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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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oaken throne

The Oaken Throne | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Awake, awake,’ they sang. ‘Thy sleep is ended!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  There are two kinds of Robin Jarvis fan: those who look forward to Aldertide, and those who look forward to Wendel. I’m not quite sure how, but that stoat jester has wormed his way into the hearts of almost every fan of this book I have ever met, and I can hear you all yelling about him in the comments already. Personally I find him unimpressive, morally questionable, and generally a bit dodgy, but I admit I am in that second category by default if not by choice, as happy little critters singing and dancing in the sunshine has never been my kind of party.

That said, there’s a lot to appreciate about Aldertide. The name alone is graceful, and the concept of the alder maids quite charming. I love that sweet little song they sing to awaken the venerable trees from their slumber, and I’ll be the first to declare Ysabelle the most precious thing on the Green’s good earth. The medieval-maiden hairdo! The tufty ears! Adorable.

The contrast between the joyful squirrelly celebrations and the blood-soaked horror of the bat’s attack is shockingly stark. We have already witnessed the heart of the battle at Greenreach last chapter, but here it becomes personal, as Ninnia and Cyllinus fear for their daughter and discover what dread destiny she has caught in her small paws. With the realm of the Starwife in ruins, the best day of Ysabelle’s life has quickly become the worst.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, we haven’t seen a chapter like this for a while. The feeling of community that we get from these squirrels at Coll Regalis reminds me of the feel of Fennywolde and Deptford (back before they got into serious trouble). Of course, as with all things nice and communal, it’s not long before things get disrupted.

I feel somewhat sad that the bold peregrine who I so admired from the first chapter gets dispatched in this chapter without us ever finding out his name. But it doesn’t matter – whoever he is, he’s got the job done, and Ysabelle’s story has begun.

One thing that was striking about this chapter and the last (ignoring stoats with jester caps for the moment, which is also somewhat hilarious) is that it’s a completely different type of bat than we’ve seen in past Jarvis books. We think of the bats in Deptford as being a bit enigmatic, but ultimately brave and good for a fight when you need them. (Perhaps a bit like Yoda?)

But this stuff with screechmasks and razor-tipped claws is another level of bloodthirsty altogether and a little bit unsettling. However, thinking about it some more, couldn’t we say the same about much of humanity? We can give the illusion of being peace-loving at different periods of time, but the violence of our past (both recent and distant) always reminds us that we can be pretty savage sometimes as well.

The Oaken Throne | Prologue & Chapter 1

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Is what I ask too great?’ he murmured. ‘Is it my lot to be shamed for all time?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Bats in the sky! Squirrels dying! Horror, tragedy, doom! It’s The Oaken Throne! Who else is excited to start this one? I know I am, this is my second favourite Robin Jarvis book of all time. Verily and forsooth let us get to it, then!

From the very first page, we are dunked head first into the wraith-haunted, benighted gloom of this world. What a wonderfully evocative opening, and what a clever touch that we don’t know that Vesper is a bat until almost two pages after he’s been introduced. That I only noticed on reread, and though I daresay the effect is ruined a little if you’ve already read the blurb or seen the older covers, it’s still an interesting technique. If you went into it not knowing what the story was about, you would assume that it was a human boy who was about to leap from the ruined tower to his death, and as a result feel an immediate connection and pang of sympathy.

As it is, what we might have felt for Vesper the human is directly transferred to Vesper the bat the moment he opens his wings, and before more sceptical readers have a chance to express their disdain for yet another medieval epic with talking animals, we are swept into a medieval epic with talking animals that is like no other.

This is a tale of two contrasting fantasy cultures, and both are excellently set up in these opening scenes. First, we have the mysterious bats, with their unflagging desire to reclaim their birthright of prophecy (those who have read the Deptford Mice Trilogy will grin in wry recognition here). Then, as if that wealth of tradition and fascinating motivations were not enough, we are whirled right along into the leafy domain of the squirrels, and face our first betrayal in the gaunt and rather elegant shape of Morwenna.

In a few short pages, the aged Starwife is dead and the Knights of the Moon under fearsome General Rohgar have the upper hand (or, er, wing). What will become of the silver acorn, and what diabolical plots will Morwenna orchestrate next? Will Vesper ever have a chance to prove himself? Dear readers, we shalt see.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: What an exhilarating opening this is. The opening prologue with Vesper sets up that familiar trope of the hero who wants to go to battle but is too young for the experience, so we can expect a journey of courage for him in the future.

But Chapter 1 is brilliant – a total barn-burner of an intro to the squirrel world. The kingdom of Greenreach is an awesome concept – a bit Rivendell, a bit English castle, a bit decaying Roman empire. We’ve got an evil witch character in Morwenna and a bat raid that becomes the visual equivalent of the WWII London air raids.

But for me, the greatest part is the peregrine falcon. How he came to have a league with the squirrels we don’t know. In fact, the great thing about the Histories is that while technically they are back stories for The Deptford Mice, you could clearly fill many books with the back story behind these histories as well.

A missing silver acorn out there somewhere? Yep, I’m hooked. On to Chapter 2!

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