The Final Reckoning | Chapter 6

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‘Death is the grand master of all – no-one escapes him.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter introduces us to bat society in London, and quite an introduction it is too. What a rich and interesting culture they have! As a lover of fictional linguistics, I really appreciate the part which describes the bats ‘talking to each other in their secret tongue which, to the albino, sounded like a mixed-up jumble of high pitched squeaks’. This lets us know that the bats in the world of Robin Jarvis do, in fact, make the same sounds as real bats, which in turn implies both that when the mice are speaking to each other, we as humans would hear only squeaks (which is actually pretty hilarious if you think about it) and that all creatures in this strange Robiny world have their own individual languages and dialects.

When I started Silvering Sea, I thought about language in the Deptford books a bit more. I’ll go into this in detail when we get to the Histories, but for now I’ll say that I somehow decided that the tongue of mice, rats, and other rodents should be called ‘murinaese’, after the Latin term for their species as a group. I figured out that this language might be derivative of the tongue of the mustelidae in the way that, say, our modern English is related to Old English, and that both of those languages are separate, but related to, the ‘common’ language that all the characters of differing species must share in order to communicate in the story.

That the bats have a closed-off language that is completely unintelligible to other creatures is a clever mix of fantasy and the realities of nature, as well as being very telling about bat culture as a whole. On rereading, I noticed that the gathering of the bats at St Paul’s is described as a meeting of guilds, and a memory surfaced of getting lost in the area around the Cathedral, visiting the Clockmaker’s Museum, and finding out about the Great Twelve Livery Companies of London.  Could the bats have a similar ancient and respected institution? The titles of the elders (Keeper of the Hidden Ways, Lord of the Twilight, oh my!) certainly indicate that these moon-riders are steeped in time-honoured tradition and high wisdom.
Matt’s Thoughts: I think this would have to be my favourite chapter in the whole book. First off, it’s Oswald doing something heroic, which just always rouses me up. Secondly, I love the whole setting. St. Paul’s Cathedral is never mentioned by name, but Mr Jarvis only has to say ‘dome’ and everyone who knows even the slightest bit about London’s architecture knows which building he’s talking about.

Which is as good an excuse as any to throw in another couple of my holiday snaps:

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Maybe Londoners take this for granted, but that is an amazing piece of architecture.

On my last day in London I went to see the choral evensong at St. Paul’s, which was quite an experience. So reading the descriptions in The Final Reckoning of the vast space, the statues, the arches, even the amount of dead people that the English like to leave buried above-ground in their cathedrals – it was much more real to me this time. Also of interest was the nod to the Great Fire of London – again, without Robin having to name the event at all. London mythology becomes mixed up with Jarvis mythology and the two work perfectly because they’re both super-British.

And not just London history. Natural history as well. When Orfeo passes his ‘sight’ to Oswald, it’s a nice combo of normal biology (that bats can see in the dark) and magic – the sight is tied in with their mystical foreseeing powers.

Then we have the end of the chapter. Any other kids’ book where the hero goes off on a trek to find the ‘magic item’ that will defeat the bad guy, the magic item usually turns out to be useful. But we have one big empty book haunting us at the end … which only means things are going to get worse.

The Final Reckoning | Chapter 5

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘In life he was called Jupiter – now he is a phantom, an Unbeest more powerful than anything this troubled world has ever known.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now I don’t know about you, Readers all, but to me this chapter just feels cold. ‘The morning was chill and dismal’ tells us everything we need to know about morale in the Skirtings, and far from improving when the Starwife arrives, things continue their long, icy, inexorable, slide downhill.

In this chapter, we really get a sense of the scale of the house in which the Deptford Mice live. The wide open space of the Hall no longer seems freeing and convivial, but open and exposed. The Midwinter Death enfolds the mice in its freezing cloak, and their collective fear seems to compress them together as much as the need for warmth does. The building of the beacon fire feels endless and interminable, and when that painstaking task is finally complete, the mice almost miss the whole point of the exercise. Thank the Green for Oswald, who was just curious and hopeful enough to remain on the roof!

I had a rummage around the internet for any source on the origins of the title ‘Unbeest’ by which the Starwife refers to Jupiter. Sadly, as with certain names in The Crystal Prison, I did not find anything exact, but I did discover the Old Scots ‘vnbest’, of which ‘Unbeest’ may be a fantasy variant. Personally, I love the idea of the Starwife knowing a myriad of ancient and forgotten languages, and occasionally making reference to archaic terms for things when, in her old age, she can no longer dredge up the energy to recall the word currently used.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m not sure where the word ‘Unbeest’ came from, but it’s awesomely simple and unsettling at the same time, wouldn’t you say?

You know everything is mixed up, when the Starwife ends up in Deptford with the mice. I somehow feel that this is the equivalent of the Queen having to leave Buckingham Palace and crash at somebody’s place in a less glamorous area of London. It feels wrong, but highlights how serious the situation is. But it also shifts the Starwife into a subtly more sympathetic light as well.

Previously, she was a bit like Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. Provides help to the heroes, but somewhat distant herself. But now we’re getting a glimpse of her – I was going to say ‘that is more human‘, which obviously she isn’t. But as a sympathetic character with a past of her own.

And obviously a past that involves an ongoing animosity with bats. Even if you haven’t read The Oaken Throne in the Deptford Histories, which delves into all this, you can sort of imagine the bats and squirrels as two proud countries that need to form an alliance to defeat a common enemy, but would normally hate each other. (Without thinking, I was going to say proud European countries but that opens a can of worms now, doesn’t it?)

But then, in the midst of all the gloom and doom, how much of a little spark of joy do we get from having Oswald be the one that gets picked by the bats? We’ve known he is a legendary character from Book 1, even if he spent most of Book 2 being sick. And now he gets a chance to prove his courage again. Bring it on, I say.

The Final Reckoning | Chapter 4

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘From acorn to oak,’ she intoned gravely, ‘but even the mightiest of oaks shall fall.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter affects me deeply every time I read it. First of all, there’s the breathtakingly elegant sequence in which Thomas dreams of his past. Then there’s the drama of a ‘murder in the park’ which quickly descends into despair when we learn that this is not some kind of thrilling who-dun-it intrigue, but a real and lasting tragedy that has reduced the Starwife (the Starwife!) to a shambling wreck. Then there’s the squirrel funeral, and I have a mushy story about that so brace yourselves.

When I was younger, quite a lot of what I read and absorbed in Mr Jarvis’ books made its way into the plethora of notebooks I collected for fun. (Did any of you guys do this as kids? I know I wasn’t looking to record ideas for future novels or anything as onerous as that, I just liked collecting pretty journals and filling them with wobbly drawings, bits of diary, and the occasional Digimon sticker).

In any case, young me heard the funereal oration which the Starwife gives, consigning her deceased subject’s spirits to the Green, and was so taken with it that I wrote it down, rewinding the cassette over and over to get it all. (In the abridged version I had, the prayer was spoken by Thomas. In hindsight, this suggests a connection between the midshipmouse and his neighbours the squirrels that is not in the original).

A few months later, my mum and I were clearing out my room, and she happened upon the Starwife’s prayer on a stray piece of paper. Since I hadn’t bothered to label it with the book title or anything, she thought I’d written a poem. She told me it was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever read, and when I explained what it was from, she promised to read the Deptford Mice Trilogy as soon as she could. Thank you, Mr Jarvis, for touching my family’s heart with your writing as you have touched mine.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A couple of quick comments on this chapter:

  • Great to have the midshipmouse back in action, but there’s not much time for enjoyment when something this tragic happens to all the squirrels.
  • I was fascinated by the details of the squirrel funeral. I almost take it for granted that Jarvis has not only given different personalities to his animal characters, but whole different sets of rituals and beliefs about life, death and religion.
  • Also notice that the Starwife refers to ‘the Green’ as well. Presumably, the same Green as the Green Mouse, but what form does that deity take for the squirrels?
  • There is, also, of course, a great deal of foreshadowing for The Deptford Histories books in the form of Triton’s dream and the Starwife’s mention of an ‘uprising’. However, my memory is rusty on the old Histories books, so even I can’t remember how it all goes … clearly, I need this re-read as much as anybody!

The Final Reckoning | Chapter 3

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Hear me, you rats, have yer never ‘ad the blood craze? Have yer eyeballs never burned with hate for everything save yerselves?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Why is it that the chapters where Morgan features heavily have ended up being my favourites so far? He isn’t quite as close to my heart as certain other despicable ne’er-do-wells I could mention, but he’s a big rat in a small race, and he knows what he’s about. If Jupiter showcased occult ritual as a Robiny villainous trademark in The Dark Portal, then Morgan demonstrates another here: the rousing speech of evil.

I get all gleeful over this. Enter the rats; more hideous, shifty-eyed fang-lickers than Smiff has seen in his entire life, all crowded in, all suspicious. They’ve been told that their options are turn up or die, and, obviously, most of them want to see another smoggy London morning. Enter Piccadilly and Marty; frightened but intrepid, observing from afar. Finally, enter Morgan; here to bring a little of that bad old Deptford bloodlust to the lilly-livered cringers this side of the Thames. The scene is set for a sermon of slaughter, and Old Stumpy does not disappoint.

Completely by accident, Matt chose my absolute favourite section of Morgan’s speech for this post’s quote, but I love all of it. Mr Jarvis’ villains always steal the show, and in sheer theatrical nefariousness, Morgan has few rivals. The imagery he conjures up is enough – the rats arising in might to begin a new era of carnage and cruelty, rivers of blood in the mouse halls – but when a well-meaning dissenter is ripped to shreds and devoured by his own brethren, things get real.

I compared the Deptford sewer rats favourably to the villains of Redwall when we were rereading The Dark Portal, and now I reiterate on that subject. Imagine Morgan’s speech in the mouth of any other befurred baddie from a middle-grade series. How much more threatening would their brutal hordes be? How much more terrifying their iniquitous plans? Get on Old Stumpy’s level, everybody, or go home!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: No time for any sort of set up or niceties here. The grimness is here to stay, as we go to a gathering of Old Stumpy and his group of rats. In some ways, it’s awesome – Morgan was arguably the greatest of the rat villains from The Dark Portal. So to see him and Piccadilly back in the same story, knowing that there is a score to settle from the past – that’s just brilliant.

However, it’s sort of the opposite of the mouse gathering from the previous chapter. It’s a meeting driven by hatred and a desire to dominate the mouse world. Grim stuff.

One other great thing about this is that we have no idea how Morgan came to such a position of influence. I’m sure there’s a back story: he dragged himself out of a drain pipe somewhere, bumped into five rats and killed four of them, and the rest of them started to show him a fearful respect. We’re not told exactly.

(Unless we’re told in a later chapter? I’ve got memories of certain parts of this book, but not others, so if we’re told in a later chapter, I’ll look like an idiot, won’t I? Actually, you know what – I’m going to hold onto my back story until Mr Jarvis gives me a new one. *End of inner monologue.*)

(*Start of new one* This is only going to get worse in Deathscent and the Wyrd Museum books because I bought them years ago and never actually got around to reading them … so my posts are going to be even more speculative and incorrect in a few months! *End of new inner monologue.*)

But enough of that – I haven’t had a moment to say I always quite liked the character of Barker here. The rats could be in danger of being a bit one-note (just sadistic and evil all the time) so having the odd rat that is not the same – like Madame Akkikuyu in the last few books – is always good. Barker fits that bill here – you wonder, if he wasn’t quite ‘barking mad’, as they call it, what would he be like? Would he be just as evil as the others? Or, like Akkikuyu before him, has madness brought out a lost ‘innocent’ side that might have otherwise been suppressed? (And, yes, for those who are jumping up and down – I do remember Barker’s back story. But we’ll talk about that when it appears.)

On to Chapter 4!

The Final Reckoning | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Piccadilly,’ he announced grandly, ‘I name you the official Minister for War.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: One of Mr Jarvis’ gifts is that he can make even the most mundane of places seem like the eeriest, most atmospheric, most magical of stage sets. In this chapter, the London Underground gets this treatment, and it gives me shivers every time I read it.

Having stood on those echoing platforms and been squashed into those creaking carriages myself, I can speak from experience when I say that there’s something special about the Tube. Maybe it’s because it’s so archaic and haphazard, maybe it’s because it seems, when you’re down there, like its own subterranean world. Certainly, I’m not alone in my thinking, as the Underground has been immortalised by writers and creators of all sorts, appearing in everything from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Miéville‘s King Rat to cult horror comedy An American Werewolf in London.

In this chapter, we catch up with Piccadilly at last, and discover a little about how he has grown up (I can hear his fans screaming from here). I love how he gives Smiff and Kelly lip while still remaining wary – it’s apparent that whatever thoughtless courage he might have once possessed has been quashed by his death-defying run-ins with the power of Jupiter in The Dark Portal.

The rats in this chapter are collectively fantastic. What’s great about Mr Jarvis’ bewhiskered villains is that they are not just a homogeneous crowd of nastiness with tails and claws; each has a separate, distinct personality and look. Smiff and Kelly demonstrate this perfectly – they are majestically horrid. We can practically smell their reeking fur and hear their mocking laughter, and I would not like to be around when Kelly gets hungry!

Then there’s Barker. The Final Reckoning was another of those books I had on cassette first, and I can remember how that pitiful, whinging old codger stood out to me, as much for his  manner as for the information he reluctantly imparts. Further chapters will tell, however, whether there’s anything more to that one than an empty belly and a lumpy head.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: That explains the origins of mouse weapons as well – a combination of heirlooms passed down (like the old spear that the Holeborn sentry amusingly had that he’d inherited from his great great grandfather) and a bunch of new ones (like Sid, the Minister for Craft, was ordered to make).

As well as that, we now have another system of mouse government, which is quite fascinating. So the Deptford Mice have Master Oldnose, who’s more like an old school teacher than anything else. The Fennywolders have a democratically elected King. Meanwhile, the Holeborners have a Thane whose title is passed down by heredity. But nonetheless, a very well ordered fair society … They’re all interesting forms of cooperative communal living.

Is this, in some sense, one of the themes of the Deptford Mice (perhaps even unintentional on the part of Mr Jarvis)? Cooperative communities of various stripes on one side (the mice) vs selfish every-man-for-himself communities where even your best efforts are just to benefit the ‘fat cat’ at the top (the rats)?

Interesting … but of lesser importance than the fact that Piccadilly just got appointed the Minister of War! (I know, how awesome is that?)

 

The Final Reckoning | Prologue & Chapter 1

 

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Silence fell over Deptford.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Poor Mr Kempe! I chose him in the illustration nominations for The Crystal Prison precisely because I knew he didn’t have long. I wanted to honour his character before I had to honour his memory in the obituaries at the end of this book.

In all respects, this prologue is supremely Robiny. Here’s a little mouse; we’ve met him and got to know him previously. He’s jovial and provides mild comic relief. He’s kind to our heroes. He seems like a nice enough gent. In the first scene, we find out a bit more about him. He has hopes and dreams, a special lady of whom he thinks fondly, a wish for a warm place to stay on a cold night. What’s that? He should encounter a fiend from the depths of the brumal abyss, be rendered incoherent with terror, and die a horrible, lingering death all alone in the cold? All righty then!

I love how the horror of Jupiter creeps up on us here. As Matt says below, the prologue really is a tone-setter, warning us that things are only going to get worse for our heroes from here on out. Again, the Lord of All arises as a threat, but this feels more like an overture than a reprise. Freed from the bonds of mortality, Jupiter can unleash his full might at last.

The first chapter fulfils what the prologue promised and then some, with the revelation that the Deptford Mice now face the very real risk of starvation. If Oswald and Arthur had not discovered the empty larder, the implication is that the mice would have cheerfully used up the last of their stores at the Yule feast, and starved to death all the sooner. Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed!

As the plot begins to rattle along in earnest, it’s easy to miss the little instances of character development in this chapter. The quiet moment we spend with Audrey in her room is a perfect contrast to the lively celebrations in the Hall. As at the start of The Crystal Prison, all may seem to be well for her loved ones, but the weight of past regrets and sorrows weigh too heavily upon Audrey’s small shoulders for her to fully enjoy anything. Meanwhile, in Thomas’ story, we hear the name ‘Woodget’ mentioned again, and witness Thomas’ discomfort when pressed to discuss his old friend outside the safe confines of the ghostly tale. Evidently, the midshipmouse has a few ghosts of his own who are as yet unwilling to be put to rest.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, I guess the tone is set right from the start in this one. In a slightly longer prologue than the previous ones, Kempe gets taken out of the picture rather quickly – and savagely. If innocent characters like that are so easily dispatched, what does that mean for everyone else?

(Side note: did the once-mentioned Milly Poopwick ever find out what happened to Kempe? And where did she live in London?)

Anyway, on to the first chapter. Which helpfully answers my question about how the house was laid out: mice downstairs live in the Skirtings, mice upstairs live in the Landings, and they all gather for celebrations in The Hall.

It should be noted, with some significance, that this is now the third ‘shared celebration’ that we’ve seen in the trilogy. We had the Spring Celebration in Book 1, the Midsummer celebrations (the building of the hall and also the Midsummer Night ‘dream’ of Audrey’s) and now Yule. Clearly, there seems to be something about shared communal experiences that speaks to Mr Jarvis (even on a subconscious level) that has filtered through in these books here.

Which made me curious – what are our shared communal experiences today? (Not counting religious services.) Are there any things that we have nowadays that match the idea of a small community of people getting together, all of whom know each other? Family gatherings or get-togethers with friends seem too small to compare with this but large events like live entertainment / marathons / festivals seem too big and impersonal.

Is this something we’ve lost as we’ve moved into a busier, more individualistic culture?

Anyway, enough philosophy on that point, because we have the bigger problems of a) no food for our mice, b) all the bats mysteriously leaving and c) Jupiter being on the loose.

I also realise, which I didn’t when I originally read this, that it’s quite possible that the old lady next door died of pneumonia, or some such winter-related illness, thus why the house and larder is now empty. It would be just the kind of tragic touch we’d expect in the world of the Deptford Mice …

Up Next Reminder | The Final Reckoning

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This is a reminder that in March we’ll be turning to the jaw-dropping finale of the Deptford Mice Trilogy – The Final Reckoning. (And trust me, if you’ve stuck with us as far as The Crystal Prison, you’re going to desperately want the third book come next month!) As with the first two, it is available for dirt cheap on the Kindle store. But we’d highly recommend getting hold of a hard copy, to enjoy the illustrations. If you’re after a hard copy, you’ll want the one pictured above, or one of these:

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The 2000 Hodder Silver edition with holographic text (if you acquire all three of these, you’ll be able to line them up to see the completed picture on the spines!)

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The US version with a cover by Leonid Gore (terrifying!)

And now, back to The Crystal Prison!