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!