and looking about them with sharp, jerky movements. When they tried to speak, only a dry croaking came from their now-rigid lips and they scurried around the encircling crowd, bewildered.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is by far the most surreal ‘battle’ scene in Jarvis canon so far. It’s not really even a battle so much as each side reacting to the other amid an atmosphere of general chaos. One has to wonder what the Men who once guarded the tower would make of Redcaps who can chew through doors, hideous transformations into avian monstrosities, or creatures made entirely of slime who expel apples and pears down upon their enemies. The Tower Lubber said last chapter that no Man can dwell nigh Hagwood long without going mad, and to be honest it’s easy to see why! 

Matt’s Thoughts: See, this chapter right here is what makes this story so unusual. We’ve got dead birds being devoured, a gory end to a bunch of Redcaps, friends missing (presumed dead) down a hole but it ends with a set piece of a bunch of slime monsters belching at their enemies.

I love it. There just weren’t many books like this when I was a kid, but Robin recognised that it was fun to have a bit of gore and some bodily function humour at the same time.

War in Hagwood | Chapter 4

wih
Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The shield tilted and tipped. Clinging on for their very lives, the werlings went shooting down into the vast, gaping pit.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Once again we’re reminded that the werlings are quite young still, with Tollychook being perhaps the most naive. Considering the trouble he gets everyone into in this chapter, it’d be easy to treat him merely as an annoyance, and in a television series or film I daresay he might be reduced to the role of comedic sidekick.

But it’s not actually his fault that the sluglungs clear the Tower Lubber’s larder – it wasn’t he who suggested it, and despite his own rumbling belly he actually tries to stop the crazed feasting, knowing what the consequences will be. Similarly, he couldn’t have helped knocking over the weapons, the poor kid was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m still holding out hope that he’ll turn out to be a Twit, with a secret brave and resourceful streak just waiting for the right moment to show itself. Come on Tolly, I believe in you!

Matt’s Thoughts: I had forgotten how much early Jarvis was a nod to animated films and TV. The rather thundering sequence with our small characters dodging falling weapons or even the sluglungs pigging out on the Lubber’s food – all of this was the kind of sequence that we would expect from a good animated film in the 80s.

Having said that, I’m pretty sure the idea of dousing a whole bunch of dead birds in transformative juice so they could be devoured by carnivorous baddies was not a staple of 80s animation, so there are limits to how far I can push the connection!

War in Hagwood | Chapter 3

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The immortal splendor of the Tyrant of the Hollow Hill, wrapped in the nourishing flame of human innocence, was an injury to the eyes and made her feel faint. Never had the world seen anything so monumentally worshipful yet so wincingly cruel and repellent.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The scene with the High Lady and the human child brings us neatly round, right back to Chapter 5 of Thorn Ogres, in which Gamiliel and his friends witness the Trooping Ride and see Rhiannon for the first time, the doomed infant in her arms. There’s myths a-plenty about babies being snatched by the fair folk, but most of them, as far as I’m aware, focus more on the human families now left with a fairy in the cradle, and don’t really tell us much about what becomes of the stolen, mortal children.

That Rhiannon should have been slowly leeching the life force from the child of Moonfire Farm is an interesting explanation, and if you really think about it, no less dire than the infant having been cooked and eaten by imps, or given to the Devil, or any number of other terrible fates recorded in Celtic folklore. After all, what ghastly death would befall the baby if he were ever to leave the Hill?

Matt’s Thoughts: I must say that the owl makes me curious. This sentence is fascinating: ‘Like everybody else in her realm, it feared her, yet that fear was matched in equal measure by love and adoration.’

First thing that’s interesting is simply that the owl is seemingly one of the most clever characters in the whole of the Hollow Hill. Certainly smart enough to know how all the politics of the place works and how easily it is to get killed. And yet, despite mounting evidence that Rhiannon completely operates in her own self-interest – and is freaking dangerous – the owl loves and adores her anyway.

Is there some sort of metaphor in here about people who enable toxic personalities?

Second interesting thing, especially because didn’t notice it until this chapter, is that the owl is genderless. For some reason, I had just assumed that it was a he-owl but scouring through this book I have only found it referred to as ‘the owl’ or ‘it’. Robin’s not one to use his words casually so I would be fascinated what his thinking was behind this decision.

Finally, I’m sure I wasn’t meant to make this mental connection at all, but Rhiannon’s cry of ‘No milk today’ immediately put me in mind of Herman’s Hermits

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?)

War in Hagwood | Prologue & Chapter 1

wihWarning: Contains Spoilers!

She rose like a spectre from a ruin. Her gown was torn and the knife she still clutched in her hand rained a scarlet drizzle into the grass.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: If we’re counting Belladonna in Deathscent, that makes two horses having died gruesome and undeserved deaths in Jarvis canon so far. What do you have against those noble beasts, Robin?!

Aside from the gratuitous equine violence, I do love the description of Rhiannon transforming into a hind. I would’ve thought her maybe a raven or hawk sort of person, but at this point it’s established that she, like the High Priest of the Scale, can wear pretty much any form she likes. So why not a sable deer? It’s an elegant look.

After that blood-soaked stampede through the forest, we swoop right into Intrigues of the Hollow Hill with the wily Lord Fanderyn and the arrival of poor old Grimditch, beset by spriggans. It’s fascinating that in this final book, we’re allowed a glimpse at the lives of other fair folk than the highest of high or lowest of low. We have to wonder what fae of the middling sort must have been thinking of Rhiannon’s reign this whole time. If Waggarinzil’s conversation with Fanderyn is anything to go by, it’s nothing good.

Matt’s Thoughts: Horse decapitation! Has there ever been a more gruesome beginning to a Jarvis novel? I feel like it’s designed to send a message to readers everywhere: This novel is pretty violent and probably NOT suitable for young kids, but you should read it anyway because it will be great fun. 

And so we’re back to the Hollow Hill, but this time with some new expanded treacherous characters. This does make things interesting, because it means that as well as the basic conflict between Rhiannon and the forces of good (wergles / Land Lubber / Meg), she’ll also have to take care of all the intrigues of the court as well. Though if I was taking bets on the outcome of a conflict between Lord Fanderyn and Co vs Rhiannon, my money would be on Rhiannon!

Finally, eagle-eyed supporters of the Robin Jarvis Universe theory might have been interested to note two things: a) the mention of the ‘twin serpents’ when Rhiannon curses her dead horse – a throwback to the Scale and Morgawrus? And b) the placement – in the opening section of Chapter 1 – of Hagwood as being a sort of faerie land separate but close to the world of men. Thus indicating that all of this could very well be taking place in a corner of England somewhere. But as to when or where, who would know?

Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | Dark Waters of Hagwood

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance the names of all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater myth of the story.

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.

 

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 23

dwh

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

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…