Mr Jarvis’ Book of the Dead | Dark Waters of Hagwood

Gravestones at Whitby abbey
In this post we record for posterity and remembrance the names of all those who have fallen to the fatal stroke of Mr Jarvis’ pen. Hero, villain, or neither, we honour their sacrifice for the greater myth of the story.

The deceased of Dark Waters of Hagwood are as follows: 

YIMWINTLE BILWIND  (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Prologue)  Faithful librarian and archivist of the Hollow Hill’s ancient texts for many generations, Master Bilwind was cruelly blinded by his Queen for failing to find any reference to the werlings in all the histories of Hagwood. He was later put to death by Her, and his bones are now dust among the tomes he cherished.

THE FARMER AT MOONFIRE AND HIS WIFE  (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Ch 2) The couple who had so often offered their hearth and hospitality to the Wandering Smith were slain by Rhiannon’s spriggans upon their own doorstep. Their child was taken to the Hollow Hill and their home left abandoned, with none but the bogle, Grimditch, to tell their tale.

YOORI MATTOCK  (Thorn Ogres of Hagwood | Ch 1 – Dark Waters of Hagwood – Ch 11) Respected member of the werling council, Mr Mattock aided Gamaliel in his search for the casket of Rhiannon until he was killed in confrontation with the shades of the elfin barrows. He will forever be remembered as the one who began the quest to destroy the High Lady of the Hollow Hill in earnest.

UNNAMED BIRDS AND SPRIGGAN GUARDS  (Dark Waters of Hagwood | Ch 20)  Many of the Tower Lubber’s feathered companions, and many of Rhiannon’s spriggan guards, perished at the Battle of Watch Well. The birds were suitably laid to rest, but the spriggans, not so.

 

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Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 23

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

And so the golden casket that the Puccas had fashioned for the High Lady, many years ago, in which she had magically hidden her beating heart, was finally brought from the darkness.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Between the nine fragments, the nimius, and now Rhiannon’s golden casket, I’m beginning to picture a plausible alternate universe in which Robin was a goldsmith. He seems to have a bogle-like fascination with filigree, and I can’t say I blame him. We rereaders are glad you chose to be a writer, Mr Jarvis, but in another life, I for one would definitely attend an exhibition of your caskets, watches, clocks and miniature serpent-god-containing vessels.

I won’t lie, there is a little bit of sequel-lull about three quarters of the way through this book, but the cliffhanger here more than makes up for any dearth of suspense earlier on. I love both the implication that there really was some good in Rhiannon, and that Gamaliel might have actually got cold feet at the last moment and been unable to allow the heart to be destroyed.

Among these epic deeds and noble quests, there is still a thread of human emotion that makes us root for tiny shapeshifters who live in trees and grizzled, goblin-faced lovers. Sadly, that thread of emotion also means that War in Hagwood is going to hurt worse than a swarm of bloodmoths.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Now as well as having a great second-book cliffhanger, one other thing which struck me about this chapter is that design of the infamous box in the illustration. Does anybody else feel like it bears a resemblance to the Nimius?

For some reason, I thought this second book of Hagwood was a lot more bloodthirsty than it actually turned out to be, but maybe reading it so closely to the Dancing Jax series takes the edge off! Or maybe it’s Book 3 that’s more of a bloodbath?

Whatever the case, it’s been enjoyable to have had this detour into Hagwood. I think I’m suitably mentally fortified for Fighting Pax…

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 21

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The barn owl stared at the sluglungs in disbelief. Too many strange things were happening that day. Where was the Lady Rhiannon? She should have been here by now.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I rather like how the Tower Lubber has a little bit of resentment for Rhiannon and her servants (to put it mildly). He could too easily be too good and kind, but a little anger makes him human and relatable, and gives him a personal motivation to help the werlings. It also gives punch to his speech against the provost – take that, flatface!

As for the spriggans v. sluglungs battle, well, it’s not exactly ice-wraiths aboard the Cutty Sark. But then, there’s a whole ‘nother book still to go called War in Hagwood, so we can’t fault this finale for being a bit of fun when the real bloodshed is yet to set in.

Matt’s Thoughts: Big battle scenes were a feature of 90s Jarvis (I’m thinking particularly of The Final Reckoning, The Oaken Throne and Thomas). But I’m not sure there was a battle that was quite as much fun as this one – rubbery soldiers that you can’t slice up, a device that transforms the bad guys into giant rabbits.

And while I do tend to imagine The Deptford Mice as hand-drawn animation, I could buy this one as stop motion.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 20

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Within every spriggan breast burns the desire for bloodshed. They are naturally vicious, and crimson war banners billow through their dreams.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Honestly this chapter should just be silliness and irrelevant filler – it’s just minor characters fighting minor characters, after all. But it’s the level to which Robin gets invested in it that makes it so enjoyable to read. Who cares if all it is is a bunch of spriggans facing off a bunch of the Tower Lubber’s bird friends? Let’s give it the same weighty prose as the siege of Hara or the fall of the Hallowed Oak, why not! You can really tell that Mr Jarvis loves playing about in the sandbox of Hagwood, finding little scenes, like the one with the provost and the silent bird army, and polishing them up till they shine.

Matt’s Thoughts: A nod to The Birds, perhaps? Under the hand of Hitchcock, swarms of birds silently waiting was unsettling. And it is a bit here but it’s also just plain awesome as well. Who else so far has managed to unsettle Rhiannon’s owl?

The birds here very much reminds me of the heroic peregrine falcon from The Oaken Throne (possibly the greatest anonymous Jarvis character of all time). Certainly the cooperation between the birds and other characters here is rousing to see. And much more useful than the odd taxi job by the Middle-earth eagles.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 18

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Meg had summoned a flood.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: So the tides finally begin to turn in favour of our heroes, and, unlike some other Robiny titles we’ll forbear to mention, there’s a possibility, despite all the peril, that at least one of them might make it out alive.

Of course, there’s still tragedy in amongst the slapstick of the sluglung’s transformations – the idea that these amorphous blobs of goo were once solid creatures with whole lives and personalities above-ground. One has to wonder at the horror they might feel, regaining their true forms only to find that they have aged beyond all recognition and that much of life has passed them by.

Matt’s Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a good Jarvis action scene? I really love the resourcefulness and tenacity of Finnen, Gamaliel and Kernella. They’re wise-cracking at each other, coming up with clever ways to use the silver fire devil and just generally being awesome. In short, there’s a sense of fun about the whole proceedings that can be somewhat rare in the Jarvis world, so I’m enjoying it while it’s there.

I would also like to know what happened to the two de-transformed spriggans, given that they can’t really be transformed back into sluglungs, but with all the noise and excitement, I’m not sure that we discover their fate.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 17

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Strange, bright pictures flickered in his sluggish mind: a green, dappled world, a kindly old face, himself secretly entering the Silent Grove and paring slivers of bark from the Lufkin beech—a terrible feeling of shame and guilt…

Aufwader’s Thoughts: It’s absolutely the dreamy-eyed sap in me, but I was kind of hoping that Kernella’s smooch might be what would change Finnen back. It’d be both a somewhat farcical princess-and-frog moment, and also a nice role reversal of traditional fairytale, in that it would be Kernella saving Finnen with true love’s kiss. Really though, I musn’t tarnish Jarvis canon with any such vomitous cliche – after all, there’s far more at stake here than some paltry werling romance.

Matt’s Thoughts: If it wasn’t for how violent I know these books can get, a chapter like this in isolation makes me think this would be a great animated kids’ movie. Gamaliel really comes into his own, there’s a funny scene with Kernella kissing a sluglung and finally Finnen is back! I really enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because when occasionally things go right in this book, I can see some sort of end in sight and it gives me a bit of hope. (Relative to, say, Freax and Rejex, where nothing went right and everything got worse and worse.)

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 16

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Meg stretched out her arms and caught it in her eager hands. ‘The love is not dead yet,’ she said softly. ‘Not yet.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a kind of poetry to the way Meg has kept the memory of Prince Alisander, her brother, alive. It should be repellent that she made a harp from his bones, but, like the Tower Lubber’s peg eyes, it inspires pity and sadness for things long lost, rather than dread. A bit like the werlings’ Silent Grove, it’s an unconventional yet understandable-in-context way to treat a dead body. Meg might’ve left Alisander to rot, but instead she chose to preserve a part of him in a way that made sense to her, and we can’t fault her for that.

Matt’s Thoughts: Clearly the years have taken a bigger toll on Meg than they have for the Tower Lubber. He can still remember clearly everything that happened, whereas Meg seems to go through the daily ritual of the ‘bright circle’ without realising its true meaning.

Was it in the new edition of The Whitby Witches that Robin was quoted as saying that one of the saddest things for him was the idea of losing your identity? (I gave my copy away to a friend, so I actually can’t remember!) Even if I did just imagine that quote, it’s a common-enough theme in his stories. The Webster sisters drifting in and out of senility, Madame Akkikuyu having lost her mind, and now Meg in this trilogy.

Maybe it’s because it’s a rainy morning as I type this, but it does make me muse about the fragility of the human mind. Sometimes we are able to muster up incredible courage to stare our troubles in the face. Other times, it’s all too much for us and we become something other than what we started out. It resonates because it’s true.