Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘I did love ‘ee, Aud,’ he whispered.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: The theme from Akkikuyu’s persuasive duet with Nettle is picked up again for the stealthy cornering of Alison. The low, malevolent motif of Nicodemus rises to a fearsome bellow as he announces himself to his helpless and horror-struck sacrifice.
Now Nicodemus has his villainous solo, his ‘soothing and repellent’ voice echoing and rumbling, becoming increasingly familiar. Fire flares, shadows loom large, a ghostly chorus moans from the gloom. Lightning cracks in lurid colour on the horizon, drums boom with approaching thunder. The sky churns and broils, the corn bends in the howling wind.
At last, the truth of Akkikuyu’s ‘secret voice’ is revealed. His insidious pretence cast aside, Jupiter, Lord of All, calls upon Rameth and Ozulmunn, Arash and Iriel to unbind his wrathful spirit from the void. In a scene of desperate horror, Alison is ushered toward her doom, and Akkikuyu begins to transform. Finally, among the tumult, Akkikuyu’s defiance rings out. Her last song is a hoarse and despairing reprise of ‘Summer Light’, abruptly cut off when she gives herself to the flames, freed at last from Jupiter’s tyranny.
In the Hall of Corn, anxious murmurs grow to screams as the fire spreads. The chorus wavers and whines with the flames as Audrey pulls Nettle to safety. The Fennywolde theme, which first sounded when the Hall was being built, returns with a vengeance, mingling with Nettle’s ravings. In a crescendo of falling sparks and swirling smoke, Mr Woodruffe reaches his throne, only to be consumed.
The final scene is drab in palette, disquieting in tone. Far off, the faint voices of mousemaids can be heard trilling ‘The Witch’s Water’ over the clatter of bare, wintry branches. Blue-violet shadows blanket Alison as she murmurs to Akkikuyu’s discarded crystal. As it smashes in the ditch, a silvery note like a clear bell sounds in the gathering darkness. Jupiter’s sibilant laughter fills the air. He is as mighty as his mythological namesake, and the nightmare of his reign is not over yet.
Matt’s Thoughts: One fascinating historical fact that I discovered while reading this book was how rubbish the exchange rate used to be back in 2001. (Or else how much bookshops would gouge you!). The recommended retail on the back of my silver-spine edition of Crystal Prison was £5.99 and yet I found the docket dated November 2001 in which I paid AUD$16.95 – nearly three times as much! (The exchange rate currently is just short of twice – so £1 is roughly AUD$2.)
Anyway, enough of that financial outrage.
Because, of course, the real outrage is that The World’s Most Evil Cat is back. (Back from where is an interesting question as well. From the hints we get, it sounds like he’s done a deal with some back-door guard demons in Hell to slip him out, as long as the overall population count doesn’t change. And the phrase ‘father of lies’ has that epic Biblical ring to it, quite possibly because – whether consciously or otherwise – it is an echo of the description of Satan from John 8:44: ‘He is a liar and the father of lies.’ Actually, Jupiter was also described as his Most High Satanic Majesty in The Dark Portal from memory, so the whole thing is very much on theme.)
But ultimately I think what makes this finale and this book such a step up from Portal is the sheer level of adult emotions that it forces you to deal with. In Portal, yes, there were violent rats, and black magic and the Black Plague, but these things caused more physical damage. But now in The Crystal Prison, alongside the physical violence wreaked by that creepy corn dolly, we’ve got psychic damage being done.
When Jupiter was dispatched in Book 1, there was a collective sigh of relief and everyone went home happy. But there is no happiness this time. Twit and Audrey are married, but neither of them will be happy. Mr Woodruffe saved everyone but lost his life doing so. Audrey and Arthur are returning home, thus severing their ties with Fennywolde. And Madame Akkikuyu shows her affection for Audrey, but loses her life in doing so.
In short, the cost is pretty high for the peace that has been won. And so it ends with that ultra-moving sentence: ‘But although they both vowed to return one day, neither ever saw the land of Fenny again.’ Which is also a nice echo of a passage in The Lord of the Rings, right at the tail end of Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 6, where Aragorn is looking around with Frodo. The line runs:
‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, ‘and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.
And then, of course, the peace lasts all of two pages of the epilogue until the meaning of the phrase ‘crystal prison’ becomes apparent. And so that sets us up nicely for the mother of all finales: The Final Reckoning. See you in March!
P.S. Actually, there is one more thing. I mentioned a while back that I thought the name ‘Nicodemus’ was darkly brilliant. I didn’t want to spoil things at the time, but now that you all know the final twist, I do wonder whether Jupiter picked his tattoo name as a reference to the Pharisee named Nicodemus who snuck out to see Jesus in the middle of the night in John chapter 3. Jesus tells him that to see the kingdom of God, he must be ‘born again’.
Given the regular Satanic overtones that are ascribed to Jupiter, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he secretly enjoyed taking the name Nicodemus, knowing that he was going to put his own dark spin on being ‘born again’ with the help of Akkikuyu.
Messed up, right?