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.