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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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robin jarvis

Up Next Reminder | The Power of Dark

 

 

Untitled-1
Egmont UK, 2016

When we set out to do this re-read, Aufwader and I discussed in what order we were going to tackle the Jarvis canon. We have both thoroughly enjoyed working through in chronological order – with all the fascinating switches between the Whitby mythology and the Deptford Histories.

BUT …

We’re also aware that while all of this is going on, all of us have been ploughing through the Witching Legacy books as they appear, and probably have all sorts of fan discussions that are keen to happen as well.

My own philosophy is that I would like this to be a site where we don’t just re-read the old favourites, but even when we’re finished at the end of next year, that this can be a place where we re-gather every time a new Jarvis title appears to geek out, gasp and pass the tissues around. And, hey, it will encourage him to write them fast. (Just kidding, Mr Jarvis – you take your time.)

And so, what we’re going to do is move onto the first three Witching Legacy books for the next three months, which will take us through to the end of the year. That will leave us all well and truly hanging on for Book 4 in 2018. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I started a new job a couple of months ago. It’s been so busy that I’ve barely been getting through Thomas, and thus there’s a shiny new copy of Time of Blood which I haven’t been able to crack open yet. I’m insanely jealous of the rest of you.

So it gives me great pleasure to announce that we’re returning to Whitby sooner rather than later! Next year, we’ll go back to the Wyrd Museum series in January and continue to go chronologically through the back catalogue, except for the month when Witching Legacy 4 appears, when we will all have a grand read-through as soon as it appears in the stores.

How exciting will that be?

As for editions, there are two floating out there – the general paperback and the awesome hardback edition, which has been autographed by Robin. If you can track down one of the latter, that’s the one to have. (I also must add, that I love the typesetting and look and feel of this series. It’s a beautifully laid-out book and it features tons of superb Jarvis illustrations, so definitely grab a physical copy of it if you’ve got the shelf space.)

Oh yeah, and Mr Jarvis made a book trailer as well, so we’ve got to throw that in!

And now – let’s get back to what Aufwader and I affectionately refer to as Tom vs the Lizard Club.

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Thomas | Chapter 4

thomas

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I’d be careful if I were you, Titch. I dun heard odd tales about that one.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter is full of intriguing new faces. The prophet Simoon is a fascinating figure who’ll no doubt be seen again before too long, and chirpy Dimlon provides some necessary, if vaguely irritating, levity. My favourite introduction, however, has to be the rat Jophet.

I’ve had many years to look at this story from many angles, and I still feel that Jophet is an underappreciated character in a lot of ways. The cryptic warnings he gives to Woodget are on par in their obscurity and vague malevolence with the prophecies of Orfeo and Eldritch which Arthur receives in The Dark Portal. Plus,  I’ve always loved Jophet’s line about how there’s ‘terrors out there to wither your tail and staunch the blood in your veins.’ What a positively chilling turn of phrase!

We all know, however, that the main set-piece of this chapter is finding out ‘what them blades can do’ as Morgan put it, and getting the first definite idea of just how threatened the lives of our heroes are. Richard Griffiths did an outstanding job with every single character voice on the audiobook, but I cannot quite express what he did with regards to Able Ruddaway’s murderer. Let’s just say, that particular voice turned my heard.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oddly enough, the thing that jumped out to me about this chapter was the lighting effects. We’ve commented many times on Mr Jarvis and his cinematic writing style, but if you read over the introductions of Jophet and Dimlon both, his description of the way they are lit is quite interesting. If you were to film both these characters arriving, you almost have the directions of how they are lit.

And I don’t think this is just coincidental either. Unlike our main characters like Thomas and Woodget, where Robin takes us inside their thoughts and feelings, we only observe Jophet, Dimlon and Simoon and are left to our own guesses about their true motivations and character.

So thus the fact that they all emerge, in one form or another, out of the shadows of the hold, into the light, feels symbolic of the fact that they are all, in one way or another, shadowy characters to us.

(I’m not going to ask Robin to confirm this one or it’ll end up like the time I asked him about the 14 chapter pattern, thinking it was going to have a deep symbolism and then it turned out to be 14 chapters for no particular reason … I’ll just live with my own theory!)

Thomas | Chapter 3

thomas

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Thomas’s first voyage had begun.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  All Deptford universe settings are great in their own ways. Who could forget Fennywolde in high summer, or Doctor Spittle’s fetid attic laboratory, or the mere at the mournful willows where Vesper and Ysabelle nearly lost their lives? Each has a specific presence and atmosphere, and part of why I love this book so much is there are so many varied and diverse examples of Mr Jarvis putting place to good use.

We’ve had Thomas and Gwen’s cramped berth on board the Cutty Sark, made all the more claustrophobic by the spectre of their troubled marriage. Then there’s Betony Bank, a Fennywolde in miniature, and, last chapter, the shadowy, villain-infested harbour. Now we come to the great hold of the Calliope – as labyrinthine and cloaked in menace as the story itself.

This is definitely one of my favourite settings in this book. For Thomas and Woodget, and for us as readers, it is a new world. The Cutty Sark was more of a romantic notion of a ship; a creaking old dame upon whose deck it would be easy to imagine fearful battles with pirates, and deeds of derring-do. However, the Calliope, if we puzzle through our Deptford timelines for a moment, is more likely to be a 1970s cargo vessel. This is something that I didn’t really consider as a younger reader, but it bears mentioning, because it’s another case of Mr Jarvis giving a degree of romance and mystery to otherwise mundane locations.

Consider: Jupiter, Lord of the Rats, lived in a sewer. The Deptford Mice themselves resided in an abandoned house in a run-down area of London. In the same vein, there’s very little that’s romantic about a hulking cargo ship shunting a load of cotton from one trading port to another, and yet somewhere between the explanation of the mouse-sized ‘auxiliary navy’ and the melancholy mole thinking of those he’s left behind, the stage is set for a grand maritime adventure. Or misadventure, whichever.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I love the whole idea of the ‘secondary crew’ of a ship. And, of course, if Aufwader is right on the timeline and we’re dealing with a 70s cargo ship, vermin on board was quite possibly a real problem.  (After all, James Herbert’s The Rats was published in the 70s, and that was based in part on his remembrance of seeing rats in London as a child.)

And also, why is everyone traveling? To see the world? To emigrate somewhere with family? Where are they hoping to get to? Why did they leave England? There really are endless stories that could emerge from the Jarvis canon.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 14

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘OUT ON YE! OUT ON YE! OUT ON YE!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Well, how about that then. Thanks to a bunch of sticks, the Triad become the Dyad, Whitby is rolled right on back to normal, the aufwaders are saved from extinction, and our young heroes get to run into their parent’s arms.

Like all good Robiny endings, this one offers more questions than it answers. Was the Penny Hedge really imbued with divine power, or was it Ben’s gifts which activated it? If there was some form of God possessing Sister Frances, how long had that really been going on for, and what were the extent of that being’s powers in that form? If the Deep Ones cannot die, being unstoppable forces of nature, what happened to the Lord of the Frozen Wastes? And, most importantly, how are Ben and Jennet ever going to live happy and contented lives after everything they have witnessed?

I wish them well as much as the next reader, but Ben was almost gorily murdered on multiple occasions, and Jennet has been through enough trauma to last her a lifetime. Plus, it occurred to me that these children have only just learnt to process their grief over the death of their parents, only to have that selfsame beloved Mama and Papa appear again before their eyes. It’s miraculous and wonderful, yes, but don’t try to tell me that family doesn’t have a lot to work through.

I said last chapter that I’d save my final words about Nathaniel for this post, so here they are: Most. Satisfying. Villain death. Ever. That scraggly old slime found his natural habitat in Rowena’s innards! Good riddance to bad dress-sense!

On the other tentacle, my pangs of sorrow for Aunt Alice are soothed somewhat by the knowledge that this is not the last we shall see of her, nor of old Whitby Bay. Last year, Mr Jarvis decided to ‘go back’ with a certain luridly turquoise offering currently sitting on my shelf, next to its sickly yellow sibling and hot-off-the-press purple cousin. We’ll all be ‘going back’ too, in time.

Matt’s Thoughts: I could go out on a limb and be slightly controversial yet, but I almost feel like this is Mr Jarvis’ most poignant finale so far. I mean, we were all pretty gutted by Audrey and Piccadilly back in the day, but reading about Ben getting his eyes anointed by Nelda before losing his special sight … that was truly heartbreaking.

It’s taken me by surprise just how much I have enjoyed this trilogy this second time around. The characters, Robin’s obvious love for Whitby, the amazing  back mythology. It’s potent, potent stuff.

And finally, I can’t resist finishing with a song that’s a bit left-field but bear with me. Last year, I found myself listening to old songs by Harry Secombe (Welsh singer, one of the performers on The Goon Show and Mr Bumble in the movie Oliver!). I think I was just getting nostalgic for the type of music my mum used to listen to when I was three or four.

Anyway, I came across (i.e became obsessed with) this one particularly old-fashioned song called ‘The Lost Chord’. It was actually written by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) and, believe it or not, was one of the most purchased songs in the 1880s and 1890s. (Of course, in those days, buying a song meant getting the sheet music and taking it home and having a bash yourself on your own piano.)

The song is rather quaint and Victorian and in it the narrator talks about a particular chord of music they accidentally played once on an organ and then couldn’t ever find again. And in the end, the singer hopes that ‘it may be that death’s bright angel shall speak in that chord again’.

This concept of ‘Death’s Bright Angel’ is a fascinating one, given the figure of the cherub that appears throughout this book, making things shine. I’m not saying the song was necessarily in Robin’s head when he wrote this character, but nonetheless I like the idea. Plus, given Miss Boston’s age, ‘The Lost Chord’ would well and truly have been a standard by the time she was a young girl. And I could certainly see many of the old ladies of Whitby owning Harry Secombe records back in the day. So is this an appearance of death that would have meant something to someone of her generation?

So in memory of Alice Boston, the aunt we all wish we had, here’s Harry Secombe singing ‘The Lost Chord’.

 

The Whitby Child | Chapter 13

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Nathaniel Crozier, warlock, High Priest of the Black Sceptre and destroyer of vulnerable souls, appeared exactly the same as when Jennet had last seen him.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At the beginning of this reread, Matt mentioned that the idea of an undead Nathaniel was making him nervous. Since he had trouble remembering the ending of this book, I daresay this chapter was none too welcome.

I’ve talked about Nathaniel ‘still badly-dressed even in death’ Crozier enough during this trilogy, so I’ll save my final comments about him for the next chapter.

For now, let’s have a look at Jennet and excuse me Robin but how dare you kill Pear off? How dare you not even give her a chance to turn her life around? It was obvious that Jennet was the first inkling of happiness she’d ever known! How dare you have Meta’s overwhelming devotion to Nathaniel and blindness to all else be the thing which eventually caused her to kill her own daughter, beautifully and poignantly illustrating the very personal damage that is caused by cult-like indoctrination and neglect?! How dare you have Jennet lose her only friend?! May your gansey unravel, Sir! You’ll be hearing from my team of many-eyed, tentacled lawyers!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: How great is this finale? It’s really almost like Chapters 12 through 14 are one big race to the end, with barely any breathing points in between. It’s just home run after home run.

Nathaniel coming back from the dead? Brilliant.

Fishmonkey copping his just deserts? YES.

Rowena as well? Added bonus I completely forgot was in there. (Though how I could forget the details on a finale as well-orchestrated as this is beyond me. Apologies Mr Jarvis! I will try to only read these when I can give them my full attention from now on!)

And the NOOOOOOOO!!! moment as the Pear/Jennet subplot comes to its inevitable conclusion.

Maybe it’s because compared with the stand-alone nature of the Histories, the Whitby mythology has had three books to develop, but this whole conclusion feels huge, and almost like it is tying together strands from all of the books together. (There’s something grandly symphonic about the whole thing. I’m just not sure what symphony.)

The Whitby Child | Chapter 12

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Nice doggy want some exercise?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Oh lordy, this chapter is so much. We’ve got Jennet’s panic when it occurs to her that her brother might be being murdered that very moment; followed by Aunt Alice finally being filled in on everything; followed by the ‘infernal parody of Christmas with demonic carol singers’ (nice one, Miss B); followed by Jennet being horrifically possessed; followed by Aunt Alice performing what can only be described as an exorcism to no avail; followed by Ben’s supposed bloody death and Miss Boston facing off a rabid werewitch in her own home, and, finally (take a second to catch your breath, everybody) the reveal that Ben is not actually dead but was concealed by Irl’s charm! My goodness!

Clearly, we’ve now moved into classic Robin Jarvis finale territory – the stakes are higher than Meta’s opinion of herself, and despite that only a three-legged cat has died so far, things are looking just a teeny bit desperate for our heroes. What terrors await them as the Coven of the Black Sceptre crow their triumph? Come, Readers – to the abbey!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Best. Chapter. Ever. While there were many people that complained about the Star Wars prequels, surely one of the good things to come out of the films – even for the nit-pickers – was the moment at the end of Attack of the Clones where we see something totally unexpected: Yoda in full flight, taking on Christopher Lee. 

I couldn’t help but draw the same comparison with the too-awesome-for-words scene with Miss Boston fighting off a vicious werbride in her home. It’s a great comic action scene in what is otherwise a pretty scary chapter.

But poor Eurydice …

The Whitby Child | Chapter 11

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Your old life is over – you belong to him now.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter’s title is almost as good as ‘Cream Cakes and Death’ in The Whitby Witches – with Mr Jarvis, you know that delectable sweets and grisly horror always go hand in hand.

There’s some great characterisation here, with Miss Boston attempting to clumsily rectify things with Jennet and misinterpreting her moods with pitiful inaccuracy. The part where she surmises that Jennet has fallen out with her friends is especially wince-making, given what has already happened, and what is yet to come in this chapter’s second half.

At this point I feel nothing but sympathy for Pear. The life she describes, being brought up in the coven, has clearly been one long and painful ordeal for her. To elaborate on what I said in Chapter 9, the werewitches are disturbingly close to a real life cult; Pear mentions being forbidden to consort with other children growing up, being punished for imagined transgressions by the group, and feeling that she couldn’t survive outside the coven.

The fact that she still does as Meta has ordered her is disappointing, but understandable. Pear has had sixteen years of Nathaniel-centric brainwashing, even aside from him being her father. I do still hold out hope that the power of friendship will win through, but alas, it may be too late.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, now the back story falls in place. Well, maybe, it’s true – you should just stick to one monarch at a time. Now that we know what the Lord of the Frozen Wastes is up to, the whole thing becomes even more creepy, as we just feel the vastness of the danger that surrounds our small innocent heroes.

And the classic moment of betrayal – Jennet and Pear just seem to be drawing close together again, but it’s actually a cover for drink-spiking. Such a complex mess and sets us up for the home stretch of this book and trilogy.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 10

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

[S]eated upon … the majestic thrones were the shadowy, writhing figures of the Lords of the Deep and Dark.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is my favourite chapter in this book and probably one of my favourite approaches to ‘mortals meet their gods’ in a fantasy setting that I’ve ever come across. We all love Tarr and Miss Boston and we all agree that despite their faults they can both carry through when it’s called for, so it seems quite fitting that they should be the ones to take the Lords of the Deep and Dark to task.

Tarr and Miss Boston’s journey down to the depths is marvellously cinematic, with the swirling waves and undersea wonders, and I love how everything almost reads with a greenish, ocean-turquoise tint once their heads dip beneath the surface. The cathedral-like cavern of the Triad is also a glorious feast for the imagination, though it seems a shame to me that such beauty should be wasted on such a trio of salty, belligerent curmudgeons as the Deep Ones are.

Speaking of, I just love that moment where Miss Boston lays down the law at them as if they were three misbehaving pupils in her class. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that Miss Boston really says a lot that needed to be said there, and despite that the Deep Ones take as good as they get, the sound telling-off they receive is ‘good enough for them’, as Aunt Alice might say.

When I first listened to this story I had not yet been exposed to the idea of cosmic horror, or indeed that ‘tentacled abomination’ business that so many creators in that vein now go in for. To me, the reveal of Irl was almost a completely new thing, and was uniquely horrifying. It still makes my skin crawl a bit to read about his many eyes, though my heart bleeds for the countless ages of suffering that most worthy of aufwaders has been forced to endure.

This is a chapter full of well-orchestrated ups and downs, for the sad part is that Tarr and Miss Boston’s deep-sea tour fails in its mission. Ben might have the amulet of Irl, but Nelda and her unborn child are now even more doomed than before. Deeps bless them, indeed! Not likely.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, there goes the budget for a TV series, as Mr Jarvis takes us all epic and IMAX down to the throne room of the Lords of the Deep and Dark. There’s something awe-inspiring about the whole thing, especially since they have been such shadowy figures. (I mean, if they’d never made an appearance, that wouldn’t have surprised me – they are, after all, such shadowy figures lurking in the background quietly pulling strings that affect everyone.)

It’s also just great, because we have two such elderly characters (Miss Boston and Tarr) showing there is nothing aged or feeble about their courage … I also find it interesting that there are three rulers of the Deep and Dark. I have often thought that maybe we’d have a lot less in-fighting and politics if we got a representative from two of the major parties to run the country (we have two major parties in Australia plus a bunch of smaller ones) so they could spend more time governing and less time trying to harangue the opposition.

But then again, the last historical time I heard about two rulers was Julius Caesar and Pompey, and look how that turned out …

I would love to know more of the story of Irl as well but again, like much of this story, there’s so much mythology being made in the present day, there’s no time left to dive into the mythology of the past!

The Whitby Child | Chapter 9

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Tonight the brides of Crozier will be unchained!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The moment when I realised that ‘The Ballad of Molly Werbride’ was foreshadowing was one of those great Robin Jarvis moments, like the epilogue of The Alchymist’s Cat, or when Rowena turned back time. It was a moment that made me go ‘oh, that’s good!’ and have a little cackle to myself before reading on.

This chapter is definitely one of the most unnerving in an entire trilogy of unnerving chapters. We see the vicious truth of the Coven of the Black Sceptre, and feel Jennet’s crushing sense of betrayal when the reality of her new friends is revealed. What makes this chapter so creepy is that the way the folk band endear themselves to Jennet is, as far as I’m aware, quite close to how real cults bring in new members. They’re almost too friendly and welcoming, and to vulnerable, sheltered Jennet, they seem like the perfect escape from a life that she finds stifling.

The folk band have painted a picture for her of their carefree life on the road, but the reality of the matter is that they’re more trapped and confined than Jennet ever was. It’s very gratifying to see that she at least has the strength of will to resist Nathaniel at the last, and that Pear seems to have turned a corner away from her grim upbringing for Jennet’s sake. As for Jennet’s daring escape on the handlebars of Sister Frances’s bicycle, what a fantastic image! I love the illustration for this chapter, but I’d love to have seen Sister Frances yelling, ‘Get thee jolly well behind me, and stay there!’ on the small screen.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oh, it’s all heating up! The Lords of the Dark and Deep want Miss Boston. (WHY??? I can’t remember and it’s killing me!)

Then there’s Jennet and her moment of truth. Loved this whole sequence. Not only do we just have a straight up bit of black magic / werewolf horror, we also get a great chance for Jennet to work through her bitterness and show us that she does care for Ben and Miss Boston. So it’s a great character turning point for her as well.

And who didn’t give a big cheer when Sister Frances showed up? Now, I even more want Miranda Hart to be in the TV adaptation – after all, she’s had practice riding a bike in Call the Midwife. She’s ready for this role. But, in all seriousness, these little moments where somebody you might have written off as purely comedic turns out to be of great value or the tragedy of Pear, whose desire for a friendship with Jennet leads her to try to save her – all this is Mr Jarvis in top form.

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