Fighting Pax | Chapter 26

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘That’s my faith – I believe in them – in their goodness.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter crosses the line into hilarious at some points, top of the list for me being Emma slitting Captain Swazzle’s throat and exclaiming ‘now that’s the way to do it’. Snort-worthy though the first few pages are, it all goes down hill, and extremely quickly, even for a Robiny finale. I can’t decide what’s worse, Eun-mi’s torment, Maggie being taken over, or poor Evelyn and Gerald. At least their final act was a showstopper.

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is quite long but you would never know because it whips along with revelation after revelation, tragedy after tragedy, violence upon violence. For Maggie – surely a survivor if there ever was one – to have made it so far and to get taken out by the Fellows splinter is just horrendous. There is absolutely no fairness to that at all.

My head is spinning at the whole thing. It’s an undeniably exciting finale but it’s brutally dark.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 22

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The Jill of Spades might’ve been sly an’ deadly, but she weren’t no Suffolk girl. We ain’t subtle!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: One of the really interesting things this trilogy explores is the traumatic aftermath of supernatural events. Conor, Emma, and Sandra now have to get through at least the next few minutes with the knowledge of everything they’ve done and said as the Jacks and Jills fresh in their minds, and each reacts in a different,yet completely realistic, way.

Having not really warmed to Emma in the first book, I now find that her relentless self-assurance and bravado are actually really well suited to the life-or-death situation. In a crisis, she (and the Jill of Spades’ knives) are quite handy to have around, and maybe a bit of conceit is what’s required in a world where nobody has any personality left.

Perhaps I missed it, but there’s one thing I have to ask – Conor, Sandra, and Emma end up de-jaxed and fleeing the beast, but where is Paul? 

Matt’s Thoughts: Maybe I blanked this out, but I did not remember there being quite so much mass slaughter in this book the first time around. (I pity poor Aufwader, keeping careful notes for the obituaries on this one!) If it consisted of the kids going down heroically – somewhat like the 90s Jarvis battles we’ve just been enjoying in Hagwood 2 – it wouldn’t be so bad. But scenes like the slaying of the ‘choir’ are just horrific.

The highlight of the chapter, without a doubt, was having Sandra, Connor and Emma come back (particularly Emma!). The last time I read Fighting Pax, because I had left it so long since reading Dancing Jax, I actually couldn’t remember much of who the three of them were. But being only a few months ago on the reread, memories of them from Dancing Jax were much more fresh in my mind.

When you consider Emma’s last memories as Emma were running from Mauger in Felixstowe and standing up to a huge horde of Jaxers, it’s immensely satisfying to see her instantly at her obnoxious best when she is dragged out of the dream world!

Fighting Pax | Chapter 20

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

In Felixstowe, the sea and the sky were an angry red. Across the harbour, Harwich was ablaze and the immense pall of black smoke kept the dawn at bay.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: By far the most frustrating thing about this finale is that nobody knows anybody else is alive. Martin and Maggie and the other aberrants still think Gerald and Spencer died in North Korea – Gerald and Spencer themselves don’t hold out much hope for the aberrants, and absolutely nobody seems to have given Lee a thought since he got pulled into Mooncaster with his four guards. But then I suppose that’s the point – if the aberrants knew they still had friends out there, things might not seem so incredibly bleak, and we wouldn’t have these profound moments of humanity in a world

Matt’s Thoughts: I had forgotten about Eun-mi’s back story. That was somewhat more messed up than I expected and will make look twice at grand pianos from now on…

Only slightly more messed up than nativity costumes for the aberrants! I know young kids being thrown into brutal situations is the norm in YA nowadays, but this whole thing still feels like a level darker than the average dystopian vision.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 19

Scan_20180725 (3)Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Where there was discord, I brought harmony. Where there was error, I dispensed my truth. Where there was doubt, I gave them faith. And where there was despair, I delivered a new and better life.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At long last, very near the finale and just as we’re getting eyebrows deep into the action, a beautiful, hopeful character moment.

Horrible as he might’ve been to Lee and fame-hungry though he seemed, it’s very, very hard not to feel sorry for Martin as he hugs a toy rabbit and pretends it’s his brainwashed fiancée. What gets me in the heart just as much as his tearful confession, though, is the attitude of the young girls who Charm looked out for back at the New Forest camp, and of the young German aberrants. It shows us, just for a moment, that maybe Gerald was right when he said that there must be a ‘bloody big light on somewhere’.

Matt’s Thoughts: For me, this is possibly the most emotional chapter in the whole book. The conversation between Ingrid and Martin. Martin’s despair and soul-searching. The little reversal where the German aberrants arrive and remind us what Martin meant to them. It’s all beautifully done and I got teary about it.

Also, the over-arching presence of Charm in the story – despite her physical absence since the last book – is beautiful as well.

In short, Robin Jarvis has almost closed the arc on everyone’s personal journey and now all bets are off as to who is going to make it through the final chapters.

Topping it off is the spectacular scene – and I really do imagine anything to do with this castle on an IMAX level – between the Ismus and Martin on top of the castle. The journey that this trilogy has taken us, from the book being quietly passed around in Felixstowe to now being consumed by the masses around the world, is staggering. I can’t think of anything that Mr Jarvis has tried on this scale of ambition before.

Freax and Rejex | Chapter 21

sodding punchinellos i hate em

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Three fat, boneless tentacles of pallid, pink, worm-like muscle punched up from the bottom of the pit.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter legitimately made me shed tears. Between Charm’s kindness, Spencer’s despair, and Marcus’s change of heart followed by his sudden death, we’ve got a veritable rollercoaster of emotions.

I think you should all be able to see now how Charm is my favourite of the teens. Her arc is not so much character growth as character reveal; she has always been this lovely, but has been forced to build walls around herself. Now the life-or-death reality of the camp has swept all her false pride and internalised self-reproach away, showing the compassionate and gentle-hearted person beneath.

What really touches me is how she goes out of her way to be kind to the girls in her cabin in this chapter, naming them sweet things and doing their nails as if it were all just a big girly sleepover rather than an interminable imprisonment from which they might never escape alive. It’s very powerful that she is allowed to retain the femininity she takes so much pride in, while also having more backbone than any of the others in the main cast. Charm is a sparkling pink star of strength and kindness in the fetid black swamp of a world ruled by Dancing Jax, and I’m proud of her.

Matt’s Thoughts: No need to go into endless detail, but here we go again. We get a personal breakthrough for our characters – in this case, the beautiful solidarity that Charm shows with Maggie by drawing a moustache on her face – that leads to a bit of healing.

Only to be wiped out by some giant tentacled thing that takes out Marcus. Who expected him to be the next one?? I certainly didn’t the first time I read it. And even then, it caught me by surprise this time around how quick and sudden the Marshwyrm’s appearance actually is.

Dancing Jax | Chapter 20


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

It was like a swiftly spreading disease.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: A moment of silence for the eight kids who went to the counsellor and came out brainwashed, and for Debbie, Sandra’s childhood friend. Deeply depressing to think that she, too, will soon be another moony Mooncastrian.

This chapter really brings home what I mentioned at the start of the book about the evil of Dancing Jacks beginning with some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. It’s pretty chilling to read lines like ‘Paul was only eleven years old. He had no idea how to make anyone listen and take him seriously’, and, ‘He preferred when they were shouting than when they attempted to empathise and got it so very wrong’.

Usually, when a young protagonist knows about something supernatural and is ignored by every adult they try to tell, it’s either played for laughs, or ends in concrete visual proof forcing the adults to ‘believe’, leading to them helping the young hero win the day. No such thing is happening here, however. Far from ruefully yelling ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!’, there’s a sense of real and immediate peril in Paul’s desperation for someone, anyone, to listen.

The worst part is that Trudy is completely right – there really is nothing she, or anyone, can do against Austerly Fellows. In her rejection, we see the end of Paul’s faith in his elders. Martin and his mum, his teachers, his friends, and now the one person who believes him about Dancing Jacks, have all abandoned him when he most needed their support. Even the law can’t stop what’s going on in Felixstowe. (Were this book set a few decades earlier, I can’t help but wonder if the church might have been included in that list of ineffectual adults, or whether, as we saw in the Whitby Witches, there might’ve been a Sister Frances character to pull through for Paul. This book is very much in the vein of traditional British horror, after all.)

Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t remember this chapter from the first time I read it, but it’s somewhat terrifying to think of the mass grown-up failure that is happening here. The grief counsellor that’s supposed to help everyone is making converts to the Jacks. Martin still doesn’t see. Trudy doesn’t want to go back to an event that changed her life forever.

So there’s a lot of weight to that line near the end of the chapter: ‘one small lad against forces he couldn’t begin to imagine or comprehend’.

Dancing Jax | Chapter 10

Scan_20180613Warning: Contains Spoilers!

And so Shiela witnessed the arising of the Ismus, and her mind reeled. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: If Jezza arising as the Ismus on the third day after undergoing his Great Ordeal in the name of the Dawn Prince then appearing before his followers with his arms extended in a cruciform doesn’t practically loudspeaker from the rooftops what this series is going for, then honestly I don’t know what does. It’s all out in the open now, folks, even if neither the book, nor I, will be explicitly putting it into words quite yet.

Matt’s Thoughts: Yep, it’s pretty messed up. We’re not even entirely sure what the full extent of the book’s powers are, but we can clearly see that people are identifying with characters in the book and turning into pod people. But it’s the random ‘Oh no!’ nature of who picks the book up at the book fair that is the terrifying part. Conor Westlake, all right, if he picks it up, a bit unfortunate. Sandra – we’re concerned. Paul? NOOOOO!!!

Also worth a mention is the brief tragic interaction between Shiela and Martin. The fact that she was one of his brightest and went off to uni, only to now not be in uni is really sad. Especially because we don’t know what happened. Did she bump into Jezza, and he led her down a bad path? Did something else go on, she dropped out and Jezza was part of her plummet to the bottom? I don’t think we ever find out, but it ties into the wasted potential of England’s youth, all ripe to be sucked into the vortex of something like Dancing Jacks.

Actually, that’s one other great mystery, which I forgot on the way through. Why is the book called Dancing Jax with an X, when the book in the story is Jacks with a C-K-S? As with everything in this story, none of the details are in there by accident, so we’ll have to wait and see on that question as well.

Dancing Jax | Chapter 9

Scan_20180613Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Peasant coins are all we seek!’ he said with a crooked grin. ‘Just thirty of your shiny new pennies.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: In come the hounds of the press, and the commentary aspect of this series really gets going. I hate to think how many distressing news channels, radio shows, and tabloids Mr Jarvis had to tune in to in researching this – from the glib reporters delivering ‘pieces to camera’ to the journalist photographers ambushing crying Felixstowe pupils for close-ups of ‘raw emotion’, it’s all very, very on-the-nose.

As for the teen characters, well, they are salaciously unpleasant reality TV caricatures, and that (unfortunately) also means moments of ‘camera confessional’ into their personal thoughts and feelings following the disaster.

The thing is, however, that even though we’re seeing into Conor and Emma’s heads, we’re not really empathising or engaging properly. At least to my mind, there is a rehearsed remoteness to Conor’s guilt over the car crash, and nothing about Emma’s obvious repressed trauma really redeems her for us as readers. It’s uncomfortable and voyeuristic, but not truly moving, to see the teen’s reactions; a ‘camera confessional’ filmed long after a staged event, again, more ‘real’ than real.


Matt’s Thoughts: It’s a really interesting chapter this one, again, because Mr Jarvis is engaging with the real world in a way that is totally unprecedented in anything of his we’ve read before.

You’ll notice that the social commentary has now moved from being just monologues by Jezza to being part of the fabric of the novel itself. My favourite line – and it’s almost a throwaway – is the cut back to the news anchor, displaying the legs that had served her so well in Strictly Come Dancing.

It’s brutal, but it gets the point across – these characters live in a world (and I’m not sure it’s much better today) where celebrity is everything. And I suspect the reason for the coldness of Emma and the spinelessness of Conor is simply because there is nothing going on in their life. There is a yawning emptiness and emotional disengagement from life that no amount of TV, music or even trauma is going to wake up.

In short, it’s the void into which the accursed book is going to pour itself.

Dancing Jax | Chapter 8


Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘You should be grovelling on your faces to be here, to witness the contract.’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: When I first researched the word ‘ismus’, I was amused and confused by the fact that the closest approximation was ‘isthmus’, a slender strip of land connecting two larger land-masses over the sea. Once I’d finished the whole series, however, I understood perfectly.

This chapter, like the entire trilogy, is a classic Robin Jarvis set-piece given a new and modern twist. Just as his class and religious commentary has been modernised and sharpened for an older, 2011 audience, the ‘sea of cranes’ setting is a clever contrast to, say, the ruins of Whitby Abbey or the slopes of Glastonbury Tor. The future of grandiose Robiny occult doings is here, in a shabby industrial estate, and it is literally electrifying.

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, thanks for that, Aufwader! I too had done a fair share of searching for Ismus and where it might have come from and was always somewhat puzzled. But your explanation makes sense. (And will hopefully make sense to all the rest of the readers when they reach the end of the trilogy!)

I don’ have much more to add to the description of this chapter. It is a classic Jarvis occult set-piece with spectacular lighting and sound effects. However, I think what makes this one worse is that the last few chapters have set up a particularly realistic ecosystem of grotty teenagers, down-and-outs, pop culture and general British realism. So in other words, unlike others of his books, where I have very much felt like I’m in an escapist fantasy reality, the setting of this story feels so authentic that it feels as if the occult magic has broken through into the real world. There’s just an increased sense of plausibility here that makes the whole thing darker.

To be honest, after reading this, I would be fascinated to see what would happen if Robin wrote a book for adults, with no constraints at all. One can only imagine what that might be like!

Dancing Jax | Chapter 5



Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘The Dancing Jacks are with you.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Underneath the commentary on books as collector’s items (all that ‘second-hand kid’s book’ stuff is hilarious from an author who at the time was most recognised for out-of-print middle grade – we see you, Robin) this chapter is setting up for a big, bombastic set-piece of old. Now that Jezza’s cronies have eyeballed Dancing Jacks for real, there is no turning back from the doom (or, well, doooooom) already writ and recited. The stinger is that, this time around, we the readers are not looking forward to it.

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter might be Jezza’s best rant yet, this time on that old marketing chestnut, Big Data, and all the paranoia that goes along with that. I would love to know the inspiration for these rants, because while there are many YA books that try to obliquely hint at big themes that young people should think about, I’ve never seen a book chuck in so many explicitly complex ideas as if it’s a Reddit thread, and then just leave readers to think about whether they agree with them.

Part of me suspects that Mr Jarvis starts each rant with a topic he might have some genuine concern over, writes it out, then ratchets it up to conspiracy-website levels, with a hint of YouTube comment section troll thrown in. Then he gets Jezza to say it in his voice and sees how it comes out.

What is somewhat fascinating is that somewhere later in the trilogy, someone refers to Jezza as a ‘Russell Brand clone’. This, while being an amusing insult, also raises a fascinating idea and a paradox. I’m not sure if Robin always had Russell Brand in mind when he created the character, but actually if you wanted someone who could walk right in and bring a character like Jezza to life, Mr Brand would pretty much just have to play himself and it would all work. The man even had a ranty YouTube series for several years!

However – and this is the paradox – given that Dancing Jax was written in 2010, when Brand was really only known for his comedy side, it’s far less likely that Jezza is a take-off of him. It seems instead to be more the case of real life imitating art!

That said, I do have fantasies that someone slips this book to Brand after a show, he reads it, gets enthusiastic about playing Jezza, pulls some strings, it becomes a Netflix series, and then it gets touted as the British answer to Stranger Things