Warning: Contains Spoilers!
The end had indeed come.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: All right but how terrifying is it when Prawny Nusk is thinking he’s evaded the Mallykin, only to hear scuffling noises from over his head? The cassette version missed out that particular detail, and I always find it absolutely chilling, especially because, for a while at least, we feel as if Prawny might be in for a fighting chance.
The brave last stand of the aufwaders brought a tear to my eye – especially when Tarr called upon those who were left to go down defending themselves rather than fleeing. It’s such an important moment for his character, as, in making that stand, Tarr has now stepped up in a way that he seemed incapable of before, even when Hesper died or when his granddaughter was being forced into matrimony. He’s always been a tough old pebble, but from now on he can really begin to come into his own as a leader of the tribe.
Reading that small page or so where Nelda takes the guardian from the Darkmirror and flees made me feel queasy when I was a young reader. It makes me feel queasy now, too, but I’m glad it wasn’t censored out or glossed over, because for all it uses the device of a young girl’s body as commodity, it handles that exceptionally well. These days, the entire forced marriage aspect probably wouldn’t make it past the first draft, but I think that says a lot about mainstream middle-grade publishing today and our changing attitude to what we believe young readers can and can’t handle, as opposed to being a comment on the worth of the sub-plot itself.
Ever since Esau tricked Nelda into marrying him, she has simply been doing whatever she could under the circumstances, and I find it incredibly powerful that her decisions throughout are portrayed as just that. She is just doing what she can to save herself and her people. There’s no romanticisation of her plight at any point, and no shame or blame attributed to her for her actions. You would think that would be a given, but, sadly, such an approach is the exception, even today. My respect to Mr Jarvis for the sensitive and impactful way he handled Nelda’s journey in this book, and my respect to the publishers who let Nelda be brave.
Matt’s Thoughts: I’d secretly love to know (says me, as I write this out in a public blog!) how much back and forth there was with the editors over this whole chapter. Anyway, regardless of that, I found it to be one of the most gripping chapters I’d read in a Jarvis book so far.
It’s so intense. The Mallykin – who, because his violence has been largely off-screen and/or reined in by Nathaniel – finally comes into his own and we realise that this thing is bloodthirsty (and difficult to defeat!).
And then, we’re just reeling from that, when wham! Mr Jarvis hits us with Esau’s hideous deal with Nelda. I’m sure it was controversial for its time, but given that we’re still dealing with the question of how women are treated today (and I’m made more aware of this, having a daughter), it still has a resonance today.
And then just as if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that that black pool is a giant serpent’s eye. The whole thing is just brilliant and I doubt anybody could stop there.