Deathscent | A New Apprenticeship

b_0002 copyWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Resembling a golden tadpole, set with a wondrous blue stone that blinked and pulsed with an inner light, it was a curious device and the Spanish Ambassador was captivated by its beauty. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Over the years plenty of silly Deathscent theories have occurred to me, but here’s one I just thought of right now this minute:

There’s a sort of myth that I’ve seen surrounding the defeat of the Spanish Armada in their invasion of England. The story goes that the Armada was blown off course by ferocious storms, which, on the face of it, ought to have resembled an act of God to the English, who were (apparently) woefully unprepared to deal with the Spanish navy. Somewhere, be it in an interview or a post he made years ago, I seem to recall that Robin was planning for a nightboat Armada to make an appearance in one of the further Reflected Realm books. So, taking in the twist ending of this chapter, would it be possible that the terrible ‘storm’ which would have wiped out Spain’s nightboat Armada might have been the Iribian fleet?

(Don’t answer that, Mr Jarvis, I never want to know!)

Here’s something I do want to know, though: on rereading this epilogue, I felt there ought to have been a conversation between Adam and Henry at some point before Henry left London with Lord Richard.

In my head, it goes something like this: Henry would feel terrible about being too afraid to help Brindle, but be comforted by the fact that he died having found his peace. Adam would say he wished it was Henry staying with Doctor Dee, since it was Henry who always wanted to do great things. Then Henry would answer that actually, he’s seen enough of the world, thanks all the same, and is going to go home and make a good life for himself on Malmes-Wutton, and never take it for granted again.

Adam would understand, and the apprentices would either realise that their adventures had brought them closer and made them actually friends, or that they were now going to follow completely different paths and maybe that’s for the best. Finally, they’d both admit that they would never forget the true story of what happened when an angel fell into their lives, and that would be that.

So what I want to know is, did such a scene ever exist? Is there a previous draft in which Adam and Henry look back at everything that has happened to them and mutually grimace? In fact, are there any ‘deleted scenes’ or details from this book that our author in residence would like to share?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Of course it’s the Spanish that have got the homing beacon that’s going to bring thousands of slaughtering Iribians trained right on them! And, by the way, my hat is off to the clever trick Mr Jarvis played on us a few chapters back. He said that of the four visitors who left Malmes-Wutton that two never returned. I naturally jumped to the conclusion that it was because Mr J. was going to dispatch two of them in gruesome ways. However, that was not quite the case and the reason there are only two going back is because Adam is staying in London. Nicely done!

This and the Deptford Mouselets, of course, are the only Jarvis books – now that he has completed the Hagwood trilogy – that  you can tell were designed to lead to further story arcs but have never been fully completed. So there are a whole bunch of delicious questions from Deathscent that we may never get answers for.

Such as:

What exactly are the humans made of in the reflected realm? We know from the opening prologue that the ambassadors took some sort of essence from Queen Elizabeth, but left the actual queen there. (Presumably to die according to our normal historical timeline.) Does that make all these characters clones of long-departed humans?

Is the same mechanism that slows – or does it stop? – the aging of the people, the same thing that leaves old conflicts alive with no change. In other words, are we really to believe that in 150 years, nobody in England or Spain was able to alter the political situation? Or that the fashion or musical taste of the realm wouldn’t change? Or is a kind of sci-fi Dark Ages, where no real technological or cultural progress gets made?

Finally, if all the ambassadors were wiped out by Iribians, who was it that Doctor Dee was talking to via the shew stone? Because he was speaking with one of the original ambassadors from the prologue way back at the beginning. Was that the real Bosco-Uttwar or some sort of ‘soul’ or stored memory of somebody who had been physically killed?

Anyway, that’s my questions. What are yours?

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Deathscent | The Breath of Innocence

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

 On the shore of the Thames, Adam o’ the Cogs bowed his head. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Are you all ready? No? You’re still so emotionally dismantled over this finale you can barely read this post through your tears? I can relate, and it doesn’t get any easier on reread. Sorry in advance for making it worse by suggesting this piece by Chesnokov as a soundtrack.

Back to Iribians, and Special Ambassadors, and gardens of paradise, and falling from grace.

I think more than any other book on this project, Deathscent invites rereading; not just for enjoyment (if indeed we could ever be said to ‘enjoy’ the most recent chapters), but also for re-examination of its themes and motifs. I’ve been saying, quietly but for a long time, that it is Mr Jarvis’ best work to date, and a lot of why I feel that way is due to how this book reveals and reveals itself, a bit like when art conservators X-ray Old Masters paintings and find alternative poses and colours beneath the finished piece.

The first part of this lies in the series title: Intrigues of the Reflected Realm. In the prologue, we get a hint as to what the ‘reflected’ aspect of that might mean for the series universe as a whole – Bosco-Uttwar and Arvel make their escape through what appears to be a portal activated by a mirror, and, in the scintillating refractions, flee the original Elizabethan England. Since this event never comes up again, we can only assume that it would have had some significance in the following, unpublished, books.

However, there is another reflection at the heart of Deathscent. Brindle, a lone visitor stranded by circumstance, is a mirroring of the people of the Uplifted Isles.

Consider the duality of the Elizabethan age; the strength of belief in deliverance through faith and good works, the embracing of Enlightenment thinking, the atmosphere of discovery and exploration. All standing side-by-side with insular dogma, persecution and oppression, war-making, and unspeakable violence.

Just as Brindle seeks deliverance from his guilt and the guilt of his people, so do the Elizabethans turn to God, and the event of what they believe to be Beatification, as evidence that they can overcome Original Sin. On the face of it, the finale tells us that since Brindle managed to find absolution, so too may the Elizabethans. But is that truly possible?

This ‘reflecting’ of the people of the Uplifted Realm through Brindle forces us to ask: who gets to be forgiven, and where does that forgiveness come from? In Part Two, Mistress Dritchly comments that the England she remembers from before the Beatification was ‘a wicked place, overflowing with sin’. True, Malmes-Wutton is in some ways like its own little garden of paradise, cut off in blissful ignorance from the rest of Englandia. But outside its small environs, it’s quite clear that there is little difference between the new Isles and the England of old. Before we even get to London, Thomas Herrick demonstrates that vanity and greed still exist, while Clink Kitson shows us in no uncertain terms that crime and violence are still very much a part of life.

The presence of evil in an apparently divinely-ordained world is of course made clear by the reveal in this chapter: the Uplifted Isles are no Godly design, but a rotting pleasure garden built by a massacred alien species.

What does that then say about the Uplifted Realm’s relationship to the divine? With that reveal, God has effectively abandoned Englandia (there’s a Protestant Reformation reference in there too if you can spot it) and the people of the Uplifted Isles are no more holy, nor protected, than their old-world counterparts. In losing the Special Ambassadors, the people of the Uplifted Isles had their own Fall orchestrated for them, and they must now spend the rest of their artificially-lengthened lives searching for the grace they have lost.

So, where is their deliverance going to come from, if neither God nor alien guides can help them? Brindle’s character arc, reflecting the journey of Englandia since the Beatification, would suggest that absolution must come from within. It must come from the belief by those we love that we are worthy of saving, and from a measure of trying in the whole business of rising above the pull of violence.

That Adam survives the finale gives us (in theory, ignoring for the moment the Iribian fleet headed right for Englandia) a modicum of hope for the future. Furnished with his new knowledge about the Special Ambassadors and his curiosity about the workings of his world, perhaps our young hero will be the one to usher in a new Enlightenment for the Uplifted Isles. The folk of Englandia may never regain their innocent belief in their ‘chosen’ status, but perhaps the knowledge of how their world was really created will be the very thing that saves them.

In conclusion, ‘Reflected Realm’ means more than a bit of fancy work with mirrors, Englandia is mostly doomed, and Adam is very aptly named. I love Deathscent, it’s complex without condescension and effortlessly poignant, and I really wish people would stop asking about the sequels because it stands alone as a work of underappreciated art.

Thank you and good night.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This is probably one of the greatest Jarvis finales of all time. First off, you can tell a good finale because all sense of the words and it being a book just disappear. I was seeing the whole thing play out in full colour and reality around me. You can’t help it, what with the breathless cinematic finale, the giant Gog statue, the Torture Master, the fire, nightboats being sucked into space…

But above all of this is something even more fascinating – redemption. Whenever the monster has been dispatched and our heroes regather their shattered selves, we normally feel a great relief. But Brindle’s final return to heroism and goodness – even though there was no way he could really survive – was utterly moving. The slow-burn beginning and the care and detail used to establish the characters all paid off in this last chapter. It was immensely moving and sad but also utterly satisfying as well.

In fact, it was so grand and tragic, it reminded me a bit of the Evanescence + Orchestra concert I went to earlier in the year …I’m still not sure if liking this track writes me off as Hopelessly Tacky, but I don’t care!

 

The Deathscent

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The twin blades swung back. Elizabeth saw them poised to come slicing down and she steeled herself to meet Death as had her mother before her. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I promise the miniature essay I started last chapter has a second part that will bring all my points together, but I can’t continue with it until the final reveals of next chapter, so let’s consider this an interval. An interval in which I sing along very badly to Renaissance-themed goth metal from the early 2000s, imbibe silly amounts of rose tea, and have a self-indulgent warble about Brindle. (Feel free to skip down to Matt’s part because this is going to be as bad, if not worse, as the time I went all ‘professional mourner’ over a certain lizard during the Thomas writeup.)

Speaking of certain lizards, if any of you were at all confused as to why I, a hardened cultist, might’ve gone dewy-eyed over the oh-so-noble-yet-tormented Brindle, this chapter clears that one up. I probably wasn’t even conscious of this as a young’un, but now it does not escape me that Brindle is named the Queen’s ‘Salamander’, owns a pair of sparkly curved blades, transforms into his evil self accompanied by descriptions that are strikingly familiar, and, to clinch the deal, ends up holding a maiden in white at knife-point while demanding a golden and precious artifact. Excuse me, Robin. Put my boy Dahrem back in the ground, you’ve no right to be resurrecting him as tortured, Byronic space vampires in frilly shirts with… smooth dance-moves… and… amazing hair. Dammit.

To be honest that was probably another way in which this book was perfectly timed for me. As a young teen, my devotion to the Scale would not be rekindled for many years yet, but I was starting to be interested in historical fiction (which sometimes overlapped with historical romance) and, deep in my goth phase, in that scant vampire literature which was available to me in the pre-Twilight days when ‘undead lit’ wasn’t really a genre yet.

Deathscent allowed the world of Robin Jarvis to grow with me as I became less a grisly-minded little rotter, and more a young lady who might appreciate the romance in the plight of a character like Brindle. Lizard jokes aside, I was charmed as much by his honourable qualities as by the desperate killybeast who makes an appearance in this chapter, and even now I don’t mind which side pulls through in the end. He’ll always be an angel in my eyes, even if we should probably add ‘of death’ to that.

Matt’s Thoughts: This just might be one of the most extraordinary Jarvis chapters ever. In some ways, it’s a familiar moment – suddenly some character turns out to be a lot nastier than everyone at first realised.

But this is different. Normally, when a Jarvis villain shows their true character, it just causes an immediate drop in empathy from us the readers. ‘Oh, so you’re actually an irredeemable murderous monster? All right, I’ll stop worrying about you.’ (This is, of course, only my opinion. Aufwader would probably argue strongly that Dimlon only gets more adorable once he shows his true colours.)

But Brindle’s moral struggle – his desire to be better than his nature (and isn’t that an interesting philosophical tangent in its own right!) – is what makes his final transformation so horrific. It’s the fact that, for a brief moment, we thought he was going to make it.

The Spaniards have no idea what they are in for.

Deathscent | Scrying the Shew Stone

b_0002 copyWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Enter this, the Uplifted Realm,’ Doctor Dee exulted. ‘Bosco-Uttwar, speak to us.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: First of all I love that Doctor Dee says ‘Lord have mercy on us’ at the close of this chapter – the very same phrase uttered in The Alchymist’s Cat at the arrival of the plague to London. In a manner of speaking, Death has come to his fair city in a different guise.

Anyway, now that the first big reveal has been made, I finally get to start unpacking the many layers of genre, theme and symbolism this story contains.

Let’s start with Brindle’s folk at home, the Iribians. A plant-loving, poetical people who speak a musical language, can’t interpret flat likenesses, and have apricot-coloured blood. They build temples to scent, so they evidently have some sort of spirituality, though really the most apt Iribian deity would be one with two faces, for they are a people of stark contradiction. Parasites, they assimilate the technology and scientific knowledge of the unfortunate planets they come across, and their history is stained with their search for the deathscent; the cause and cure of all their ills.

Guys, they’re space vampires.

Mr Jarvis evidently knows his horror history, his folklore, and his science-fiction. He knows that the undead were once not so neatly divided into ‘vampire’ and ‘werewolf’ as they are now; that a gentle soul unwillingly transformed into a vengeful, merciless beast could also be a bloodsucking parasite. The Iribians are traditional, ancient ‘creatures of the night’ (or should that be creatures of the Outer Dark?). Like the werewolf, they face a cruel battle with their primal, murderous nature; like the vampire, they must feed upon others to survive.

The most interesting aspect of all of this is the hint, barely there, that the Iribians were not always this way. Brindle mentions that the scent of the rose would bring a similar kind of healing to his kind as it brought to him – that they would hold it sacred, and, basking in its fragrance, in some way feel absolved of their monumental crimes. The implication is that the rose would help them to forget, or at least ignore, the lure of the deathscent. (Recall what Brindle says in the Malmes-Wutton garden; that he would ‘never again long for home or kin’ were he permitted to stay with the roses forever. That says something for the powerful influence the plant would have on his kind, since Brindle clearly and obviously loves his kids.)

So, if the Iribians were not always death-slurping vampire-werewolves, what happened to make them that way? What garden were they cast out of, what fall from grace did they endure? Will they ever be allowed to rest in peace?

Matt’s Thoughts: And now, thanks to the shew stone we have the full back story – which matches all the suspicions we’ve had about Brindle all along.

However, what’s exciting about this is that the ending is still not cut and dried. In lesser hands, this would be showdown with a monster. (Yawn, seen it all before. But the unknown factor here is Brindle himself – is there some hope that he can rise above his own nature? Or is there ‘naught he can do to prevent it’? Two chapters to go!

Deathscent | With the Count de Feria

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Is Torture Master’, he hissed.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  If anybody’s having nightmares based on this book, you can guarantee they’re going to be about Don Gomez’s nice little ‘friend’, the mechanical torture chamber on legs. The Torture Master has got to be top of the list of things that punted this book up an age rating from middle grade to young adult, and I reckon even some cynical teenagers would be gripping their childhood cuddly toys, whey faced, after plowing through this absolute horror movie of a chapter.

I’ve got to say it was a lot less bad on reread, when I knew that Henry and Adam would come out alive. To be honest, a lot of my shrieking about the Torture Master was kind of in hindsight – as a young’un I visited a lot of historic castles and ruins, and heard a lot of alarmingly-made-up tour guides cackle about bodysnatchers, the plague, the witch trials, and a litany of other historical horrors. It being Scotland, I knew about the grisly end of Mary Queen of Scots and the practice of witches being burnt at the stake as a fairly young kid, so I suppose I was more set up to take a science-fantasy version of the Spanish Inquisition in stride than readers raised with gentler versions of Elizabethan history.

Torture Master aside, it was only while rereading for this project that I fully noticed the gleefully evil Count de Feria. I wouldn’t have picked up on it in my teens, but it occurred to me while rereading that he’s not so much a person as an Elizabethan anti-Catholic propaganda caricature. Everything about him, from his pointy wee devil-beard to his glittering black outfit to his endearingly broken English, just screams ”Ware ye the nefarious Don Gomez, notorious papist, torturer of small children and kicker of puppies!!!’. This is fairly hilarious to me, because de Feria is actually pretty useless as a villain.

Sir Francis Walsingham cuts more of a sinister figure than he does, and even the lovable Lantern is a match for his oh-so-scary interrogation prop.  Sure, he does terrible things to hapless apprentices, but he does them so cheerfully that you sort of end up treating him as a stage baddie rather than a genuine threat, regardless of the ‘friends’ he tries to introduce you to. Pardonny, but taking Don Gomez seriously I am not, and I hate to say it, but I actually quite like him.

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, that could have got a lot worse! Of course it makes sense that the Spanish torture masters would have torture mechanicals, right? While I wasn’t keen to see much more torture happen, I was curious to learn a little bit more about the Spanish side of the story and what was going on there …

But I’ll take a spectacular hand-to-hand combat between Lantern and the Torture Master, a moment of pure Jarvis cinema. I’d pay to see movies like this …

Deathscent | The Queen’s Salamander

b_0002 copyWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Leaping from his seat, Brindle threw his hands forward and caught the plate, just inches away from Her Majesty’s face. Fragments of shattered sugar paste exploded across Elizabeth’s pearl-encrusted gown, and every voice in the room was stilled.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Before the finale really gets its teeth into us, I’m going to briefly digress and talk about the chapter headers for this book. My goodness, those chapter headers. I can look at my favourite in-book artwork in Robin Jarvis canon; all six books of the Deptford Mice and the Hagwood trilogy, and still say with complete honesty that the headers for Deathscent surpass them all in my esteem.

As Matt pointed out, everything about the look and feel is this book could be described as ‘exquisite’ without overdoing things too much (and that’s not even considering the hardcover edition in all its crimson and gold glory) and as always, Robin’s black and white illustrations serve to compliment the book design and bring the world of the story to life.

For me, though, the Deathscent chapter headers are special because they kept me drawing at a time when I might’ve left art behind. For little Aufwader in her early teens, they were a set of miniature masterclasses in character design and visual worldbuilding; they taught me more about art than the weekend class I was attending ever could, and they showed me that ink and wash, a rather staid medium as far as I had seen, could be dynamic and engaging and fun. I started experimenting with inks to copy the Isle of Havering at the beginning of Part Two, and though my wobbly efforts never quite looked like a proper Uplifted Isle, I had discovered a method and medium that I felt at home in, and one which, with some alterations and a lot of expansion, has stayed with me to this day.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, I’m not sure if I was right to be predicting that Henry would survive when he’s getting them all into trouble like this!

We’ve got another rogue mechanical, political intrigue, Richard going out of his way to get himself executed, and now a kidnapping. In all of this, I feel sorry for Adam, who never even wanted to be dragged into any of this!

And most compelling of all is Brindle’s inner struggle against his darker side. Will he hold out? (We bloodthirsty Jarvis fans are all hoping not…)

Deathscent | Gloriana

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Perched upon a sublimely crafted silver unicorn, she was a compelling vision of purity and power. Arrayed from head to foot in white silks and taffeta, she seemed almost to have stemmed from the realm of Heaven herself.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: As much as I enjoy a bit of gratuitous Liz 1, I do slightly begrudge her the quote space for this post, because I think we all know the real star moment of the chapter is when Brindle steps off the nightboat, haloed by the evening sun to the awe and consternation of everyone present. Elizabeth is very grand with her little ladies-in-waiting on mechanical lions and her Virgin Queen pageantry, but if ‘Herald of the Divine’ is the look you’re going for, you just can’t beat a well-timed sun flare.

It was only on reread that I really noticed it, but this chapter is from start to finish a superb argument for that Deathscent musical I was waffling on about at the end of Part Two. Everything is already in place; from the aforementioned dramatic lighting effects, to Gloriana’s epic entrance and resplendent courtiers, to the background set of the Palace of Whitehall, to an intense first meeting of all our most important characters that’s just crying out for a big, showy chorus.

I have two tracks to support this; one light and silvery with a traditionally regal undertone, and one equally sumptuous, but heavy with premature decay and looming menace.

The first is a piece by Martin Phipps for the recent ITV drama Victoria (I’ve never been a huge fan of Victorian period drama unless it involves the Brontës, so I’m happy to repurpose this for the original Gloriana) and the second is a further Elisabeth: Das Musical piece, ‘Alle Fragen Sind Gestellt’ or ‘All Questions Have Been Asked’. The piece occurs during the positively monumental wedding of Elisabeth of Austria to Prince Franz Joseph – they are about as poorly matched a couple as possible, and, blinded by young love, pledge themselves to each other while Elisabeth’s true fate, Death himself, looks on. Both tracks, I feel, have the necessary atmosphere for this chapter, but please do compare and contrast, and of course, suggest your own!

Matt’s Thoughts: What a magnificent illustration of Queen Elizabeth I here. Given that so many paintings of her are fairly stylised, I love the humanness of the illustration. She very much becomes a close relative of Rhiannon from Hagwood, doesn’t she?

May I say, the feeling of this book and where it’s likely to go is completely different from any other Jarvis that I’ve read. Here we are, pretty much three quarters of the way through, and the tension is only at a slow-burn level. Any other of his books, and we’d have a major villain revealed, our characters would be on a race against time, there would be some major artifact to find, and everything would be in utter chaos.

Meanwhile, we’ve just got one group of people going to have dinner with the Queen and another going off with Doctor Dee. Some revenge-filled Spaniards. And the mysterious Brindle in the middle of all this.

And yet …all the intricate detail that has led to this point has slowly and surely (perhaps like a flower opening up) laid the groundwork for an immense feeling of Doom laying over the characters in this story. (Or is that Doooooom, Aufwader?) I have a horrible sensation that there is some sort of monstrous bloodbath coming, which actually makes this story a whole lot more akin to horror than what I’m normally used to from Jarvis.

I don’t know how this is going to pan out, and I’m worried that I’ll have more questions at the end than answers, but this is a masterful bit of novel-writing.