Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 12

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Fleabee gazed into the golden eyes of Mabb and her own gentle brown eyes blinked away a single tear. The choice was not so difficult for her to make after all. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I want to be like ‘Aw, c’mon Robin!’ I want to be like, ‘Aw, what a disappointment, Robin!’ But I actually can’t, because of that blistering epilogue barely a page long.

Instead of moaning about wretched squirrels not dying and wretched, ungrateful ratgirls not taking up perfectly good offers and failing miserably to resurrect magnificent Empresses of Darkness from their eternal sleep and so forth, my little brain is full of glorious confrontations between Mabb and older, ratwitch Fleabee while everything burns at the Grand Deptford Finale. I can see it in full colour now, and if Fleabee rejecting even Mabb is what’s needed to get us there, then I’ll take it.

Up the rats, all right.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This might actually be groundbreaking. I think I’ve just read a Jarvis finale in which there is no violent showdown. (All right, so Lickit might have got killed offscreen, so it’s not 100%.) But the point of this final showdown is Fleabee’s getting mastery of herself and rejecting a path of violence.

I couldn’t remember exactly how this book ended in the past and, for some reason, thought the final chapter was going to be Mabb encouraging Fleabee to take out Scabmona. (How messed up would that have been?) But she made it through the trial and we’re left with a beautiful final illustration of the sunshine streaming in through the sewers.

And the world’s most frustrating epilogue. To think that there is some epic battle still to come with Mabb and a future version of Fleabee (which would make the first grown-up good rat to make an appearance in the Jarvis canon) is mouth-watering. But to know that no such book (currently) exists is … aargh!

We can live in hope, but for now that will just have to exist in the same place as the horde of raiding Iribians heading towards Uplifted Spain.

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Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 11

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Screaming at the tops of their voices, the ratlings went charging along the ledge after the squirrel. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’ve had a lot of moments in this project where I’ve just wanted to hug a Robiny villain and kiss them on both cheeks like a proud aunt, and I’m definitely feeling that with Morgan in this chapter. Sometimes, having cameos of best-loved old favourites from an original series in a spin-off can come across as pandering, but honestly even if it was pandering here, which it isn’t, I wouldn’t give a squirrel’s tail. The rats of Deptford are such a bunch of snorting, snaggle-fanged, sour-snouted scumgripes that you’re kind of forced at peeler-point to love them, and I for one never tire of their raucous, bloodthirsty ways.

Crispy squirrel-ear, anyone?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: There’s a level of black comedy in this chapter, isn’t there? The gloriously revolting description of the rat feast, the rat wives and their decorations, playing ‘Ticks’ with real ticks. It’s all quite amusing.

But then there’s the reminder that all the young rats have to go out and kill a squirrel. The Mouselets in the series might indicate that this is aimed for a slightly younger audience, but there is no stopping the bloodthirsty nature of the Jarvis nniverse!

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 10

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It’s the blade of a High Priestess,’ she said. ‘A sign that Mabb is watching over you.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m really interested in the presence of feminine power in this book. In the original trilogy, the centre of that was Audrey and the Starwife – working for good, and working for the Green. But here, it is the witches and the ratwives and the goddesses of evil who literally hold the cards.

The morning after Fleabee’s dream really shows this; Scabmona, too young and big-mouthed for Raith Sidhe-related doings, is bundled out, and Alf, no real Hobber and definitely not a Mabbist, is similarly banished. There’s an implication that Fleabee’s dream, like the visit to Akkikuyu a few chapters previously, is Secret Women’s Business Passed From Mother To Daughter, a little like the cottage remedies and folklore passed down in British villages in days of yore.

I also really like the tender moment between Klakkweena and Fleabee. In order for the rats to be relatable there has to be a little ‘honour among vermin’ in with all the screeching and belligerence, but the scene where Klakkweena admits she was actually proud of her daughter is something more. Without even realising, Fleabee has had the courage to be something other than just one more rag-eared villain, even if that something meant that she would never fit in anywhere. Klakkweena is right; that does make her braver than the whole accursed lot of them. Brave enough to sit at Mabb’s left claw? I do hope so.

Lastly, did everyone catch the mention of One-Eyed Jake and notice how antsy Morgan is at the end of this chapter? I’m not sure how long before the events of The Dark Portal this book is set, but I think I know what ‘summat’ Jupiter is plotting.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I can feel the finale coming on here: Fleabee has a particularly nasty knife, Scabmona is looking forward to the night as if it’s going to be awesome and Jupiter feels Some Force that is moving against his power. It might be Mabb, but is it possible that there are other forces at work as well?

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 9

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

‘So be it! She has chosen!’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Being 90% rat sitcom, this book is wish-fulfillment for the more bloodthirsty Robin Jarvis fan in many ways, but this chapter is like every cultist’s wistful dreams brought to life. It’s like Mr Jarvis admitting that yes, maybe most of us were rooting for the villains all through the previous Deptford books, and that yes, the Raith Sidhe do kind of out-class Jupiter, and that yes, all that wishy-washy Greenie nonsense does get a bit tired after a while, and that, well… yes, it would be a lot of fun if Fleabee was actually to be destined to be Mabb’s High Priestess the whole time. 

When I first read this I can remember not quite believing that, finally, we were actually going to ‘go there’ and address what is so appealing about Robin’s evil gods. It’s a beautiful moment for me, a devoted forktail, so I can only imagine what it must’ve been like for those who considered themselves Hobbers. Up the rats, all right. Justice for Mabb and the Three! Team Evil Fleabee! Woo!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, there’s Mabb. Great appearance by the second branch of the Raith Sidhe. But also a beautiful scene with ‘Orace trying to persuade Fleabee towards the Green.

The whole thing for me conjures up a familiar situation in Jarvis books – that even if you wanted to follow the good in this world, it’s a small, fragile flicker. Meanwhile, evil will always be large, tangible and seem more than capable of winning. And in the middle, will be a small frightened individual with a choice…

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 8

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Standing by the entrance of her tent, Madame Akkikuyu was trembling. She had done many foul and heinous deeds in the past, but this was one of the worst. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The thing about the Deptford universe being so developed is that there’s always going to be those moments where you look at what happened in the original trilogy and slot yet another tragic detail to yet another tragic character’s backstory. In this case, it’s now abundantly clear how Madame Akkikuyu, hardened ratwitch, ended up so moved by Audrey. If Akkikuyu never attended Firstblood that year, she never saw the outcome of Fleabee’s fortune, and the guilt over sending a young rat to her death must have been gnawing at her ever since.

This is a parallel to Thomas, who sees Woodget in Twit, but not in a way that is any good for either mouse. Just as the guilt of Woodget’s ‘death’ is a worse punishment for the midshipmouse than if he had died on his Scalian adventures, Madame Akkikuyu ends up dwelling on Audrey and, in her unhinged state in The Crystal Prison, putting her on a pedestal in some ways. Now we understand the origin of that guilt – Akkikuyu sees hapless, innocent Fleabee, the ratling she believes she killed, in Audrey.

Who knows, perhaps Thomas might have had a chance to rescue Twit from something, exorcising his Woodget-shaped demons in the process. But, whether Fleabee survives her book or not, we know that Madame Akkikuyu’s self-forgiveness came in her sacrificing herself for Alison Sedge, who herself took Audrey’s place in Nicodemus’ plans. Still, it doesn’t make the end of this chapter any easier.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’d completely forgotten about Mongolian gerbils as well. But I would agree that chocolate fingers work well in any language.

But the really interesting thing here to me is the mention of Mabb. It reminds me of something that I’d long-forgotten which is that way back when I was first reading The Dark Portal, I had no idea that the Raith Sidhe were actually real. They could have just been an interesting side detail to cause more conflict among the rats between Jupiter-followers and followers of the Three.

It’s not really until the dying Starwife calls Old Barker by his real name – Bauchan – that we as readers realise that there is a whole extra depth to the mythology. There’s not just Jupiter and whatever he is doing. The Old Gods are real. So Jupiter, in taking command of the sewers, did not just take charge of a bunch of rats, he managed to somehow take down their deities at the same time.

By the time we get to The Oaken Throne, we know they’re all real, so when Lord Hobb shows up, it’s no big surprise.

But I’m pretty sure we haven’t had an appearance yet by Mabb, have we?

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 7

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

Fleabee frowned. ‘The Three what?’ she asked. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Back to the rat sitcom, but with a mysterious edge to proceedings as Klakkweena and Alf mutter darkly about forbidden this and secret that and ‘them that was here before Him’. I don’t think the identity of ‘them’ escapes any of us here on this project, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what the Raith Sidhe make of Fleabee. As in Audrey’s time, that particular cult is very much alive and thriving down in the Deptford sewers, even if any and all cultish doings have to be undertaken on the sly.

Speaking (quietly) of Hobbery business, did I just spy the name ‘Fletch’ in this chapter? On their way out, do Klakkwenna and Fleabee, in fact, pass Hagnakker, Fletch’s wife? Would that maybe be the very same, the self-same, the one and only Fletch who would be gorily slain in sacrifice upon the altar of Bauchan by One-Eyed Jake in a certain very memorable scene in The Dark Portal? There’s a special irony to Hagnakker’s suspicion over Klakkweena’s doings, considering her very own other half will later end up bleeding out in the name of the Mighty Three.

Lastly, Matt pointed out the creativity in the illustrations for this book last chapter, and I have to agree. We’ve got one-off character portraits, double-page spreads, vertical ladders scurrying up the side of the text, and, at the end of this chapter, a lovely footer of Fleabee among the tires; gazing up toward the moon, far above at the top of the opposite page. I’m not sure if the empty space between those two illustrations was intentional, but I hope it was, because it really does give the impression of a vast night’s sky.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I will confess, the first time I read this, I did think all the rats were a bit two-dimensional. But rereading it now, I can see that there is something under the surface. I wouldn’t call it kindness. They’re not that sort of people. But family loyalty and caring for your bloodline, that sort of thing.

That was probably more a part of their lives before Jupiter came along. So in that moment when Klakkweena and Alf are discussing the most likely demise of Fleabee, this line really hits home: ‘Having been brought up under Jupiter’s harsh regime, neither of them could admit to what they really felt.’

Fleabee’s Fortune | Chapter 6

FleebsWarning: Contains Spoilers!

The dappled light that shone through the small window above trembled slightly and, as it played over the wooden image, the shadows beneath the cheeks lifted. It was as if ‘Orace had smiled at her. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m intrigued at the unspoken balance between Robiny deities here. Before the Dark Portal, Fleabee is just as affected by the bloodlust as her fellow ratlings; yet, brought to the Chambers of Summer and Winter by chance, the fetters of Jupiter’s evil fall from her as easily as shaking rain from her fur.

There is a sense of two vast powers vying for our heroine’s soul, but although Fleabee seems drawn to ‘Orace Baldmony and his story, she doesn’t exactly fall to her knees in the cellar and start singing Greenie hymns. Things are as yet undecided for her, and it may be that her destiny has nothing to do with Jupiter or the Green. If that is the case, whoever really has claim on her had better hurry up – we’re halfway through the book, and Firstblood is hoving into view.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: First, I must mention the first illustration in this chapter which is spread across two pages. I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen a double-page spread from Mr Jarvis, and I love the scope it gives to the sewer tunnels.

But what will ultimately stick to me in this chapter is the sad irony which again I must have missed on my first time reading this a few years ago. First off, the beautiful scene with the wooden carving of ‘Orace followed by a small cameo by Albert Brown, one character I would have loved to have seen more of, if he’d made it. ‘There’s no hideous rats down there and never will be neither – I promise,’ he says.

Tragically, we know better than that.