‘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?)
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?
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!
THIS ENTRY STANDS IN MEMORY OF THE COUNTLESS UNNAMED PEOPLE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES DURING AUSTERLY FELLOWS’ TYRANNICAL REIGN. MAY THE POWER OF THE HEALING RUBY RESTORE THEM TO THEIR DESERVED REST.
MRS BENEDICT (Freax and Rejex | Ch 4 – Fighting Pax | Ch 2) Beloved mother of Charm, Mrs Benedict was sadly taken by the power of Dancing Jax and could not live with the grief of her daughter’s death upon returning to her true self. She committed suicide in the North Korean refugee camp, to the lasting sorrow of all. She is remembered by Martin, Spencer, and the rest of those brave young people who survived the Ismus’ regime.
SEVEN UNNAMED NORTH KOREAN FARMING FAMILIES (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) Having been taken over by Dancing Jax, these innocent people were shot on the order of Marshal Tark Hyun-ki. May they rest in peace.
TWELVE UNNAMED SOLDIERS OF THE PEOPLE’S ARMY (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) Cut down in their country’s ill-fated resistance against Dancing Jax, these unnamed men died, escaping the blight of that evil book forever.
MARSHAL TARK HYUN-KI (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) This violent military leader was shot after being taken over by Dancing Jax. He will not be remembered favourably by many.
DU KWAN (Fighting Pax | Ch 3) Young aide of Marshal Tark, Du Kwan was killed with his superior under suspicion of having been taken over by Dancing Jax. He was, however, as yet unturned, and his death was a needless waste. He will perhaps be remembered only by Arirang.
UNNAMED PEOPLE’S ARMY SOLDIERS (Fighting Pax | Ch 8) During the rampage of the kirin, the skeletal unicorn which crossed over from Mooncaster, through the refugee camp, many nameless People’s Army soldiers met their deaths. May they rest in peace.
DOCTOR CHOE SOO-JIN (Fighting Pax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 8) A respected scientist and surgeon, Dr Choe allowed ambition and obsession to overtake her following the advent of Dancing Jax upon the outer world. Aiming to find a cure to what she believed to be the ‘disease’ of the book, she sought to experiment on the refugees, and only the quick action of Spencer saved them from her saw. She died in the massacre at the North Korean border, following the invasion of Dancing Jax.
GENERAL CHUNG (Fighting Pax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 8) Killed by Eun-mi during the incursion of Dancing Jax into North Korea, General Chung was a formidable figure in his country’s regime. His relationship with eldest daughter was a complex and bitter one, and he chose to lavish attention and affection upon his youngest child, Nabi. He fought the will of Austerly Fellows for some time before eventually succumbing to the pull of Mooncaster.
UNNAMED SQUIRREL (Fighting Pax | Ch 9) A Mooncaster squirrel was shot by one of Lee’s North Korean guards on their arrival into the Kingdom of the Dawn Prince. It is not known what wisdom this creature of the enchanted forests might have imparted, had it been allowed to live.
NIMBLESEWSKIN (Fighting Pax | Ch 9) Goblin tailor of Mooncaster and minor blight upon the Dawn Prince’s land, Nimblesewskin was killed by Lee’s guards as they struggled to control their nerves. The diminutive tailor was later discovered to have been a serial murderer, re-stitching and reanimating the corpses of his victims to serve his foul whims. He was not missed even by the Ismus, who described him as as unpleasant neighbour.
UNNAMED PEOPLE’S ARMY SOLDIER AND GUARD (Fighting Pax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 10) Nicknamed ‘Scary Spice’ by Lee, this unnamed guard was gored and butchered by the servants of Nimblesewskin. It is unknown whether his soul remained in Mooncaster after death.
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS [FORMERLY, MANDA] AND THE QUEEN OF SPADES [FORMERLY, QUEENIE] (Dancing Jax | Ch 5 – Fighting Pax | Ch 10) The first to read the unpublished manuscript of Fighting Pax, Queenie awoke to her true self and beheld the murder she had committed as the Queen of Spades. For some unspecified slight brought on by the new and evil atmosphere in Mooncaster, the Queen of Spades beat the Queen of Hearts about the head with a ladle, before drowning her in a vat of porridge during the Ismus’ promotional gathering at the CN Tower in Toronto. Unable to live with what she had done and despairing at the horror of the world she had awoken to, Queenie plummeted to her death from the Tower. Whether any of the Ismus’ inner circle recalled her thereafter is unknown.
NICHOLAS AND ESTHER (Freax and Rejex | Ch 15 – Fighting Pax | Ch 21) Killed in the Ismus’ vile ‘Flee the Beast’ campaign, these young teens endured countless horrors at the new Forest camp before being slaughtered. Esther, while not well-liked by the other refugees, survived longer than Nicholas through sheer self-preservation. Both young people were innocent, however, and murdered long before their time.
YIKKER (Freax and Rejex | Ch 13 – Fighting Pax | Ch 23) One of the vile punchinello guards first brought over from Mooncaster to keep the New Forest aberrants in line, Yikker had a particular hatred for Marcus, and forever regretted that he had never had the chance to kill him. Maggie, who had had feelings for Marcus before his death, eventually avenged herself upon Yikker by dealing him a gory death with a pair of sewing scissors. He will not be missed.
UNNAMED ELDERLY WOMAN (Fighting Pax | Ch 24) This poor lady was just one of the countless people present at Kent during the lead up to the release of Fighting Pax. She died three days before Christmas Eve – perhaps one of the more fortunate.
THE HARLEQUIN PRIESTS [FORMERLY, TOMMO AND MILLER] (Dancing Jax | Ch 1 – Fighting Pax | Ch 25) The former accomplices of Jezza died worshipping the Dawn Prince as He arose in infernal splendor, never recalling their former lives. May they find what peace they can.
CAPTAIN SWAZZLE (Freax and Rejex | Ch 5 – Fighting Pax | Ch 26) Leader of the foul punchinello guards both in Mooncaster and at the New Forest camp, Captain Swazzle at last met his deserved end upon the Jill of Spades’ dagger. Returned to her true self, Emma Taylor made short work of the Ismus’ repellent servant using the lethal skills she had learnt as the daughter of an Under Queen, and not even Swazzle’s fellow guards wasted their breath mourning him.
SIR GERALD BENNING & PROFESSOR EVELYN HOLE (Dancing Jax | Ch 6 – Fighting Pax | Ch 26) Proprietors of the Duntinkling guest house in Felixstowe before Dancing Jax took over, former comedy artists and stage musicians Gerald and Evelyn were among that handful of brave ‘aberrant’ souls who fought the power of Austerly Fellows until the very end. Gerald is most remembered for his courageous action with Martin’s rebel group, and his compassion toward the refugee children imprisoned in North Korea, while Evelyn took down the Ismus’ fearsome punchinello guard and dispatched a spore of Fellows, himself. Sadly, this last act also brought about Gerald and Evelyn’s death. They are now honoured as a hero of international renown.
THE JOCKEY [FORMERLY, BARRY MILLIGAN] (Dancing Jax | Ch 3 – Fighting Pax | Ch 27) Previously headmaster at the school where Martin worked, Barry Milligan had a reputation for being old-fashioned yet dependable. His hobbies included rugby, making merry at the local pub, and mouthing off about the state of the English education system. When Dancing Jax arrived, he resisted for longer than most before finally succumbing. As the Jockey, Mooncaster’s consummate and consummately unpleasant trickster, he practiced countless mischiefs with varying degrees of severity, until the release of Fighting Pax caused his character to turn sour. He was eventually throttled to death by the kitchen maid, Columbine.
COLUMBINE [FORMERLY, KATE KRYZEWSKI] (Freax and Rejex | Ch 2 – Fighting Pax | Ch 27) Formerly an internationally acclaimed journalist, Kate Kryzewski reported on the rise of Dancing Jax in America, before being lured, with her cameraman Sam, to the UK. Once she had delivered her piece about the Ismus’ apparently benign intentions for the New Forest camp, she was forbidden to leave, and forcibly turned. As Columbine, she attained the help of the witch Haxxentrot to protect herself from the Jockey’s violent advances, until Fighting Pax denied her that agency. Having dispatched the Jockey and awoken as herself in the real world, she witnessed Lucifer upon the Waiting Throne and committed suicide. May she rest in peace with the unnumbered others who met a similar fate.
KIZKA THE PUNCHINELLO (Fighting Pax | Ch 27) One of the guards stationed on the outer wall of the replica White Castle, Kizka was flung to his death by Carol after threatening her son. He is not recalled by many among his kind.
THE CINNAMON BEAR (Freax and Rejex | Ch 12 – Fighting Pax | Ch 28) Mythical beast of Mooncaster, resident of Hunter’s Chase and the only creature ever to carry Malinda the fairy godmother upon its back, the Cinnamon Bear was killed and devoured by the Bad Shepherd, sustaining him in Mooncaster for many months. Whether it knew his true identity before its death is a question that only the card dealers can answer, and they are not forthcoming.
LEE JULES SHERLON CHARLES (Freax and Rejex | Ch 2 – Fighting Pax | Ch 28) Originally from Peckham in London, Lee was one of the young people taken to the New Forest camp after Dancing Jax had no effect on him. During his ordeal at the camp, it was discovered that he was the Castle Creeper – a singular and unique character in Mooncaster, able to pass from the Kingdom of the Dawn Prince to the true world and back again at will. The Ismus sought to use Lee to his evil advantage, promising him a perfect life in Mooncaster with his deceased girlfriend, Charm, in exchange for the murder of the Bad Shepherd. But Lee, aware of the Shepherd’s true identity, instead allowed that being to end his life, thereby releasing the Healing Ruby and banishing the Dawn Prince from the world. Martin’s stepson Paul has since given interview stating that he has recurring dreams in which he sees the White Castle painted pink, and it is still unclear why Lee’s body, along with that of Gerald and certain others, was never recovered.
THE ISMUS [REGENT OF MOONCASTER; ONE OF THE MANY FACES OF AUSTERLY FELLOWS; ABBOT OF THE ANGELS, FOUNDER OF THE CANDLE FAITH, AND HERALD OF THE DAWN PRINCE] (Dancing Jax | Ch 1 – Fighting Pax | Ch 29) Once a petty thief by the name of Jezza, the Ismus was the embodiment of Austerly Fellows’ grand plan for the world. Ruthless, soulless, and impeccably stylish, he rose to power as the blight of Dancing Jax spread, and achieved absolute triumph in the name of the Dawn Prince, before suffering absolute defeat. Too hasty to celebrate his victory over the unhappy world and the return of his Master to the Waiting Throne, he failed to recognise the treat those who had resisted him posed to his hellish regime. At the hand of Arirang, he was impaled upon Malinda’s wand and scattered as ash upon the wind, his empire in ruins.
MAGGIE BLESSING (Freax and Rejex | Ch 9 – Fighting Pax | Ch 26) An outgoing yet troubled young woman, Maggie resisted capture and imprisonment in the New Forest camp for longer than any of the other young ‘aberrants’, even going so far as to disguise herself as the Jill of Hearts in an attempt to escape to the French border. She was a true friend to Charm and Lee, protecting Charm’s girls after her death and doing all she could to boost morale among the other young people in the North Korean refugee camp. Maggie bonded especially with Gerald, and would have been adopted by him, had circumstances been different. As things stand, however, only Evelyn could have revealed the truth about what happened beneath the replica White Castle on the night of Austerly Fellows’ downfall.
‘Who’s this guy? He reminds me of… someone I lost.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: So falls the Empire; with Plague and Fire and the Death of Innocents. So the Dawn Prince is brought low, so the cards are dealt and the wheel spun again. What sort of place is Mooncaster, truly? Perhaps it’s better that we’ll never know.
I can remember that after this trilogy finished, a lot of people were confused about the ending and asked if there would be another book, and I can understand why. That final epilogue does leave us with some rather pessimistic ideas about human nature, and it’s no wonder, I think, that everybody went ‘wait, that can’t be it, can it?’
But then, that’s what Robin’s endings do – they may not be neat or pretty, but they are honest. It would almost cheapen the messages of the trilogy at this point for him to say that actually, everything was fine and everybody found God and it was all sunshine and rainbows forever. The world doesn’t just get taken over by literal Satan and bounce back, this isn’t a hopeful YA dystopia (haw haw).
So, what are we left with? The splinter of AF in Maggie survived with her body, the bridges to that other realm were never truly closed, and the sad little toys Miss Blessing presents to her business partners each contain the soul of a person who was murdered the night Lucifer ascended. When the survivors sign those contracts and take home a cuddly companion, they’ll be signing away their last chance of ever being free of Austerly Fellows and the damnation he brings. Evil is a rot that no amount of kindness and compassion can scrub from the world, and in the end, it will always return.
The Devil is with us still, Sacred Strangers, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Matt’s Thoughts: I feel rather sheepish that my mind has blanked out Eun-mi/Arirang’s journey throughout the book. Here she is, the character who heroically takes out the Ismus and I forgot!
It’s possibly because that climax was overshadowed by the still more astonishing appearance of the shepherd who, now that he is out and about in our world, rather effortlessly dispatches Lucifer in just a few short paragraphs.
Of course, everything could have been left there in that final chapter (where joyously Spencer survives!), but instead there is that bleak single paragraph reminding us that the next un-Jax related murder took place 2.47 minutes later. You don’t need devilish activity for humanity to treat each other badly.
What I find fascinating about this ending (and I’m a little less gasping for air than I was after the first time I read it) is that there are two ideas wrestling here, almost an optimism and a pessimism. On the one hand, for a book that really couldn’t be classified as pro-church, there is – in its portrayal of the shepherd – a surprisingly positive portrayal of God or his prophet (it’s deliberately left non-specific). He has power to conquer the devil and he offers forgiveness of sins. It’s not something I would have expected from a secular YA novel at all.
But there is also the epilogue, which reminds us that evil is never fully defeated (at least not in this life), it just waits its turn to try again. And all this as fate or history counts down towards … the end of the world? Something apocalyptic? There are so many unanswered questions about the card-players as well.
We’ll cling to the hope that the heroes of the story did live happily ever after in Mooncaster (though we’d probably all love to know where the real Maggie ended up). And all agree that of course marketers, a sordid group to which I sadly belong, would be the ones likely to spread another crisis around the world …
So what are my final thoughts on this whole spectacular, dark and thought-provoking trilogy? I think what strikes me about it is a feeling that it comes from somewhere bigger than just Robin Jarvis’ imagination. The story is well-told of how Robin came up with the idea for the finale of Dancing Jax from a dream and then more or less wrote the book around that.
My speculation is: was it just a dream? It’s almost as if Robin has had an old-school vision of a world where our own shallowness and lack of direction makes it a perfect breeding ground for evil to spread. And then the trilogy is his way of working out the implications of that vision. In other words, if there was such an evil in the world, how might it be stopped? If we were consumed by guilt and shame on a mass scale, where might we find healing?
And while a novel like that could have ended in any number of ways, it instead ends with an act of sacrificial faith and total surrender and a good shepherd who defeats evil and offers forgiveness.
I’m fairly confident that Robin wouldn’t want this trilogy to be seen as promoting any particular religion, so I’m being careful not to insinuate that this is in any way a piece of propaganda. And with all its dark goings-on and imagery, I probably wouldn’t be handing out copies in large quantities in any of the Christian circles I move in.
But my curiosity would be – did he find himself searching for Someone or Something, some sort of higher power, as he wrote this novel? Or does he already believe in such a power anyway and was looking for a way to express it? Did you find yourself thinking along those lines as you read it?
If so, my hope and prayer would be that you find Whoever or Whatever you are looking for, in a day and age where it can (still) often feel as if there is only the trivia around us and not much else.
See you in December for the end of our re-read (for now) as we finish War in Hagwood!
Aufwader’s Thoughts: I think we all kind of knew that Lee wouldn’t go through with the Ismus’ demand. When you look at it logically, what reason did Lee ever have to believe that the happily ever after Austerly Fellows promised him would come to pass? Lee has seen what people become in Mooncaster when they die, he’s seen the card-players in the tower and experienced the Ismus’ regime first hand. He was never going to buy what the Ismus was peddling, even .
I love that it’s the memory of Charm that has kept Mr Despair from taking over Lee completely. It’s a very sincere thing to have in a young adult novel, what he says about not wanting the pain to stop because it means his love was real. I think maybe Lee becomes an adult in that moment, and the fact that those feelings were some of his last makes his entire character journey all the more profound and compelling.
Also, it’s just now struck me that Lee having the Healing Ruby in him was actually foreshadowed – what did he keep in memory of Charm? A pink crystal in the shape of a heart.
Matt’s Thoughts: I’m not sure whether the editors raised an eyebrow at this chapter or whether it sailed through. But I remember my sister and I swapping notes over the finale of Fighting Pax when we’d finished reading it and felt that there was almost something blasphemous about it. The idea of turning Jesus into essentially a cannibal and having him devour Lee’s heart is a pretty brave idea to put in a book, even if it is perfectly in keeping with where the plot was heading.
So I’ll admit, my initial reaction to this chapter ending was one of real discomfort about the whole thing. I think I had a tweet back and forth with Robin about it and he reminded me that, for him, it was about Lee and his decision of faith.
Coming at it with fresh eyes, I understand what he means. In fact, Mr Jarvis might have seen more than I did. Robin has actually tapped into some of the Biblical use of language about surrender to Jesus. The Bible does talk about giving your heart to God. Romans chapter 12, verse 1 uses even more striking language: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’
This is, of course, just a metaphor and refers more to the idea of wholehearted service rather than actual human sacrifice, but Robin has really turned the concept into something visceral in this chapter as Lee literally offers himself as a sacrifice.
Now reading it from that angle, I almost wept to see Lee – a character who has carried such anger and bitterness for so long – reach a point where he surrenders everything and finds something to believe in.
I’ll have more to say on all this in the next (and final!) chapter.
Meanwhile, I also enjoyed Spencer’s greatest moment and Martin and Carol vs Mauger. This multi-chapter finale surely must be Robin’s greatest achievement in terms of one sustained set piece?
He wanted to turn and run, to hide or hurl himself from the tower – anything to escape the tide of horror beating from that shimmering shape upon the throne. It was all he could do to remain standing, and he prayed that those pitiless, blazing eyes did not turn his way.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Rereading this trilogy almost consecutively really does show the calculating perfidy of Austerly Fellows’ grand plan. We’ve been aware of both the Waiting Throne and the Dark Door since the first half of Dancing Jax; we’ve been aware that the Ismus is only Regent of Mooncaster and that at some point the Dawn Prince ruled, but until now, the actual reality of what that might mean was but a vague threat in the back of everyone’s mind.
That said, and as fun as the hellscape is, I find the Ismus’ pride in his own evil work and his basking in the approval of Lucifer to be a bit, well, premature. You would think that the Head of Cults and King of Witches, Founder of the Candle Faith and Abbot of the Angels, would know to dispatch all of his enemies before putting his feet up and catching some infernal rays. Watch out, AF, it’s not a done deal yet.
As a final note, I have to have a little smirk to myself over the cheeky self-awareness that is the Dark Door being called, well, the Dark Door, and the fact that the only description of Lucifer we get is of his blazing red eyes. You can swear up and down that it’s coincidence, Mr Jarvis, but that’s not going to erase the mental image I currently have of a certain ginger moggy ascending the Waiting Throne. Now wouldn’t that be a plot twist.
Matt’s Thoughts: It’s almost overwhelming the number of perilous choices and moral decisions being made in this chapter. Martin is going to kill Lee, the Jockey (again, the wild card!) helps him out, Kate Kryzewski comes back (if only to be filled with remorse).
Seeing Spencer arrive was great (I have a great soft spot for the young western fan) and he is almost the Audrey facing down Jupiter in The Final Reckoning. The last one left against unspeakable evil, and seemingly small and defenseless …
‘That’s my faith – I believe in them – in their goodness.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter crosses the line into hilarious at some points, top of the list for me being Emma slitting Captain Swazzle’s throat and exclaiming ‘now that’s the way to do it’. Snort-worthy though the first few pages are, it all goes down hill, and extremely quickly, even for a Robiny finale. I can’t decide what’s worse, Eun-mi’s torment, Maggie being taken over, or poor Evelyn and Gerald. At least their final act was a showstopper.
Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is quite long but you would never know because it whips along with revelation after revelation, tragedy after tragedy, violence upon violence. For Maggie – surely a survivor if there ever was one – to have made it so far and to get taken out by the Fellows splinter is just horrendous. There is absolutely no fairness to that at all.
My head is spinning at the whole thing. It’s an undeniably exciting finale but it’s brutally dark.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Whenever I describe this series to people who’ve expressed an interest, I seem to always start off with some variation of ‘yeah it’s the one where literal Satan appears in the finale’. They tend to look mildly startled, then intrigued, and then, when I explain a bit, positively galvanized to start reading. Somewhere, the spores of Austerly Fellows must be laughing.
The Dancing Jax trilogy will forever and always be remembered as that time Robin really went there, a big ol’ finger in the eye to everybody who ever mocked his books for their grim cults, evil rituals, and sorcery in the highest degree. Forget the flayings, the plagues, the burnings and poisonings and sacrifices – if the YA rating means we can have devilry in the literal sense, then by the Ismus’ mouldy shirtsleeves, we’re having it.
Merry Christmas, one and all.
Matt’s Thoughts: Even though we’d seen it coming since Book 1, still there’s something breathtaking when Robin Jarvis – inventor of any number of memorable evils gods and demons – decides to go the whole hog and wheel out Lucifer as the ultimate villain. Fascinatingly, he pops out of the Dark Door which is described as having ‘a glowing symbol of a serpent and a crescent moon’ on it. This is the closest we get to having any connection with the Deptford universe and may be coincidental, but it is a nice touch to have a sneaky reference to a serpent in this book.
But what fascinates me most about this chapter is the actual nature of the Satanic plot that is being unleashed – namely, the idea of a world of guilt with No One to grant forgiveness. This is the most unlikely plot twist I have ever seen in a book of this type and I’m staggered. Bear with me while I explain why.
Growing up Christian, there were really two great fantasy series that reflected my belief system – Narnia and Middle-Earth. I could read these and either very strongly (the Narnia books) or more obliquely (Lord of the Rings) I could find Christian themes. But most fantasy nowadays – if not most fiction – even if it veers into the realm of the religious, is still coming from a secular point of view.
And one of the most divergent points, I think, between Christianity and modern secular thinking is the idea of sin. Go back 100 years, most people in the West had an understanding of the concept of sin – bad stuff we did with varying levels of severity. And between the Church and our own conscience making us feel guilty, the message of Christianity spoke into that: Trust in Jesus and He will forgive your sins.
However, secularism, among many things really rejected the idea of a ‘sinful nature’ and ‘sin’. In fact, despite the fact that we know that we don’t treat each very well on the whole, we still tend to talk and think about the human race as being inherently good. It’s well documented that one of the biggest difficulties the Christian church has faced in the western world in recent decades is that when it tries to wheel out the old message about needing sins forgiven, most people say: What sins? I’m a pretty good person most of the time. Why do I need to be forgiven?
Thus, a lot of narratives in film and books have moved from the story of someone fighting to be a better person to stories about people accepting who they are and having other people accept them.
And so it’s fascinating to me the plot here in this chapter. It would be horrible enough for the Fighting Pax ebook to send everyone on a killing spree. That’s quite bad enough. But the real horror that Lucifer and Fellows want to unleash on the world is a world with no forgiveness. A world where everyone sees quite clearly that they are a sinner (except for the psychopaths!) but there is no one to forgive them.
A desperate need of mercy but none to be found.
I would never have seen a plot twist like this coming and it totally caught me by surprise.
Which now throws what’s going on with Lee into even greater relief. The idea of taking out the Bad Shepherd is no longer just an anti-religious move. It is to rob the world of a redemptive force.
‘See you real soon in the one true world – the Kingdom of the Dawn Prince.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Some wonderful character moments here. What really tugged at my heartstrings was how Martin was very quick to tell Paul that he had done nothing wrong and should not blame himself. That alone is an act of defiance against the Ismus’ grand plan – instead of coming out of the Jax fog and being wracked with guilt, Paul has someone there to console him and not let him take the blame on his 11-year-old shoulders. If only the rest of the world had the same.
Matt’s Thoughts: The reunion between Paul and Martin has certainly been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Again, this is another scene that benefits from being read so soon after rereading Dancing Jax. I now clearly remember poor old Paul, aged 11, wandering the streets of Felixstowe trying to escape from the madness and failing miserably. In fact, it’s a wonder he’s not a bit angry at Martin. I suppose it’s made up for by what he did to Martin’s sci-fi collection.
But the part that got to me was actually the throwaway moment where Kate goes to talk to an old lady only to find she’s been dead for three days. The callous approach to human life that is rising in humanity (at the time of year when there are normally tales told of a Prince of Peace) is deeply disturbing.