The Fatal Strand | Chapter 16

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

And in that rousing instant, his heart was determined.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What a shame that Woden has ended up right down at Least Fun on the Jarvis Villain Scale. The pageantry of this chapter, the blazons and gleaming artistry of war, are ever so evocative and compelling. The relationship between Thought and Memory is really quite entertaining, and the deference with which Memory is treated really shows us Woden’s side of the battle for Quoth’s allegiance – in the days of Askar, Memory was a lord among ravens, second only to the Gallows God himself. No wonder Woden seeks to beguile him back into his service, and no wonder Thought was so outraged in The Raven’s Knot when Quoth defied him.

This trilogy is full of the juxtaposition of the glories of the past with the decrepitude of the present. Woden, like the Websters, was once magnificent; Thought and Memory were once revered. Now Thought is dust, and Memory a balding, beleaguered husk, silenced by the power of his once-doting master. Perhaps, however, the shabby banner that Quoth flies for ‘Squire Neil’ is really nobler than all the vivid pennants of Woden’s force.

Matt’s Thoughts: Robin, is there no end to the misery you will inflict on your characters? Quoth – easily the most lovable character from this book – and you take away his power of speech?

And we’ve got TEN MORE CHAPTERS for you to do more bad stuff to your characters? Who or what is going to be left standing at the end of this trilogy?

 

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 15

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Pretty soon that blade will kill again.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a wonderful air of creeping menace to this chapter. From Mr Pickering’s grim possession to the crooked writing returning to Neil’s wall, there’s a real feeling of the museum closing in around our young hero. He might have changed his mind about leaving, but I don’t think he’s going to get the chance to so much as pack his things.

Matt’s Thoughts: Ursula going senile as well? Could the stakes get any higher in this? She’s been the one person in all of the trilogy who has known exactly what is going on and how to deal with it all along – even if her methods are somewhat heavy-handed. But if she’s going off her rocker, it could all come down to our young heroes to sort everything out. Keen to see how this works out.

 

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 14

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

With a shake of its splendid antlers, the beautiful creature began to walk majestically down the corridor, with Edie riding high upon its back and Gogus trotting cheerfully behind.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is one of Tick-Tock Jack’s most nightmare-inducting iterations, for sure. The greasepaint, the outfit, and then (oh no!) the Spear of Longinus, as if we hadn’t seen enough of that last book. Mister Dark was never, at least in my opinion, so deeply grotesque, but I think Dark would approve of Timms’s trick with the taxidermy. (Plus, have you guys heard howler monkeys? Imagine a mouldering version of this chasing you down that darkened passage. Yikes, yikes, and thrice yikes!)

Matt’s Thoughts:  I must admit, I quite appreciated the detail that the exhibits are simultaneously falling apart while also coming alive. In other words, they don’t turn into real monkeys and tigers, they turn into animated mouldy taxidermied figures.

And the combination of the stag, Gogus and Edie – really good. Edie has been such a strange little character so far, that to get a glimpse of her potential power is quite jaw-dropping. We can finally see the next generation of the Nornir in her.

 

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 13

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I wanted you to see that my home is not wholly filled with ugly memories.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Who else reckons that something will prevent the Chapmans from leaving the museum? Brian can fume all he likes, but the Nornir’s domain is now essentially a fortress, and Ursula still has a use for Neil. To paraphrase Quoth, depart that grooly abode they shall not. At least, not any time soon.

The rest of this chapter is the narrative equivalent of passing a difficult school test as a kid and then being given sweets as a reward. Well done, readers all, we’ve made it through the grisly description of Mary-Anne’s incarceration and demise, time for some Tudor revels to lift the mood.

And what delightful revels they are. Exquisitely detailed, with even amusing Tudor colour names making an appearance, Celandine’s last ball almost makes up for the ghastly shocks of Mr Pickering’s previous findings. It’s also interesting to see a bit of development regarding what Ursula was like before her sisters deteriorated with Nirinel. We really get a sense of all that the Websters have lost over the ages, and the blazing splendour of the past makes their present seem all the more shabby and ignoble.

This chapter is perfectly balanced. If I had to choose a chapter to represent this trilogy, it would be this. Ghost-hunting, family feuds, time travel, heartwarming and horrifying moments – it has everything. At the end of it I feel almost as overwhelmed as Mr Pickering. What will the Wyrd Museum throw at us next?

Matt’s Thoughts: Another Jarvis black/white chapter, where horror and beauty dwell side by side. The horror: discovering the fate of Mary-Anne Brindle, one which we almost would rather not have known. But then the beauty: the final ball of the sisters Webster before they became reclusive.

I’m glad, amidst all the darkness, that there was a pause for a scene like this. It gives us a rare moment of kindness by Ursula, where she allows Celandine a chance to relive her happier days. It’s finally convinced me that she is driven, not by a desire for power, but just a dedication to duty regardless of the great personal cost to her. That, I can understand.

 

 

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Like the music hall, this is.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What a thoroughly wretched chapter. The stark realities of the Victorian workhouse are illustrated heartbreakingly in young Ned Billet and his mother, and I think we all gave a cheer when Edie intervened on Ned’s behalf instead of standing coldly by. It was also quite heartening to see Jack Timms genuinely afraid, proving that he really is nothing more then a hired thug, punching above his weight in this ill-fated alliance with Woden.

Rereading this chapter though, I was strongly reminded of another Robin Jarvis villain. Cut from the same cloth as Timms but with far more on his mind than random violence, Mister Dark borrowed power from the Lord’s of the Deep and flitted through time, wearing a variety of faces and tormenting small children. In Chapter 10 I commented that Dark was created in the mould of Nathaniel Crozier, but really, he’s Jack Timms 2.0. Not a proud linage, that’s for sure.

Matt’s Thoughts: For me, the disturbing thing about this chapter is that – never mind Jack Timms – the poverty and wretchedness of this scene are fairly well established as a historical reality. In English history. It’s not another race of beings, with their own ideas of cruelty. Our ancestors were the ones who let this sort of stuff go on.

But then again, as we distract ourselves with our Netflix and flashy mobile phones, who knows what’s happening in the back alleys of our own cities?

I actually appreciate Robin Jarvis’ increasing move towards reminding his readers that fictional supernatural horrors are pretty nasty, but humans don’t have a great reputation either.

In fact, I think Aufwader said it best on Twitter recently when she realised that the message of all Jarvis books is essentially: we can never completely overcome evil in this world, but we have to try.

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘What happened to the Loom?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Usually it’s something of a gleeful moment for the reader when the oblivious parent character is finally bombarded with irrevocable proof that the supernatural exists.

Here, however, there are no eye-rubbing clichés or young heroes yelling ‘that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you’ in the background. Gogus attacks Mr Chapman, he fends it off, Josh wails, Edie tries to contain the whole mess, and that’s it. No moments of charmed wonder, no instant camaraderie between Brian and Edie as he finally sees things from her point of view. It’s almost too sudden to take in.

I have to say I’m surprised at Brian’s quick reactions in this chapter, especially considering that Gogus is very clearly and irrefutably a magical critter. If we were to go by his character in The Woven Path and The Raven’s Knot, I would have expected him to cry for help and perhaps prod his attacker weakly while muttering ‘this can’t be happening’ over and over. I would never have expected him to think to use his toolkit, or to physically throw Gogus across the room.

All this violence is quite unlike the meek and somewhat pathetic Brian of the first two books, and that, combined with his increasingly aggressive treatment of Neil, further hints that maybe there is something else afoot here. After all, why did Gogus immediately leap at Brian in the first place? What so angered this ancient protector of the Wyrd Museum about an unassuming caretaker?

Matt’s Thoughts: A number of intriguing plot strands here – first up, I’m getting worried that Quoth will turn. I really hope not, because that would be tragic – but if you’re not hoping for tragedy, you shouldn’t be reading Jarvis!

Also, I’m curious about this idea of the Loom and where it went. I have some ideas, but I shall reserve them for later.

Because it looks like we’re back onto a timeshift anyway …

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘She has chosen both the board upon which the battle will be fought, and the pieces also.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Rereaders one and all, I would like to present to you today the Jarvis Villain Scale. We have here a means of categorising each major baddie across the canon, from Most Fun to Least. Allow me to illustrate my findings.

While such things are generally too subjective for close analysis, I’m sure we can all agree that the likes of Jupiter, the Raith Sidhe, and Rhiannon Rigantona sit, more or less, in realm of Most Fun. They wield larger-than-life power and have the grandiose dialogue to match. Their goals include such villainous staples as world domination, immortality, and the pursuit of petty grievances to an overblown degree. We boo them, but we enjoy booing them, and would not be too alarmed if they felt like hypnotising us into their nefarious cause. They are a good time, and the dastardly exploits of their followers are equally entertaining to read about.

Somewhere in the middle, in that nebulous space reserved for the truly ambiguous, are the Lords of the Deep. They exact terrible punishments upon their undeserving subjects, but they’re also benevolent when it suits them, and let’s face it, in some scenes they cannot help but steal the show. Of all Robiny deities and divine pretenders, I would hazard that they are the most stereotypically ‘god-like’ – neither truly good nor evil, capable of undoing the fabric of creation, and impossible to comprehend with mortal eyes.

Sharing this middle ground are the likes of Morgawrus, and those other questionable but unexplored beings of the canon, such as Zenna’s deep-sea companions, and, so far, Gogus and the Stag.

Moving toward Least Fun, we have such delights as the Dawn Prince, and with him, the Ismus and his servants. Then there’s Nathaniel Crozier, and in his imprint, Mister Dark. There’s also the Count de Feria, about whom I’ll say no more here. All hurters of small children and animals, all vindictive and sadistic in the extreme, all guilty of something, or multiple somethings, that puts them beyond the pail.

Sadly, it looks like Woden is going to end up in with this lot. First the bloody-haired Valkyrja, then poor Reverend Galloway, and now the odious Jack Timms, who makes the likes of Crozier look positively genteel. I had such high hopes for you, proud Gallows God, former lover of Verdandi! Ah well, there’s no accounting for bad taste in lackeys and thralls. Here’s hoping the Nornir can set up their defences in time

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m still yet to work out how Gogus fits into all this, not sure if the Stag was just for the spectacle and will become important, and I can’t see Jack Timms causing anything but grief.

But I’m intrigued by the idea – reflected in the name of this chapter, ‘White and Black Pieces’ – that the Museum is really a vast chess board with various people being used. Which is sort of a great way of explaining the role of Neil – he has been a pawn of Ursula’s plans, and now we see Timms as Woden’s dark pawn. Showdown coming?

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 9

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Help Me

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Honestly I feel most sorry for Josh in this chapter. Neil is old enough to process the supernatural shenanigans and recognise them for what they are, but Josh is too young to understand that he’s now been sent through time twice, and both times endangered. What must he make of  it all? I feel like the poor kid ought to be ‘evacuated’ from the Wyrd Museum before he gets seriously hurt.

Matt’s Thoughts: Yeah, this is going to get dark and sadistic pretty quickly, isn’t it? I think what makes Tick-Tock Jack such a terrifying character is that there’s just no class about him.

While the rats were perhaps low-class, they had at least a system of honour that we could enjoy. And as for the high-end Jarvis villains, what’s not to like?

In fact, I was thinking all the way through The Raven’s Knot that there must surely be room for some sort of skit where a villain in the Jarvis universe finds themselves in some mundane situation and lets loose with a verbal spray of King James English abuse. ‘Verily, thou hast put thy plastic bottles in the non-recycling bin for too long, poltroon! If thou canst not amend thy sluggardly disposal traits, then verily, I shall unleash a curse on thy kitchen which will blight all thy foodstuffs with maggots and mould before they are even home from the grocers.’

That sort of thing.

But Jack Timms? There’s nothing grand or fun about this character. And each encounter Neil has with him is lasting longer … I’m not looking forward to this!

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 8

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It is beginning. The museum awakes!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  References to The Woven Path continue as Neil and company speculate on what manner of nightmare monster might have been pursuing him in the dark. We all know who it was, of course, but their confusion is rather amusing.

We also have more characterisation of Neil and Edie in this chapter, and it’s interesting to see how they relate to their guardians now, in contrast to the first impressions of Book 1. For starters, the gulf between Neil and his father has become even more striking, so much so that Mr Pickering, little more than a stranger, can see it at first glance.

Brian Chapman has always been a bit useless and put-upon, but now it seems that these traits have reached their extreme in him. They are all the more pronounced in comparison with Neil, who has faced down malevolent cockroach demons and been gnawed by Valkyries, and made the stronger for it. (On that note, I love how Neil smirks at Mr Pickering’s dismissal of time-travel. Austen, you ought to be listening to this boy, he’s lived it!)

As for Edie, it’s good to hear some of her internal thoughts and opinions about her new home, and the grand destiny set out for her as the last custodian of all that the Wyrd Museum contains. It’s also interesting to see her warming to Miss Ursula, and to discover that their relationship is not as stony and devoid of affection as might first be supposed. I especially love that scene where Ursula gets an inkling that the museum is waking up and actually laughs. It makes one think that she might have not always have been the sour, grim old matriarch of the museum – that she might once have been just as mischievous and lively as Edie.

Matt’s Thoughts: Mystery upon mystery here. Is Austen Pickering exactly what he seems? Does he know what he is unleashing? What are the boundaries between times here at the museum? How many other layers will be unleashed?

The Fatal Strand | Chapter 7

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Tick-Tock Jack has found him.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: When I first read this series I can remember really, really hoping that the Museum’s past as a mental hospital would not be brought up again, and I still feel the same dull dread reading this chapter today as I did all those years ago.

There’s something about the lurid realness of Mary-Anne Brindle being brutally beaten within Neil’s hearing that elevates the horror aspect above the Squander Bug or the Valkyrja, into the realms of Stop The Time-train, I Want To Get Off. Can Neil never catch a break? He’ll be more traumatised than Edie ‘crushed under her mother’s corpse for four days’ Dorkins if this keeps up.

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, love a good haunted house story. Also that rather terrifying illustration of Mary-Ann Brindle. But terrifying as she is in this illustration, the mysterious Tick-Tock Jack mentioned seems even worse again. Also, part of this coloured by the fact that Mr Jarvis, on his website talking about this book, says the character of Jack was one of his most horrible creations. So this could get a lot worse!