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.

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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…

Dark Waters of Hagwood | Chapter 2

dwhWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Nanna is no enemy; every pocket of secret folk trusts her.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to Tollychook in Thorn Ogres, but I like that he’s been given this darkly humorous morbid streak. If I didn’t already know that Gamaliel is Robin, I would be guessing that Tollychuke might fit the bill for author-insert. If he survives this trilogy alive, I hope he grows up to be a storyteller.

As for Nanna Zingara, I want to believe that she’ll end up a sort of Madame Akkikuyu 2.0, but I’ve got to say I have my doubts. There’s something a little too coincidental about how she apparently knew the Wandering Smith, and her turning up out of nowhere during a time of strife for Hagwood – when travellers ought not to be travelling for their own safety – just seems a little suspect to me.

Finally, Moonfire Farm. The scene itself reminds me strongly of the one in The Oaken Throne where Ysabelle and her company come upon the Orchard of Duir, only to find it a crumbling, desecrated ruin. But I was intrigued by the mention of a ‘large book with tissue-fine pages.’ If that’s some kind of Bible that Rhiannon’s creatures have defaced, my Mooncaster theory from the prologue might be likelier than we think.

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, two chapters in and they’ve invited Nanna into the camp! Not looking good.

Meanwhile, the farmhouse is a curious thing. Obviously, by the time the werlings arrive, there are not really any humans to be found. But clearly some must have come from somewhere to settle here in the first place. Is this because all of this is taking place in some wood tucked away in the corner of England somewhere? Clearly all speculative at this stage, but hold that thought.