Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Their grotesque faces were blank masks of death, and they stole toward the unsuspecting werling with open jaws and outstretched arms.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The illustration for this chapter is, I think, one of the scariest Robin has ever drawn. The only other header I can think of that gave me such a fright is the grinning skull of Galatea from The Fatal Strand, and that seems positively tame in comparison to the emaciated, leering monstrosity featured here. No wonder Grimditch tells Gamaliel to use his eyes only to find the next foothold away from that thing!

Speaking of, it’s rather touching the way Gamaliel seems to be bonding with the bogle. Too often, heroes make life difficult for themselves by shunning all help and companionship even when it’s repeatedly offered. It looks as if Gamaliel has a bit more sense, however, realising that though this may be his quest, he can’t go it alone. I just hope Grimditch is what he seems. After nearly two years of Robin Jarvis canon, I’m inclined to see spies everywhere…

Matt’s Thoughts: There’s something of the joy of the original Deptford series in this book – joy, I’m aware, being a relative word. But between creepy undead characters, a tragic death and the rising heroism of Grimditch, all the elements are there.

Even Captain Grittle and his men, with their incompetent way of confounding their mistresses’ plans, are somewhat endearing. If only because we suspect they’re going to cop it from Rhiannon eventually.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 11

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Grimditch’s friends,’ he said in a voice cracked with sorrow. ‘Them were his little pals. They wouldn’t really have wormicated and bit him, no they wouldn’t—not they, not never.’ And two tears rolled down his hairy face.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Rereading this chapter, I was reminded of the little video that Robin did for Open Road Media when this book came out, in particular the part where he describes readers being surprised by a sudden character death. I can’t recall if he mentioned it later, but I’m about 99% sure he was actually referring specifically to Yoori Mattock’s demise. Oh no, the barrow wights are horrifying! Oh no, he died! But we’re only halfway through, there’s hope for Mr Mattock yet!

Matt’s Thoughts: Mr Jarvis often does his own thing, but this is one of the first chapters I’ve come across in the last year and a half, where I felt he was borrowing deliberately in homage.

The scene I’m thinking of, of course, is from The Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits end up amongst the barrow-wights, spectres that inhabit the burial mounds of long-dead royalty. (Obviously, only if you read the book! This was one of the sections that was cut from the movie.)

I’ll go on record, though, as saying I like Robin’s take on this much better. Watching Yoori Mattock transform into a rabbit and dig Gamaliel out was a high point of werling heroism in this story so far – which is probably why he got killed off at the end of the chapter. He can escape killer tree-roots and thorn ogres and then gets taken out by a large rock?? There are times when I do think Robin randomly draws characters out of a hat and whichever name appears is the next one up to die somehow…

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The spectre reached up a glimmering hand, and the ghastly light flooded Bufus’s mournful face.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: See this is what sets a good storyteller apart from a great one – unpredictability, peril with no clear solution, and above all, emotional weight.

It’s not enough for Bufus to have squandered the magic of the Pool of the Dead to talk to his brother, he has to have a solid, serious reason for acting as he does. Instead of being a selfish blunder, the act then becomes the culmination of a deeply important piece of character growth which has been a full book in the making.

Bufus’s trauma stems from Mufus’s murder at the claws of the thorn ogres, back in Book 1. In that book, the main conflict starts from there and just keeps going, so Bufus has had no time to adjust or properly grieve between then and this chapter, and we as readers haven’t had time to consider how he might be coping.

His reaction to this distress has been, we now see, to shut down emotionally and come to the conclusion that the only option left to him is suicide. This is really, really heartbreaking for us readers, since we’ve got to know the Doolan brothers and have already suffered through one of them dying a horrific death. So the misuse of the the Pool of the Dead carries an additional, more personal, emotional heft, along with the larger prospect of everyone being doomed.

Thank goodness for those birds!

Matt’s Thoughts: If there’s one thing I love about the Jarvis Canon is that, even when he is dealing with tropes that are familiar from other genres, there are always surprises along the way. For instance, we’ve had all these chapters building us up to the Pool of the Dead, so of course we assume there will be an Important Plot Point where the shade of the Wandering Smith explains how to destroy Rhiannon.

Instead, Bufus has a chat with his departed brother, Mufus. (I did not remember that scene!) Which on one hand is going to delay any chance of taking down Rhiannon but on the other hand is incredibly moving. It’s little beats like this that give these characters weight.

And also, assuming these birds are friends not foe, it’s a nice nod to The Hobbit that our friends get rescued by birds when things are at their most dire.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 9

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The gray weathered stones towered above him. This was a silent, solemn place, built thousands of years ago by a half-forgotten people who understood the power of the earth and the magic locked within hills and stones, trees and rivers.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I find it so interesting how this series links itself to ancient English heritage and history without ever actually saying ‘this is ancient English heritage and history.’ (I mean, it could be Scottish, since we have a lot of ‘Dooit’ stones up here and the Caledonian Forest would be a pretty solid candidate for Hagwood, but I’m betting that Mr Jarvis was probably calling on his own experience, which as far as I’m aware is more of merrie olde Englande.) I love the mystery of the world beyond the werlings’ grasp; the idea that there’s a whole vast landscape out there, peoples and places beyond the forest of which we readers will never hear, but we know they’re there, and, just possibly, that they are connected to our own past.

As for Rhiannon’s little shobble and mooty, I have to say I’m quite taken. I’m not sure why, but she never made as much of an impression on me in Thorn Ogres as some of Robin’s other villains from that era. She has more than made up for that in this book, however, with her blindings and her murderings, her intrigue and her espionage. I love how she even thought to dress for her grand entrance in that sparkly black number – no tacky tweed or mouldy velvet for this Queen of Witches, she’ll crush all who oppose her in style.

Matt’s Thoughts: So Rhiannon reveals herself at last and the danger ramps up. The mention of the Dooit stones is really interesting because it does just reinforce the idea that this could be a remote corner of England somewhere. But in the current day? A long time ago?

But my personal favourite thing about this chapter was watching Liffidia and Tollychook face down Rhiannon and tell her exactly what they thought of her.

Given that every other character that interacts with her in the Hollow Hill grovels and crawls and flatters, to hear Liffidia call her an ‘ugly, ugly, foul hag!’ is exhilarating. Whether it was the best move strategically remains to be seen!

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 8

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘He will not mind if Nanna borrows this sharp slicer,’ she whispered. ‘Little Captain has so many already; he will not miss it.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The spriggan guards are probably some of my favourite minor villains in Jarvis canon. I love their names (‘Wumpit’ is for some reason particularly hilarious) and their way of speaking (I get the feeling that Robin included Nanna Zingara’s tail collection just so he could use the word ‘snortle’). It also makes me laugh that they’re kind of lax at their job – in Thorn Ogres, the spriggans were these doom-laden bloodthirsty wights to be feared and reviled, but now that we’ve seen their regular working day, as it were, their fearsome reputation has lost some of its previous lustre.

And of course, the reveal about Nanna Zingara herself. Hands up who guessed? I had actually forgotten that particular plot twist when I described Rhiannon’s story as a kind of inverse Snow White, back in Thorn Ogres, but here we see the similarities pop up again. I almost expected her to offer the werlings poisoned apples, but what she has in store for them at the Pool of the Dead is probably going to be much worse.

Matt’s Thoughts: One does wonder, where did all this setup with the cart come from? It’s so elaborate, what with all the dead animal tails – and jars of worms – that it makes me wonder whether Rhiannon regularly gets disguised to see what is happening in the land. Does it let her explore areas outside of Hagwood when she wants to see what’s going on?

Another interesting point was the use of the little dragon statue. Or a ‘serpentlike creature’ … things like this do give the tantalising impression that this book just might be part of the larger Jarvis Universe.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 7

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Little knife, where have you been? What sights have you seen? Do you know Meg? What long-lost dream did you spring from?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Peg-tooth Meg and the sluglungs keep being described as these vile slimy horrors, but to be honest I find them quite endearing. Their way of speaking is unlike any other constructed language I’ve come across in fantasy of this type, and really just smacks of Robin having his usual Fun With Words. As for Meg herself, what, or who, is she really? It’s plain as day she hasn’t always been queen of the underworld. Is she like Telein of the Danu from Freax and Rejex; of a people who once lived above ground and were cast down? Or is she something yet more mysterious.

Matt’s Thoughts: I do wonder whether Robin would have become a linguist if he wasn’t an author. His interest in accents, speech patterns and colloquialisms has always been a stand-out feature for me. And so now here we have the sluglungs, with their own fractured form of English. Plus phrases like ‘shobble and mooty’! (I can only begin to wonder what the etymology of that phrase was.)

The first time around, I did not see it coming that Finnen would turn into a sluglung, but it’s a great plot twist!

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 6

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Are we done for?’ she asked.
The boy put his arm around her and hugged her. ‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘Not yet.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Even though it’s Finnen who saves the day in this chapter, I really like that Kernella doesn’t swoon on the sidelines, but actually actively helps him. If it weren’t for her dealing with the sprite’s disembodied arm, I doubt Finnen would’ve had the wherewithal to go on. Kernella might be drippy, but she’s far from a fainting damsel in distress, regardless of the songs she might warble to herself in her daydreams.

Matt’s Thoughts: And this was fun to see – a monster fight where our heroes win. After all the tentacles and giant toads in Freax and Rejex, where nobody seemed to stand much of a chance, watching Finnen and Kernalla defeat the candle sprite was something else.

It’s also important because as a non-wergling werling (how great are the fantasy words from this series?), Finnen could just be the spare wheel, putting everyone in danger because of his lack of powers. But this chapter clearly puts him as a force to be reckoned with, because he has courage.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 5

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Enchantment flows beneath these trees like summer breezes,’ she said quietly. ‘Deep within the forest there are secret pockets where those magical forces swirl and collect like water in deep puddles. As wells of power are they, waiting for someone to put a cup to their lips and drink.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I love how we’re only about five chapters into this book and already we’ve had more 90s Robin Jarvis Trademarks ™ than you can shake a stick at. Brooding prologue in which we meet a fascinating and highly-developed character who quickly dies a gory death. Hapless but adorable heroes over whom a heavy doom hangeth. Mysterious aged traveller possessing secrets about the plot-relevant magical artifact. Plot-relevant magical artifact. Senseless rodent slaughter, or at least an attempt at same. Sidelong references to archaic serpent magic. Soggy things in pools that want to eat your face. And now, in this chapter, a bit of fiery invocation.

Post-2000s Robin has it’s own charms, but after the harrowing slog of the first two Dancing Jax books, I can’t help but relish the abandonment of cynicism and genre commentary here. There’s such a sense of freedom in fantasy for fantasy’s sake, and although I remember some of it, I’m really excited to see the enchanted realms to which Dark Waters will take us. Just like old times.

Matt’s Thoughts: Sometimes, I like to dream that we will one day get a deluxe leather-bound edition of the Complete Works of Robin Jarvis, with beautifully enhanced versions of his illustrations. This chapter would be a good candidate for it. It’s a bit small in the paperback, but if you look at the illustration, it is just teeming with detail. All the personalities of the werlings are there to be seen, all the characters are distinctive. It’s really nicely done. As is Nanna’s trick to get some people to lead her to the Pool of the Dead…

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 4

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

With a final triumphant roar, the candle sprite claimed her and took the girl deep into the drowning dark.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At last, a genuine threat. After the twin false alarms of Nana Zingara and Grimditch, it’s some real danger is almost welcome. It also gives Gamaliel, as the one left behind, a chance to show his mettle. I like that he doesn’t dither around or consider turning back – the events of Thorn Ogres really brought him out of his shell, and now he proves that that courage wasn’t just a one-time thing .

For me, the saddest part of this chapter was just how easily Kernella fell for the call of the candle sprite. She had loving parents and a good upbringing, but I get the feeling that she maybe didn’t have many friends. Maybe she idolises Finnen so much because she simply wants to feel that someone her own age understands her. That line about her being a ‘plain and clumsy werling child’ who has often been disappointed in her reflection is quite pitiful. If she hasn’t been chewed by the sprite, I hope Kernella learns that love and admiration should not be conditional to her appearance at some point in this trilogy.

Matt’s Thoughts: The candle sprite is sort of another spin on a siren, isn’t it? It calls via song but turns out to be much nastier. If you stop and think about it long enough, there’s something singularly unpleasant about the idea of a creature whose base motivation in life appears to be eating things, and yet knows how to sing in such a way as to bestow love and care upon the listener.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if the candle sprite knew enough about the nature of creatures to be able to attract them, that it would be able to work out some some sort of cooperative arrangement with them. But isn’t that real life? That some of the most seductive people are the most dangerous.

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 3

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Grimditch shuddered and cringed even farther away. “One of those vicious skin swappers!” he howled, jabbing a grubby finger at the wergle pouch that hung from the elder’s neck. “Keep back. You’ll not pluck out my beard to put in your nasty bag.”

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Grimditch is such a delight honestly. Even if – as is likely with this sort of character – he either turns evil or dies, I can’t say I’ll mind too much, because it’s just a joy to have him in the story at all. Critters like him make me wish this book hadn’t slept in a drawer for fourteen years, because I know he would’ve been a childhood favourite of mine. Having grown up reading Scottish folklore, I was well-acquainted with bogles and selkies and sidhe, and he would’ve fitted right in.

Matt’s Thoughts: Even on my second go through, I can’t remember exactly what Grimditch’s character arc is going to turn out to be. He’s all nervousness and clumsy grammar, but with the potential to Do Something Great.

Reading between the lines of the bogle’s backstory, I do feel that it would have been nice to know the farmer and his wife who came to settle here. Where did they come from? What led them out here? You sense a great deal of kindness in the wife, as she made clothes for Grimditch. But we can also feel stubbornness in the farmer – it’s what led him out to to the forest, played into the family choosing to stay, and ultimately caused his demise at the hand of the candle sprite.

And speaking of said sprite…