The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 21

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The Valkyrie was a malignant vision of despair and hopelessness.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter is such a horror movie classic. The reveal of Hlökk, several pages long and excruciatingly grotesque, is just begging for the accompaniment of some strained strings and a sickly red filter streaming from the top of the stairs. Lauren and Neil both do an excellent job against the monstrosity (Neil is what, twelve? Thirteen? And in comparison to what he faced in The Woven Path, a noisome, razor-feathered Valkyrie is all in a day’s work). As for Tommy and his ‘collection’, I had a feeling they would turn out to be more than they appeared. I also love the detail of the animate crow doll; that gimmick s somewhat overused these days, so it’s good to see a genuinely unnerving example here.

Then there’s the soap opera element of this chapter. Who guessed that Sheila would turn out to be Neil’s mother? Certainly not me, and it came as a complete surprise since I haven’t reread this series in quite a few years. At first I couldn’t really suspend my disbelief for it (after all, what are the minuscule chances?) but then it occurred to me that this entire trilogy is strung, as it were, upon fate and destiny. I’ll let it pass this once since there is a moment of emotional closure for Neil, but once is enough for these kind of dramatics. If I wanted a family drama, I’d just read the Nibelungenlied!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Robin Jarvis can be known to be a tease when it comes to illustrating his villains. He’ll describe them minutely in words but then only give us a glimpse in the illustrations. Case in point: Jupiter, where we waited for three books before we got an actual picture of him. Morgawrus, whom we never saw at all. And I’m pretty sure nobody has seen anything of the Lords of the Deep and Dark either.

So here in Raven’s Knot: the illustration for the chapter is a tantalising (and terrifying) image of a claw and feathers descending a stair. And that’s it. I get the idea – if everything was given to us on a plate straight away, all the work would be done for us. These books work best when our imagination goes into overdrive about what something looks like, where something is, what’s going to happen next, etc.

Still, the showdown with the Valkyrie is great monster-movie stuff, which goes to show how originally Robin has created his creatures. There’s no way you could imagine something like his Valkyrie fitting into the Wagnerian picture of the noble warrior women on horses. (Certainly I can’t see you getting 2.5 operas worth of romance out of this one!)

Speaking of Valkyries, this is probably a good time to share this little short story Initiation, which is tucked away on Robin’s website. It was possibly originally intended to be a prologue for The Raven’s Knot, but I suspect would have given the game away too early about the crow dolls. (As a first-time reader, I didn’t immediately make the connection between the dolls and the Valkryies.) But it’s a great back story of how Woden first unleashed his terror on Glastonbury.

Finally, I did not see that Sheila would turn out to be Neil’s Mum! A twist of fate worn by the Nornir? A great idea just to up the peril? It feels like more than just coincidence.

 

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The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 20

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Death approacheth,’ the raven cawed.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: That small paragraph describing the ‘crimson weft’ is quite the image, and I was surprised (and pleased) to discover that it is not just artistic licence on Robin’s part, but appears in the Njáls Saga. The Valkyries apparently also intone their grim intentions while weaving – considering some of the shrieks Sheila is described as making, I’m not sure I want to know what a singing Valkyrie sounds like!

In this chapter we see the loss-of-identity theme taken a little further, as Lauren’s stepmother turns on her. I’m reminded slightly of Meta and Pear, though I daresay Lauren is somewhat stronger in sense, and has perhaps more of a grip on the ordinary, having thus far lead a magic-free life.

I will say here that I would have liked her to have more of a voice in this book, and would’ve liked to have got to know her better as a character. Her dependability in a crisis and compassion for Sheila – despite her step-mother’s less than admirable qualities – really endears her to me. In among the ‘crimson wefts’ of this series, I feel we could do with a few more Laurens to stand against the foe, even in their own kitchen.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: There are certainly elements of classic horror films in this book and this chapter is a great example. It has everything we love to dread – Lauren wants to go back to the house, we’re all thinking, Are you crazy?

Then Neil follows and we’re thinking No!

Sheila is at home? Aargh!

We’re holding the book as far away from our face as we can possibly get when Lauren goes to speak to her mother.

And when Lauren announces there is no freaking key for the bedroom door and the NOISE STOPS?? Well, at that stage, I start getting unprintable. But I love it.

Especially Quoth. After all, if he’s worried, we all should be.

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 19

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Yet the crest of the Tor was not deserted, for a single, tall figure was standing up there waiting for them.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’d like to nominate this chapter header as my favourite for this book. There’s something about Verdandi, her serene expression and graceful pose, that arrests me every time I see it, and I can’t help but feel that this is a portrait from life. Who is this classically-beautiful woman who stars in The Raven’s Knot as the fairest of the Fates? It’s a curious mystery. I like to imagine that Miss Veronica might be based on an elderly lady that Mr Jarvis knew, and, in creating Verdandi, he drew from photographs of her in her youth. (I can only hope, if this is in some way accurate, that severe Miss Ursula is not also based on an acquaintance!)

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, this is getting more tragic by the minute, isn’t it? Veronica/Verdandi makes it to Glastonbury, uses up the last of her magic to appear beautiful for Woden and then it isn’t even him.

The thing that’s starting to stand out to me about this series is the way the kids get dragged into these extreme situations, all of which are engineered by adults attempting to out-maneuver each other – setting up elaborate plots and counter-plots, tricks and deceptions.

We know Woden – and particularly his Valkyries – are horrendous. But we’ve seen from Book 1, that Ursula can be pretty manipulative as well.

What there doesn’t appear to be is anyone who actually has the welfare of the kids in their mind. So Neil and Edie just seem to be alternately abandoned or dragged into increasingly dangerous situations. We get a feeling that those two will draw the most strength when they finally pair up and help each other, but as to how long that’s likely to take, who can tell?

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 18

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Those malevolent creatures the Gallows God created to overthrow the Nornir are back amongst us.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The start of this chapter is one example of why I like Aidan so much. Thus far he’s been interesting, but somewhat overshadowed by, well, everything else. We are aware that he is a descendent of Askar, but up until this point we were never really shown what that entailed, other than alternative fashion sense and a propensity to hold forth at length about the histories of small English towns.

In the scene with the policemen, however, we get to see Aidan display some real power, trifling though it may seem in comparison to the Spinners of the Wood. What I like best about it is that it’s a little ambiguous – there’s no waving of hands or incantations, and it’s difficult to tell what he’s actually even done, but that somehow makes it all the more compelling. There’s also his jibes at the rotund sergeant – can he see into the man’s future, or is he simply ‘a good reader of people’?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I strongly suspected that this was going to be the identify of this book’s nocturnal terrors, but when the word Valkyrie was first uttered, I got a thrill. Being only familiar with these creatures from the Wagner operas, where they are normally portrayed as warrior women on flying horses, it’s clear that Mr Jarvis has created his own dark incarnation of the creature.

Which is just brilliant, isn’t it? In fact, I almost feel like some Wikipedia editing is in place for the Valkyrie page to add another entry to the Valkyries in popular culture.

However, while I was excited by this part of the mythology, because it is placed in the context of a rather gruesome and serious police investigation, it doesn’t simply become a layer of mythology to this tale – it becomes a layer of dread.

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 17

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Perhaps it is we who are the children. Sometimes we’re the ones who need guidance.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Something occurred to me about Edie and Miss Veronica’s epic journey to Glastonbury – it’s as if they are being deliberately held back, prevented from reaching the hill at the appointed time.

We’ve all been on trips like that; someone reads the map wrong, sleeps through their stop, or gets locked in a loo, and what started out as an easy trip swiftly descends into chaos. Enough things go badly in a journey and we’re inclined to make jokes about ‘fate being against us’, and I can’t help but wonder if that is in fact what happens to wayward Verdandi here. Ursula is involved in luring her to Glastonbury, we know, but evidently the decision to betray her sister does not sit well with her. Perhaps the journey’s many setbacks may be Ursula having, if not a change of heart, then at least a wobble.

Back with Lauren, there’s a juxtaposition of the grave mythology of the main plot with the trappings of earnest but commodified belief going on here that I really appreciate. The same town which was once the Summer Land and over which the servants of Woden fly is replete with tacky new age shops; the tramp who collects angel-themed paraphernalia may in fact be something ancient and divine.

I’ve noticed this motif in almost all of Mr Jarvis’s work in some form, from the contrast between Madame Akkikuyu’s phoney magery and the real terror of Jupiter, to the irony of Lil’s parents running a ‘witchy’ shop in a town where true witches have been undercover for generations. It’s a remarkably complex theme that Robin handles very well, and one of the many things that make his work unique.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: So many plot strands here! We have the humorous journey of Edie and Veronica to Glastonbury – but now that they’ve arrived, their story could go anywhere.

And now Lauren and the creepy gift shop. If ever anyone gets a Jarvis merch shop off the ground, I’m buying myself a crow doll! (Yes, I know, it doesn’t really help you get a good night’s sleep, though.)

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 16

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Alas, alack! Large and terrible these nightmares doth loom in mine mind.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter’s opening made me smile – being a hill-walker, I can well relate to toiling up some steep slope only to feel that the cairn of the summit is sliding away down the other side. And, worse, getting to where you thought was the top and discovering that it’s only a plateau! I don’t envy Neil, freezing to death in his blazer on the Tor.

Then there’s the enigma of Tommy. I had forgotten that we find out he was present during The Woven Path, and what a clever little detail that is. Good on Neil for recognising that he obviously has something to do with the business of Woden and the Nornir – our young hero has been a bit sidelined on this book so far, so it’s nice to see him finally taking the initiative.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: In this chapter, I feel as if I personally have climbed the Glastonbury Tor. Maybe it’s just because it’s so far away and exotic, but this chapter is even more magical just knowing that Glastonbury exists and that you can physically walk up that hill and see that tower. Extraordinary.

Almost as extraordinary is that old Tommy should turn out to a) know all about Neil and his talking companions, b) have been in the Wyrd Museum when it was a hospital and c) be nearly 100 years old. He didn’t look that old in the illustration in chapter 6!

But then again, is anything what it looks like in this trilogy? A teddy bear? Or a reincarnated US airman? An old building in the East End? Or the site of the root of Yggdrasil? An English country town? Or a place where great magical forces are at work?

Who even knows if Tommy is everything he is cracked up to be at this stage?

Really, all I can say is that everything is … weird. Or is that Wyrd?

The Raven’s Knot | Chapter 15

RK

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Somerset holds the most inspiring spot you’ll ever see outside of dreams.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  I hadn’t really thought about anything in this series as a 2D animation (as I said in The Woven Path, I’m not too fussed about adaptation speculation for this trilogy), but this chapter convinced me that, were this book to be adapted, a mix of animation and live action might be an interesting and creative decision.

This was mostly brought about by the fact that certain characters keep slipping into Askar Storytelling Mode with only the weakest of prompts, and that necessary exposition might be best represented on-screen through a different medium than the story in the present. You know, for contrast.

Inspired by Aidan’s waxing lyrical about the history and mystery of Glastonbury in this chapter, I’d like to nominate Cartoon Saloon for the challenge of bringing the Summer Lands to swirling, folkloric life. If any of you have seen The Secret of Kells or Song of the Sea, I’m sure you’ll agree that studio would uplift the Tor and make it as Aidan sees it.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: If there’s one thing we get a bit envious of as Australians, it’s historical UK towns. We simply don’t have anything like them here.

Our country has many historical sacred sites for Australian Aboriginals which date back thousands of years, which hold one level of history. But these are fairly unchanging until the next major wave of history arrived with the British and their convicts in 1788. So it means no matter where you go in Australia, any town or location you visit was created only in the last couple of hundred years.

So we simply don’t have anything along the lines of Glastonbury, where there are layers upon layers of different beliefs and mythologies all piled on top of one another. Reading a chapter like this, I feel like Mr Jarvis didn’t have to dig too deep or look too hard to put together the mythology for this book – you only have to wander around a place like Glastonbury for a day and and stories and legends from many religions – pagan, Christian, etc. – all leap out and take shape.

In fact, this chapter reads like a spectacular recipe made of familiar ingredients re-packaged into something new and completely compelling.

Not to mention it also brings us almost up-to-date on the Webster back story and sets us up for just how freaking dangerous this town is at night.

Onwards!