The Crystal Prison | Chapter 14 & Epilogue


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?

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 13


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Audrey tearfully thought of Piccadilly. Sobbing she uttered, ‘I do.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I absolutely love the two-part ending that is this chapter and the next. They’re like the dramatic finale of a stage musical or an opera, and I see them in those terms.

In this chapter, we begin with a sinister duet between Isaac Nettle and Madame Akkikuyu. At the behest of Nicodemus, she persuades Nettle to create a sign of loathing and vengeance in his cramped and airless forge. Cellos hum in time with Nicodemus’s sly instructions in Akkikuyu’s ear. Drums pound with the fall of Nettle’s hammer, his earlier hymns to the Green reprised in verses of grief and fury.

Alison Sedge’s high, terrified alarm is echoed by the fraught whine of the strings as the corn dolly appears and threatens the mice. When it falls lifeless before Audrey, the music ceases completely in an instant of charged hush.

The Fennywolders sing in threatening chorus; Isaac Nettle’s menacing baritone delivers their ultimatum. Frantic strings delineate the horror of what is about to take place.  Over them all soars Audrey’s heartbreaking plea for mercy. Finally, Twit comes in with a small but strong voice to save her from the noose, reprising the theme of his solo song ‘In Olde Fennywolde’, green sparks flashing where he treads.

Twit and Audrey join in lamenting but courageous chorus as Nettle marries them before the hanging tree. The lights dim, and Akkikuyu is revealed in garish spotlight. Nicodemus’ cello returns, darker and deeper. Nearby, Alison’s discarded mousebrass sparkles invitingly.


Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is such utter genius. If you look at some other love triangles –  I’m thinking the cinematic versions of Lord of the Rings and Hunger Games, for instance – inevitably the person at the centre of the triangle has to hit some point where they have to choose one or the other. (Or even LOST, for that matter, but not sure if there’s an overlap between Jarvis fans and LOST watchers.) Which then gets problematic very fast, because without fail, half the readership/viewership liked Person A, the other half liked Person B and no matter which way it pans out, somebody will be annoyed with the author.

But this setup is brilliant because of the inevitability of how it all works. Whatever Audrey might have felt for Piccadilly (and vice versa), she must marry Twit or perish. And so Audrey is broken-hearted because she loved Dilly-O. Twit is broken-hearted because he really does love Audrey. But we’re not really angry with any of it, because how else could it go under the circumstances?

So, in one chapter, everyone has been doomed to a relatively loveless future … Ah, you British! You’re such a melancholy group. I’m sure no American would write a chapter like this! Anyway, I’ll try to keep stiff upper lip about all this but it’s a struggle, people!

The only highlight to this otherwise devastating chapter is the awesome display of defiance that Madame Akkikuyu makes against Nicodemus. But will it last? (I actually can’t remember exactly what happens in chapter 14, so that is a real question I have. See you after the grand finale!)

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 12


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Fennywolde had become an evil place to live.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What drama! What tragedy and anguish! This chapter pulls no punches, weaving the ‘Fennywolde feeling’ into something real and tangible and terrifying. By the end I felt completely emotionally drained, and yet, there is worse ahead!

First of all, however, we’ve got one of the most wincingly painful scenes to take place between any of our young mice thus far. Poor Jenkin – no mother, an abusive despot for a father, and now the mousemaid with whom he dreamt of starting a wholesome life loves another. My heart bleeds, and even more so when Jenkin does not even have the time to set things right before his short life is brutally curtailed.

The little aside where Alison, having witnessed Jenkin being carried off by Mahooot, cries silently and throws aside her brass really got me, as well. I said before that I don’t think I quite appreciated the glory that is Alison Sedge until this project, and while that’s true, I don’t think I appreciated the tragedy of her, either. She only discovers in hindsight that it was Jenkin whom she loved all along, and oh, how agonising that hindsight is!

What makes it worse is that Alison has not actually done anything truly evil. Spiteful, perhaps, manipulative, maybe, but nothing on the level of the properly villainous.  On reread I was struck by how disproportionate her punishment is for the minor slights and petty quarrels she has perpetuated. Like a lot about this book, the song of Alison Sedge is more of a tear-jerking lament, but, as Matt has said in previous posts, it’s their emotional ups and downs that make these mice so very human.


Matt’s Thoughts: So, so grim. I thought I was familiar enough with The Deptford Mice that this re-read would be more about watching how the whole story was put together. But this is full-on. I’m sucked in, the world of Fennywolde has risen off the page, and I’m emotionally invested.

Which is never great when you’ve got a heartbroken Alison throwing her mousebrass away, Jenkin abducted by an owl (after getting such a sweet scene with Audrey) and the vicious owl-mauling scene.

It is cleverly done, in that we almost feel a twinge of sorrow for Mahooot at the end. Certainly, it’s not a great triumphant moment when the mice finally defeat the owl. We don’t get the simple satisfaction of a nasty villain being dispatched. Instead it’s something much more grim. In short, it’s Jarvis.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 11


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Thin, long fingers appeared out of the mist and came for him.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The closest I can get to describing the mood and feel of this chapter is by referencing an almost-nonexistent American literary subgenre; Midwestern Gothic. Related to the journal of the same name, Midwestern Gothic focuses on the uncanny, disturbing or bleak qualities of the rolling cornfields and abandoned buildings which are a prominent feature of the Midwestern United States.

As in the rest of the American Gothic genre, there is a preoccupation with the derelict and grotesque.  The natural world is characterised as a harsh and temperamental ruler, and there is often an emphasis on suspense, occult themes, betrayal and regret, unexplained murders, the unquiet dead, and the fervour of small-town religious fanatics.

I know that this subgenre exists in a similar form in the UK (for a recent example, see the terrifying BBC drama, The Living and the Dead) but I have yet to come across a name for it. I’d love for somebody to step in and tell me what this fields-n’-damnation thingumy is called in Britain, but for the purposes of this project I’ve labelled it the ‘Fennywolde feeling’, and this chapter perfectly encapsulates everything that makes it what it is.

The hot, dry wind rasps through the Hall of Corn, bringing ill mutterings and laden glances. The bat’s prophecy, which Arthur was privy to in Chapter 6 of The Dark Portal, unfolds its grisly wings. Pain and horror stalk the summer fields in straw-clad form. When noon is hot and corn is gold, beware the ear that whispers.


Matt’s Thoughts: From serial killers to Stephen King territory – something about sinister things lurking in tall fields reminds me of ‘Children of the Corn’. Reading about the dark and creepy thing that takes out Young Whortle, I’m thinking I might hold off a bit before I read this to my more sensitive 7-year-old!

But to me, the most disturbing thing in the chapter is actually the way Nicodemus bullies Madame Akkikuyu into doing the dark deeds necessary to release him from limbo. By feeding her doubts about whether the mice will love her, he cruelly uses manipulation to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. It’s heartbreaking to see, given how you can see in many ways Akkikuyu is starting to find elusive happiness in her life.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 10


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Floating above Mr Woodruffe, like a dense cloud of growing things, was the Green Mouse.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter stands out to me as one of the most unearthly and magical in the entire Deptford Mice Trilogy. For a few short pages, we see Fennywolde as it might be without the strife and strain of evil deeds and suspicion. After the horror of Hodge’s fate last chapter, the contrast is immediately, strikingly apparent. Transported with Audrey into an ethereal Midsummer’s Eve revel, we have the privilege of entering the presence of the Green Mouse, himself, and watching the night unfold in all its toe-tingling wonder.

While I was rereading, I remembered and anticipated the appearance of the Green and the Midsummer dancing, but the arrival of the Lady of the Moon surprised me. When I came to the part where she descends in a glimmering cloud, I was overwhelmed with the memory of the awe I had felt when I read this sequence for the first time as a child.

There is a lot of esotericism of various kinds in Mr Jarvis’ work, and the machinations of dark gods are ever present, but the Midsummer’s Eve scene is a rare glimpse into a more uplifting spiritual experience than we have yet witnessed in this trilogy. It even surpasses Audrey’s mousebrass ceremony. However, as then, it marks our heroine out for her tall and dangerous destiny.

My favourite little detail in this chapter is the hawthorn blossom. Back in Chapter 5, I noticed that aside and knew that Oswald’s parting gift to Audrey would turn up later, and of course, it did! Nothing in a Robin Jarvis book is ever superfluous, and no passing mention is ever just a passing mention. Keep your wits about you, dear Readers, because like Oswald’s hawthorn, there are a lot of things in this chapter which will make a second appearance further on.


Matt’s Thoughts: There’s a sort of polytheistic element to the Green Mouse, reading this. He’s a singular, but yet he’s described as being ‘like a dense cloud of growing things’ (plural). Plus when he addresses Audrey, he says ‘We are pleased with you little one.’ (Unless this is a Royal ‘We’?)

Either way, it’s a great vision. But the part that affected me the most was Isaac Nettle. He sits with a scowl on his face not seeming to see what is going on, but ‘praying sourly’. It’s tragic and pointed – the mouse who makes the most noise about being loyal to the Green is the one that turns his back on the Green Mouse when He is present.

Anyway, lest this all seem too happy (this is not Tolkien, where we spend very long chapters in Elvish places while the action stops), we get that rather grim foreshadowing of Piccadilly being chased by rats, spears and ice and snow … Winter is coming, as some folks might say.

Oh yeah, and Madame Akkikuyu is on a frog-killing expedition. It’s all happening.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 9


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

At his feet was the body of a mouse.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I had a bit of a chortle reading the scene where Arthur is temporarily initiated into the Fennywolde community as a sentry. I’d forgotten about it, and I realised that since I’d read The Crystal Prison last (a few years ago, certainly) I’d had a similarly haphazard-yet-meaningful experience. Oddly enough, it also took place in high summer.

Those of you who read Beyond the Silvering Sea will already know this story, but for any who don’t, let me summarise. Last year, a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Mr Jarvis at a local book festival. Being the die-hard fans that we are, we had both brought him tokens of our esteem to surprise him during the signing.

My friend had made the Anti-Owl Charm in craft clay, because Mr Jarvis had previously mentioned that it was his favourite mousebrass design. Since I was wont to present him with outlandish fanart projects, I had decided to go all-out and draw him his very own coat of arms to mark this extra-special occasion. There’s a bit of story behind that (read it here) but the point that I’m getting to is that I had also, somehow, at some point and possibly as a result of my mum’s earnest insistence the day before, decided that a coat of arms was a bit lacking on its own, and that Mr Jarvis ought to be knighted along with it.

The scene of Arthur being ‘sworn in’ is, funnily enough,  not dissimilar to what transpired that day. I made up a few suitably ceremonial-sounding words on the spot. Mr Jarvis was surprisingly game for the lark and graciously allowed me to ‘dub’ him with a pen my friend had brought. None of us could keep a straight face. The festival staff in the vicinity applauded. Unlike Arthur’s sentry duties, however, Sir Robin’s knighthood is by no means a temporary honour. Truly, it was the Green, and not I, who bestowed it upon him!


Matt’s Thoughts: Three comments on this chapter:

  • It just finally dawned on me that the Fennywolders have a democratic monarchy. I wouldn’t want to read any political views of Mr Jarvis into this, but the idea that the Royal Family would change every year based on a popular vote is somewhat awesome. That said, I really like Mr Woodruffe as a character. He walks a fine balancing act between recognising that the Green Mouse and the ways of Fenny need to be respected – but he never tips over into being an Isaac Nettle. He is, in short, a balanced leader that is good for everyone. (I’d wear a ‘Mr Woodruffe for King’ t-shirt.)
  • I quite enjoy the catty (pun intended) interaction between Audrey and Alison. The two of them are quite equal sparring partners when it comes to their tongue. But then again, that causes part of the problems when we get to …
  • The murder of Hodge. (I got, what, all of four chapters to enjoy having a character named after me? Thanks, Robin!) But what I enjoy reading this book now is that I can see Robin is again throwing in another normally adult story trope into a kids’ book. In this case, it is the serial killer mystery thriller. Ever since Jack the Ripper took to the streets, we have always been terrified and fascinated by unseen killers, picking off victims at random. And how many open with the finding of a body, killed under mysterious circumstances? (I just can’t think of the last time anybody did it with mice.)

Well, we can’t stop reading now, can we? On to Chapter 10!

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 8


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

It was at times like these, when the peace and beauty of Fennywolde were overpowering, that she thought it might not be so bad to spend the rest of her days there.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I may have sided with Audrey over the potions last chapter, but her rebuttal of Akkikuyu here is rather more selfish and cannot really be overlooked. It’s testament to Audrey’s fundamentally good heart that she instantly feels terrible for rejecting Akkikuyu, but her regret doesn’t excuse her refusal to at least practice some patience when Akkikuyu is clearly suffering.

All of this is grist for the mill of Audrey’s character, however. As we saw in The Dark Portal, she is not completely sweet-natured, accommodating, and thoughtful. She can be, but if she were only those things, she would not be Audrey at all, nor indeed a particularly realistic character.

Then we’ve got Akkikuyu and Nicodemus. Holy gosh darn golly gee did this scene horrify me as a child! I hated frightening faces for a start, and there’s something about the reveal that the voice is actually coming from the tattoo on Akkikuyu’s ear that’s just so intimately abhorrent that it makes me shudder. There’s no way out for her, she and the insidious voice are joined together permanently. Visceral horror at its finest!

In that scene we also get another occult incantation, almost a mirror of the one which takes place between Jupiter and Morgan on Blackheath in Chapter 10 of The Dark Portal. Though not quite as cataclysmic as the Blackheath ritual, this one is certainly unnerving in its execution and effects. Why should Nicodemus, a benign spirit of nature, feel the need to invoke ‘slaughterous cold and searing ice’? Why does he alternately berate and beguile Akkikuyu? And why does the corn dolly require blood to be brought to life?

Finally, on reread, I noticed that during the incantation to join the corn dolly back together, Nicodemus has Akkikuyu call upon Brud to ‘make whole again your effigy.’ Being aware that Robin loves to reference history and folklore in his naming conventions, I had a rummage around Google to see whether the mysterious Brud might be a fictionalisation of a folkloric spirit or deity. Sadly I didn’t find anything exact – the closest I could get was Brigid (Braid, Brìde), an Irish/British pagan goddess for whom corn figures were (and are) woven during her festival in early February. If anybody has further knowledge on this subject (or if Mr Jarvis himself would like to wade in) that would be fantastic.


Matt’s Thoughts: And there it is – that turning point. That moment where Audrey’s compassion falters for a moment. And that moment is all it takes. It’s that familiar Jarvis moment: the ‘Uh oh’. The ‘no, no, no’. The ‘this is going to get a lot worse’.

It’s one of the oldest clichés in the book, in many respects: Person A is unkind to Person B. Person B goes off and triggers off a whole mess of trouble which they otherwise wouldn’t have done. But clichés work because they tap into universal experiences. We’ve all had a moment in the past where we were more unkind to someone than we should have been. We wonder what it might have been like if we could go back and do things differently.

That said, we possibly didn’t have the person we were unkind to stalk off and have devious conversations with a tattoo on their ear …

The naming of this character, by the way – Nicodemus – is also a darkly brilliant choice, but I might come back to that topic at a later stage. For now, I’ll just let the dread start to sink in …

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 7


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Beware the maker of dolls. Repent ye or the vengeance of the Green shall smite ye down.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now our heroes arrive in Fennywolde proper and begin to settle in, but it’s a bumpy ride. First of all there’s the unprecedented acceptance of Madame Akkikuyu by the country mice, and Audrey’s well-intentioned but ultimately ridiculous performance over the healing potion. I love the way that scene is written; the mice’s derision and Audrey’s mortification are so pronounced I could feel myself cringe in sympathy. That said, their behaviour toward her seems crushingly unfair. After all, she was only trying to protect Young Whortle and Sammy, and had no way of knowing that Akkikuyu would make a usable tonic. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m on Audrey’s side there.

Out comes the bucolic description again when we come to the Hall of Corn, probably one of my favourite settings in any of Mr Jarvis’ books. One can positively hear the soft rustle of the ears and feel the heat of the midsummer sun, and I absolutely adore the varied and fascinating cast of fieldmice we are introduced to.

For a brief scene or two, we can almost allow ourselves to believe that Fennywolde is indeed what it appears – a haven of peace and serenity peopled with sturdy, friendly country folk. Of course, that is not the case at all, as we see during the scene with Audrey’s corn dolly. That alarming sequence perfectly illustrates the clash of country superstition and puritanical doctrine which will become one of this book’s major themes. With Akkikuyu as our tolerated ‘wise woman’, Audrey as our suspect newcomer, Alison as our smug village darling, and Isaac Nettle as our sermonising witch-hunter, our story moves into its Arthur-Miller-esque second act.


Matt’s Thoughts: I promise not to go into the subject of harsh religious figures again, except to say that Isaac Nettle is in spectacular form in this chapter.

What I will say is, it’s fascinating how Alison Sedge is turning into the anti-Audrey of the piece. While it would be easy to just write her off as being the ‘mean girl’, you get the feeling that under different circumstances, Alison and Audrey might have been much more similar. They’re both self-confident, attractive to the boy mice – and smart. But Audrey lost her father and almost got killed by a giant fire-breathing cat. Whereas Alison got told she was beautiful and let it go to her head.

It’s also why I feel sorry for Audrey in this chapter looking at the fuss everyone makes about Madame Akkikuyu. While there is a part of her that probably wants to see Akkikuyu make a recovery, it would be very hard not to remember that it was this rat that dragged her in front of Jupiter’s dark portal in the first place. I speak from experience when I say that standing up against wrong is hard. But far more difficult than that is forgiveness for people who don’t understand what you went through.

It would also be wrong of me not to mention (especially for the newbies) that you might want to go back and have a read of the bat chapter in The Dark Portal, because you might remember that it had something to say about Audrey making dolls … Gasp … is this some clever Jarvis foreshadowing starting to pay off in the second book?

Finally, how great is the Hall of Corn? Again, it just has that sense of openness and space that we don’t get in the London locations. As a setting, I love it and find it relaxing to read about.

So it’s almost a pity that we’re halfway through the book – which for those of you familiar with Mr Jarvis will know – means that the book is about to pummel us relentlessly for the remainder. Buckle up, people. This is going to be intense.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 6


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

A terror was hunting in the night.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Oh, Alison Sedge. Queen of the barley, nymph of summer, mousey sun-goddess of our hearts! When I was younger I don’t think I quite appreciated the glory that is Alison, but now I find her adorable and, frankly, hilarious. There she lounges on that rock like some sort of siren of the meadow, counting off the faults of her rivals with venomous glee and rehearsing her ‘seductive country wench’ routine. But this is the Deptford Mice Trilogy, and as with all Robin’s characters, there is more to our Miss Sedge than first impressions would have us believe.

There’s a lot to delight the eye and imagination in this chapter. The soft, watercolourish descriptions of the English countryside in high summer. The antics of young Whortle Nep and his friend Sammy. The imposing threat of Mahooot the owl (love that name!) and the final triumph of Madame Akkikuyu, resulting in her acceptance into a community we were all certain would shun her the moment they saw her.

There are less pleasant aspects, however. After the levity of Alison by the still pool, things take a dive with the introduction of Jenkin and his terrifying father, Isaac Nettle. As a child, Mr Nettle frightened me silly. He still does, but perhaps for slightly different reasons.

I think the scariest thing about this character is that there is nothing supernatural about him. Jupiter was scary because of the god-like powers of evil he wielded; Morgan was scary because he served Jupiter. Whom does Mr Nettle serve? The wise, compassionate, ever-thriving Green Mouse. Yet he treats that vocation as a chore and a burden – something to be endured through gruelling prayer and the decrying of those who he believes fall short in their displays of piety. He is abusive and tiny-minded and, unhappily, the kind of mean, petty individual you find in real life. He is someone who hurts because he himself is hurting, but rather than excusing his actions that fact only brings his cruelty into sharper focus. We know from the outset that he is going to cause trouble for our heroes, and we wait with trepidation and mounting dread to see what sort.


Matt’s Thoughts: I think I’ve finally put my finger on what I like about the Fennywolde location: it’s expansive, it’s sunny and it’s outdoors. (Compared with the locales in The Dark Portal which were predominantly damp and narrow sewers or small houses, and set during an English springtime – aka an Australian winter.) And mostly indoors. So visually – and you really do have to visualise Mr Jarvis’ work on a big screen – Fennywolde is the complete opposite to that.

And yet, no one is getting a chance to enjoy that space because of Mahooot …

My favourite bits about this chapter:

  • It contains a fictional character with my last name (that would be Hodge) – always awesome.
  • Watching Madame Akkikuyu move from villainess to heroine – and more importantly – her gaining a sense of belonging.

What is also of interest is the character of Isaac Nettle, Jenkins’ father. Growing up religious, I always found myself rolling my eyes at characters like these, because there seemed to be an awful lot of them in the 70s, 80s and 90s in movies and books. But now that I’m a bit older and understand more about the history of the 20th century, I think I’m realising more about where these religious extremist characters come from.

Nowadays, we usually think of an extremist in really strong terms – someone who carries out acts of terrorism and such. But, from what I can tell of Western history, if you went back to the 1950s, there was a harsh streak that seemed to run through much of Christianity (which was the dominant religion on the landscape back then). It was probably well meant – a way of showing the fervency of your faith and of keeping the next generation in line.

But instead, this harshness created a cultural split we’re still feeling echoes of decades later. As the 60s took shape, a huge number of people jumped ship from the culture of their parents – they had different music, different ethics, different religious beliefs, different clothes, different politics. Different everything. By the time that generation grew up and had children, we started to see echoes of some of their parents’ religious harshness in fictional characters. Just read Stephen King’s Carrie and see the portrayal of Carrie’s fanatical mother and you see this harshness transformed into something terrifying.

So I see that in the character of Isaac Nettle. Robin portrays him with compassion – it is not the faith that makes Nettle so brutal, but the fact that he has twisted it into something harsh and tyrannical as a way of bringing order to his world, of dealing with the grief over his wife’s death. But he has become a violent abuser of his son in the process.

And this, remember, is in a children’s book. About mice. It’s tough going, but it makes for a gripping story. See you next chapter.

The Crystal Prison | Chapter 5


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

From somewhere in her dreams a voice seemed to be calling to her: ‘Akkikuyu! Akkikuyu – are you there?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Just as with last chapter, there’s a lot going on here below the surface. Let’s start with the atmosphere. It is summer; the moon is round, the weather is warm, Oswald is better. On the face of it, things are hunky-dory for our heroes.

Except that they are not.

Audrey is not coping with the dual heartbreaks of leaving her mother and her life-long home so soon after her father’s death. What’s more, she has ruined things with Piccadilly, and the prospect of having to spend the rest of her days looking after a senile old rat in a country backwater she’s never seen with people she’s never met is finally beginning to hit her in all its misery.

Meanwhile, Madame Akkikuyu has a new suffering to add to her list in the form of a sinister, disembodied voice which plagues her sleep. For anyone who has ever dealt with mental illness and/or intrusive thoughts, Akkikuyu’s fear and despondency hit painfully close to home.

During the scene where everyone says their goodbyes, we also get another glimpse into Thomas’ secret and buried torments. Twit’s unknowing, well-meaning correction of Thomas’ misuse of his name should make the midshipmouse’s momentary lapse seem inconsequential; instead it looms large, drawing our attention, causing us to wonder what sort of anchor Thomas could be carrying that a journey upon the water is impossible for him, even with friends waiting at the end of it.

Things fester in the summer night, appearing just long enough to trouble, vanishing before they can be brought out into the open. Despite that they look to fair Fennywolde with hope, one cannot help but feel that our heroes will find no solace among the swaying stalks of that golden idyll.


Matt’s Thoughts: I had forgotten most of this chapter as well! Again, it possibly holds off the action for a little bit, but I’m enjoying the chance to enjoy some peace with these characters, because it never lasts long! This chapter also has some important mythology for Jarvis fans well. It’s the first time we hear the name Woodget in connection with Thomas Triton’s past, which is a thing we’ll definitely come back to.

But what I like best is the atmosphere. The good-natured Kempe, the Thames at night in summer, Akkikuyu enjoying the stars. Most of all, I’m drawn to Audrey’s compassion. Modern hero stories often try to give their heroes bravery, strength or smarts, but compassion is something much more rare and I appreciate the way Jarvis uses it.

Final question: is Kempe Irish? I always think of him as being Irish, but that could be my imagination.