Deathscent | Hunting the Devil

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

 ‘So terrible was Her anger that Robert Dudley’s name was not even to be mentioned, and no one dared defy Her or support him.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Depressing as Lord Richard’s history is, I can’t help but feel that being ousted from court might’ve actually done him a few favours in the long term. He seems like a gentle, genuine soul, at complete odds with the snide and prancing Thomas Herrick. The impression that I get is that he never really liked court life, but was mainly involved for the sake of Robert Dudley. In this instance, I don’t see Lord Richard’s returning to court as a positive change in his fortunes, but rather as a gilded curse that will leave him worse off than when he was first exiled.

Though this chapter is quite raucously joyful, with horse racing and hunts afoot, there are definitely a few thunderclouds of plot development on the horizon. Here’s hoping our young protagonists can weather the storm.

Matt’s Thoughts: So now we have our back story on the Richard Wutton exile. I’m not sure if it will be addressed in the book, but what has happened to fertility and social progress with the extended longevity of the Beatified Realm?

Bear with me here …we know everyone has been up there for 150+ years and, unless something bad happens like getting trampled by a mechanical horse, their biological age seems to be relatively unchanged. In other words, the Dritchlys and Richard Wutton were always older, and Elizabeth I has remained middle-aged.

But have people stopped having children? I thought I read somewhere that the young apprentices don’t remember the old England. So were they born on the floating island? If so, how long does it take you to get from being a baby to being a young adult? Does each stage of life last longer?

Furthermore, why has the culture remained so Elizabethan? Surely, you would expect politics, technology and fashion to have improved over that length of time. In short, there’s a slightly unsettling staticness about this world. Part of this, of course, is that we simply don’t know much more at this stage about the special ambassadors and their plans. What was the point of setting all this up? Presumably, if they went to all this effort to preserve some sort of human life in space, they had a plan.

I’m definitely hooked!

Meanwhile, on the action side of things, this boar hunt would be fun, except that I’m getting exceptionally worried about Suet…

Deathscent | Rats and Ashes

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The three rats seemed everywhere. They swarmed into baskets, upset pots, spilled jugs, broke bottles and scattered grain. One of them bounded into a bowl of dried apricots and began to fling them at whoever came near, before dashing away again. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a lot to appreciate about this chapter, but my favourite part is and will always be the positively gleeful descriptions of the mechanical rats which Henry sets upon Mistress Dritchly’s kitchen. We don’t need an Iribian’s fine perception to practically feel the mischievous delight beaming off the page. ‘Hoho, heehee,’ Mr Jarvis seems to chortle at us, ‘look who managed to smuggle rats into a book with animals so far from the main focus that they’re not even real!’ Well played, Robin. We knew you’d find a way to sneak rodents in at some point, even if they are made of tin.

The crux of this chapter is not the comedy of Henry’s pranks, however, but the tragedy of Brindle’s incinerated nightboat, and all that the loss of it implies. Malmes-Wutton’s ‘celestial visitor’ is now completely cut off from his home and people, and, it seems, will have to be content with making a life for himself among the folk of the Uplifted Isles.

Sad as it all is, I’m highly intrigued by the brief glimpse we get of Iribian aesthetics and technology; fungus-like desks? Translucent coppery interiors? Even a command deck complete with observation screen and floating keyboards. He might not be from heaven, but I daresay Brindle’s home planet is a good deal more interesting than than anything the Elizabethan afterlife has to offer.


Matt’s Thoughts:
Well, that explains the meat. In so far as, ‘we eat fungus that grows inside mechanical animals’ is an explanation. Clearly, this was another one of those solutions for human survival set up by the ‘special ambassadors’ that everyone on Malmes-Wutton has since grown used to.

So this is the point where I ask – Mr Jarvis, there’s very little on your website about this: how on earth did you come up with this idea? Clockwork Elizabethans in space? Has this ever been done by anyone else? Is this a completely new genre? It’s absolutely blowing my mind (in a good way!).

It also makes me wonder how many other worlds and ideas you have lurking in that brain of yours that we will never know about, just because they’re too unusual to fit into book form. I’m in awe.

Deathscent | The Balm Trader

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Brindle’s eye glittered over him. ‘It is the breath of innocence,’ he answered gently. ‘When I dip into this beguilement, the burden of my tormenting guilt is lifted. Oh, I could live my life in this garden and never once yearn for home or kin.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: For me this is the most memorable and affecting chapter in this book, and one of my favourites in all Robin Jarvis canon. Nothing especially momentous happens, plot-wise – Brindle, who we now know is our Mr Eerie Elizabethan Alien from the cover, just kind of stumbles around Malmes-Wutton, sniffing the tapestries and being adorably amazed at everything he comes across. The impact of this chapter, at least to my mind, comes from the way he does these things.

It’s been established that Brindle is of a planet and people in some ways more sophisticated than the folk of the Uplifted Isles. His holographic, aerodynamic ‘nightboat’ is like something out of a 1950s sci-fi serial, as opposed to the floating wooden barges our human characters are used to. His ‘torc’ is really just a fancy portable translator, commonplace to us in the 21st Century, but a marvel to the beatified Elizabethans. Finally, his way of seeing the world (or worlds) is by nature more complex, if all his  senses besides scent are merely ‘complimentary.’

Yet despite all this, our Iribian visitor never once looks down on Malmes-Wutton. He doesn’t sneer at Mistress Dritchly for her rudimentary, rural medical skills, nor does he turn up his tremendous nose at the ageing, shabby Lord Richard. Best of all, he treats Adam and Henry, the young protagonists, as equals. It appears that Brindle’s default responses, stranded in an unfamiliar place and injured, are compassion, respect, and a childlike curiosity. A bona fide alien he may be, but he evidently comes in peace, at least for the moment.

Unfortunately, all this wiffly-waffly, whole-new-world business means we get to like Brindle rather quickly. It might be bias talking, but I say you’ve all hearts of stone if you aren’t even a little moved by that speech he gives about the roses, lying in the soggy grass while Adam looks on in amused bafflement. Alas, those of us who are accustomed to reading between the lines of Robin’s elegant, historically-accurate dialogue will spot those mentions of ‘damnation’ and ‘memory of wrong’ immediately. For now we may enjoy the roses, but we’d best watch out for the thorns.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I can understand perhaps why this novel has never been as widely talked about in Jarvis circles. Relative to his other books, we’d be knee-deep in danger and suspense by now, but – apart from Old Scratch and the sabotaged mechanical horse – things are relatively calm.

But I, for one, am thoroughly enjoying the detail of this book. Mr Jarvis has always had a way with words and they rise to a new level of beauty and detail in the descriptions of Brindle and the way he perceives the world by scent. The scene in the rose garden was particularly memorable and – again, given everything the title suggests – I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

It also appears that I may be closer to having an answer about the food and where that came from! But that sounds like it will be revealed in the next chapter…

Deathscent | A Shiny Blue Acorn

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The wild boar was a horrendous spectacle. Carved from rosewood, it had once been a handsome creation, but the feral years had wrought a monstrous change. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh boy, Old Scratch is a creation, isn’t he? In case any of us were in any doubt as to the malevolent nature of this mechanical, Robin has gone and named him after the very Devil, and even let him be mangled into a scarier shape by long years of rampage in the Malmes-Wutton woodlands. (As if ‘rogue clockwork wild boar’ were not alarming enough!)

Again in this chapter we see the dynamic between Adam and Henry. I commented before about Henry having an unpleasant selfish streak, so I was relieved when he chided himself for even thinking of leaving Adam to face Old Scratch alone. Henry might be mischievous, covetous, and even childishly cruel, but hopefully there’s no real meanness in him.

Finally, this chapter adds a little to our understanding of how Motive Science works. It’s confirmed that the people of Englandia did not invent it, but had the knowledge passed to them by certain other beings from beyond their Isles. Since these ‘special ambassadors’ were evidently held in high regard by the newly uplifted people, we now understand how it is that the human characters we have met so far can all blithely accept that of course pigs are made of wood, and of course ‘leather’ is gleaned from trees.

Though there is evidently still a degree of suspicion around more human-like mechanicals and those with black ichor, the clockwork animals are (with the exception of rogue beasts like Old Scratch) generally looked upon as benign gifts from the ‘ambassadors’ of long ago. The question is – why did those diligent tutors stop visiting?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Whew, I was a bit worried someone would get taken out by the wild boar in this chapter, but mercifully we are spared yet another ‘death-by-mechanical-animal’ – at least at this stage!

A little more backstory about the ‘ambassadors’ who first set up the elevated isles. This is still intriguing. Maybe it’s because it takes me back to the days of watching LOST on TV. What kind of place is it? Is it a government experiment? Is it the afterlife? Is it … ? Is it …?

The answer is, of course, is that it’s awesome – like all things that are slightly mysterious and unknown. However, now that our stranger has now recovered the power of speech, shall we see more questions answered? And this stranger friend or foe? Or a bit of a Jarvis combo of both?

Deathscent | The Best Panacea

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It was a language that had never before been uttered in that uplifted world. More like a song than mere words, yet nearer to music than singing, and the very atmosphere of the bedchamber seemed to lighten. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: If this ‘heavenly messenger’ be an alien from outwith the Uplifted Isles, I can only congratulate Mr Jarvis once again on his creativity. The mysterious physicians from the prologue were ingenious in themselves, with their coral-like head patterns and penchant for ‘collecting’ people, but this new specimen seems like something different again. Here is a creature who appears humanoid at first glance, but is, in fact, truly alien to the folk of Malmes-Wutton, set apart completely by the way he perceives the world.

In regards to our human characters, what I noticed most on reread was the development of Mistress Dritchly. We are told outright that ‘her terrible grief was still to recent to permit any revulsion’ when the stranger is brought to her, and later, Lord Richard surmises that it is this same grief which motivates Mistress Dritchly to do her best to help her patient survive.

She is another of those masterfully-wrought tertiary characters – in the usual run of things, she would be a source of comic relief and a scolding dampener to the fun of Henry and Adam, but in the pages of Deathscent she is a whole human being, with beliefs, opinions, and emotions all her own. I can only hope that the being she has so lovingly nurtured back to health will prove to be as angelic as she seems to think.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: So the stranger – is he some kind of alien that has crash-landed, or something more celestial? (I’m not putting money on him being a Spaniard, despite what some people think!)

I love the sensuous nature of this chapter – it’s quite clear that the stranger has a great sense of smell – he categorises everyone in the room by their … scent. Hmm …given the title of the book, that’s bound to become significant.

This book is a little bit slower than the Wyrd Museum and Thorn Ogresso I’m enjoying the character development of the young apprentices. And how cute is little Suet? Which is precisely the problem – if I’m finding these characters likable, how long are they going to be safe?

Deathscent | The Scorched and Drunken Bee

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‘Whatever it is,’ Adam put in, ‘it’s beautiful.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I can’t actually describe the feeling that chapter title elicits in me. It’s firstly that familiar glee you get, about Chapter 4 or 5 in a Robin Jarvis book, when you see that the main plot is about to kick in. There’s also dread, because I know I’m about to be emotionally dismantled again, and alongside that, a measure of fond nostalgia. If I had ichors, they’d be all discombobulated round about now.

That aside, there’s a lot happening in this chapter even before the eponymous ‘bee’ crashes, UFO-style, into the side of Malmes-Wutton’s leaden sky. First off, I really like the dynamics between our three young heroes. It’s clear that Adam and Henry, though they get along, are not exactly bosom buddies – there’s an underlying nasty streak to Henry that reminds me uncomfortably of the Doolan brothers, and it says a lot of Adam that he still feels bad for Henry even after the way the older boy treats him.

There’s also Jack Flye, who strikes me as a kind of Finnen Lufkin. Older and cleverer than our other protagonists, but compassionate and even somewhat self-sacrificing, he seems to mediate between Adam and Henry in a familiar way that suggests he has been doing so for a long time. Sad to say, Jack is a little too nice, a little too competent, and we all know where that leads.

Finally, there’s a hint of what I was looking into last chapter – the gift of black ichor has made Suet affectionate and loyal toward Adam, making the piglet more like a real animal than perhaps any on Malmes-Wutton. So, the more black ichor, the more sentiment mechanicals are capable of. Fascinating!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: So an island estate with leaded space protection windows (that can regenerate) plus its own oxygen-creation system in case of a breach? Fascinating!

This actually reminds me a lot of one of my favourite sci-fi movies, Dark City, where a city that looks on the surface like ours – cars, trains, people – instead is run by other-wordly beings as a sort of experimental lab on humans.

Whereas Deathscent has the concept of Beatification, where everyone believes that they are on these islands to be closer to God. Or are they really? It is possible that this is some sort of re-created essence of the original humans that were left on earth long ago?

However, it plays out, I’m very much wanting to find out what happens in Part 2!

Deathscent | Lantern Illuminates

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‘Knowledge is all,’ came the compelling reply. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a lot going on in the character of Lantern. The way Motive Science is explained suggests that those mechanicals with black ichor possess rudimentary free will, which seems to include a kind of conscious thought and initiative. The other ichors, balanced in a various ways, may produce different personalities, but what about the ability to perceive right from wrong?

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From the back cover – Lantern in his finery.

Lantern, the most sophisticated and human-like mechanical we have yet met, appears at first to be amoral. He demonstrates the events preceding Master Dritchly’s death in detail, but there is no sense of personal accusation when his glass eyes fall upon Tewkes. He’s not saying ‘Aha! This is the vile scoundrel in our midst!’ nor is he sorry to have pointed out the Secretary. Like an algorithm, Lantern simply states the facts without judgement of any kind.

However, just before his departure for London, he expresses gratitude to Adam by giving the apprentice a little of his own black ichor.

This creates a plethora of interesting questions about Englandian society in relation to its mechanicals. If especially complex clockwork creatures have enough thought that they can carry out tasks by themselves and obey their human masters, but not enough that they can distinguish good from evil or pass judgement, that makes them, in theory, arbiters of absolute truth. However, if they have enough free will to express sentiment, that makes the whole business more complicated. Is the expression of emotions toward others common in black ichor-powered mechanicals, or is this a Lantern-only thing? How can he expressionlessly condemn Tewkes to death, but also show his thanks to Adam? Just how much humanity does black ichor bestow?

It all comes back to that implication that these Beatified people do not actually know everything there is to know about Motive Science. Some, like Edwin Dritchly, are very learned in it, but most people, be they high-born or not, seem to accept that mechanicals exist and work for them in a similar manner to how we accept that our mobile phones and computers do what we want them to do today. The added caveat, however, is that there is no way of knowing how human those mechanicals running on black ichor really are. It’s all very involving, and I can’t wait for this world to unfold as we read on.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I love the character of Doctor Dee here, who like Walsingham is a real historical figure. But as well as all the elements of the historical Dee (the mixture of mathematics and angel communication which was back then, and still is now, an unusual mix of characteristics), he’s also a bit of a Sherlock Holmes, isn’t he? We haven’t really had a detective-type of character in Jarvis books before, so I’m hoping the wise old Doctor returns later in the story.

I feel like I’m going down a bit of a Google rabbit hole for this book, trying to work out which parts are based on historical fact and which are fictional Jarvis creations. Where did the idea even come from for all this? Who knew an something like this was brewing in his brain? Wherever it came from, it’s phenomenal. I feel like I’m going to hit the end of this and be bitterly disappointed that there are no other Reflected Realm books to read, but there’s definitely a lot to think over as is.

Deathscent | O Mistress Mine

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The two mannequins began to play. The sound, however, was horrible to hear, for although the lutanist was performing the desired melody, the recorder player had launched into O Mistress Mine for the fifth time. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s a lot of fascinating juxtaposition going on in the first half of this chapter. We have the comedic ruckus of the malfunctioning mechanical musicians contrasted with the extra-serious discussion of political alliances and impending war going on at Lord Richard’s table; but we also have the shabby, bygone sorriness of Malmes-Wutton placed against the sumptuous wealth and grandeur of the emissaries from Elizabeth I’s court.

There’s also an emphasis on the clear divide between the aristocracy, and craftspeople such as Edwin Dritchly. One, born into grand titles, commands battles to be fought and maneuvers courtiers to their liking. The other, despite being highly skilled, has no say at all in where or how they work. Richard Wutton, nobly born but at the mercy of those in power, is an interesting middle-ground between these, and we can’t help but feel for him as he gets thoroughly trounced once again by the Queen’s will.

Then, that wealth and grandeur we saw in the form of the mechanical steeds the visitors brought with them shows it’s true, darker nature. Having got to know Master Dritchly over the last chapter (and, more importantly perhaps, having understood that Adam, Henry, and Jack, our young protagonists, look to him as a paternal figure and share something like familial bonds with him) we instantly feel the emotional horror of his sudden and violent demise.

Master Dritchly’s death, again in contrast to the comedy of the wayward musicians just a few pages before, also illustrates the most looming and ominous problem of a world with such sophisticated technology. What happens when the mechanicals, through innocent ichor imbalance or more sinister intervention, decide to disobey?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: There were many intriguing aspects to this chapter, but the one that grabbed me the most was the food. If there are no animals except mechanical ones, where did the spiced chicken come from in the pastries? Or the mutton?

It’s tantalising details like this that make the whole concept of this book so fascinating. Also, loving all the mechanicals. I can’t remember if steampunk was as much a thing back in the early 2000s as it is now, but this a fantastic use of it. (Or it it the other way around, that steampunk was huge in the early 2000s and less prominent now? I’m not up on my subcultures!)

But a recreation of the English-French-Spanish wars with clockwork animals and weapons is a fantastic concept before we’ve even got there. (Even assuming that’s the direction this plot takes!) It does sound very much as if something strange is taking over the mechanicals to sabotage the English plan, but who? How?

Deathscent | Adam o’ the Cogs

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Yet the eyes which peered across the yard were lenses of polished glass set into a roughly carved wooden head, for Old Temperance was not a living creature. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I love that practically everything about the island of Malmes-Wutton is a good-natured roast of olde worlde historicale fantasye. A charming, orphaned apprentice tries and fails to catch a pig in the rolling grounds of a venerable stately home while the summer sun casts everything in the timeless glow of legend. Except, the apprentice has no ambitions of heroism, the pig is made of wood and disgruntlement, and the name of the stately home is a groan-worthy pun. Even the summer sky is false, devoid of romance, if not of mystery. (I’m sensing an Age of Enlightenment joke in all of this, but I won’t be the one to make it.)

My favourite thing in this chapter – apart from the mental image of actual Sir Francis Walsingham and actual Doctor John Dee sailing through outer space in a customised barge – is that Robin has taken the quintessentially Elizabethan concept of humouralism and made it literal in a wonderfully creative way. It’s interesting enough to incorporate the Four Humours into a fantasy setting at all, but to have them as part of a larger, really quite complex bit of worldbuilding, such as Motive Science is, strikes me as something special. I’m struggling to think of authors or other creators who have devised any such similar system for powering their clockwork characters, and I look forward to seeing this unique approach explored further.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s always a strange thing, being in that part of a new sci-fi or fantasy book where the exact rules of the game haven’t been set down yet. So where exactly is this realm of Englandia located? Is it floating in space in the universe that we know? Somewhere else?

How come they could get humans to live but not living animals? Or are the humans all living?

And this is on top of the broader mystery of who are all these men (some of whom are actual historical figures) and how does that tie in with Lord Richard Wutton? Is Adam to be the hero of this story?

My hat is off to the copywriter who wrote the back cover copy on this one. I won’t reproduce it here because we’ve all seen it, but it is brilliant because it really doesn’t tell us anything much at all. So once again I find myself in the delightful hands of Robin Jarvis’ storytelling, with no idea of how all this will unfold. Can’t wait!

Deathscent | Prologue

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The vivid glare flashed across Lord Robert’s face. Squinting, he saw within the room innumerable visions of the villainous physicians. Over every surface their fractured likenesses flared, but even as he marvelled, the wonder vanished and all was dark once more. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Some stories come to you at exactly the right time, and for me, Deathscent was one of those. I can remember seeing it on cassette at the library during my Deptford-audiobook-borrowing days, but something stopped me from picking it up then. It might’ve been the grandiose sci-fa blurb, or the disturbingly life-like portrait on the cover, staring wordlessly out with that expression of wistful melancholy even as the CGI flames consumed it, but something about this particular Jarvis offering said ‘avaunt, thou art too young for this as yet’.

Wind forward a few years – I turn fourteen, my reading preferences mature a little, and suddenly eerie Elizabethan aliens courtesy of a writer who is still one of my favourites start to look rather appealing. I knew at the time that I was letting myself in for something special, but could never have guessed that the world of Deathscent would be so formative. It instilled in me a fascination with the Tudor dynasty that I still have today; it persuaded me to appreciate historic manor houses; it introduced me to the folklore and mythology of London, and it, er, made me a goth.

Of all the stories which shaped my teenage years, Deathscent is the one I bring up – with that hint of rueful embarrassment with which most of us refer to our teens – when I tell the story of how I discovered the metal genre. Specifically, gothy, early 2000s folk metal with tacky Renaissance-esque album art, peaky, long-haired band members, and lyrics about decadence, deceit, and of course, death.

It all came about because of my library-borrowing routine. If I was consuming media of my own choice as a young’un, it most likely came from my local library. In a twist of fate so deft that it might have been looped by the Websters themselves, the very first metal album I ever heard was on sale for a tiny sum on the very same day that I finally added Deathscent, in neat new paperback, to my borrowing pile.

For me it was the beginning of a miniature epoch, as I did what a lot of adolescent girls do and transformed from pop-loving, roller-skating kid to melodramatic, lace-gloved teen. (I suppose I was lucky that my internet access was limited at the time, otherwise goodness only knows what dreadful red and black, glitter-adorned web pages fourteen-year-old me might’ve blithely created to broadcast my love for certain eerie Elizabethan aliens who shall at this point remain unnamed.)

Though I’ve long since shed the lace gloves, my enjoyment of Deathscent, and the happy memories associated with it, remain. As well as being an interesting look a new Robiny world with new rules, this part of the Reread will be, for me, a chance to reminisce about a work which influenced me in a multitude of ways, and maybe dust off my portable CD player.

Right, enough reflecting, there’s islands to see and stars to steer by.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, this is somewhat momentous! This is the very last Robin Jarvis book that I have yet to read. (Well, okay, there is the Almanack which I’m reading one month at a time, but this is the last novel.) I remember finding it at a small bookshop in Melbourne when I was there one weekend for a wedding a long time back, but sadly I never got around to reading it … until now.

Let me pause for a minute and say, what a masterpiece of book design and layout just to start with. It’s the juxtaposition of the ‘Ye Olde Englishness’ of it (the font, the woodcut-like gears, the timelessness of the ink chapter headers) jarringly combined with the unsettling humanoid character on the front, that immediately draws me in. Is he good, evil, or something else? And why does he have a rose?

Then, on the back cover, there is that strange mechanical creature, reminding me a bit of Tik-Tok from Return to Oz, but with an Elizabethan twist.

Then the prologue itself becomes even more intriguing. We know from the blurb that the story is set in some sort of alternative, fantasy England, but the tale seems to begin in the real, historic England we recognise, as two strangers posing as physicians seek to drain something (Her soul? Her essence?) from a dying Queen Elizabeth I.

I have no idea exactly what is going on. Are they from another dimension? Outer space? Will we be told all this anyway?

Whatever it is, this is one of the most unique set-ups that I’ve ever seen for a Jarvis novel, and I’m fascinated to see where it all goes.