Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 13

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Dimsel opened her mouth to yell, but a cold eave of fear paralysed her and for vital moments, she was rooted to the spot. The great beast stalked ever nearer. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I like how the ‘wolf’ is built up as a source of genuine risk for the mice in this chapter. For quite a while it really does seem as if Dimsel will get chewed! The water voles did their job almost too well, making the monster both realistically bloodthirsty, and just a bit uncanny, since it’s modeled on Figgy’s drawing rather than a genuine animal. Honestly I think the idea of a wolf as imagined by someone who has never seen one is actually scarier than if a real wolf had arrived in Fennywolde – like when you have a nightmare and some ordinary animal or object is inexplicably terrifying because it just doesn’t look quite like the real thing.

When the faux-wolf turns out at the end to be no danger at all, it reveals what the water voles were actually going for. As well as providing a bit of adventure for Whortle and friends, I get the feeling that the whole thing was intended as training of a different kind, a test of the young mice’s mettle. Maybe Woppenfrake, Firgild and Willibald wanted to see whether the courage of Fenny’s original woodland band still lived, so many years on? The ancient weapons they supplied would suggest it.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This was rather awesome (and rare in the Jarvis canon) – a low-risk fight scene. Normally, when our little heroes come up against something nasty with fangs, the stakes are really high and we never know who’s going to make it out alive.

But this showdown with an exaggerated wolf is all action, stunts and humour – the kind of sequence that you find in blockbuster fantasy epics. But it does beg the question: are the water voles setting our five friends up for something?

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Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 12

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Remember always,’ the water vole said as he replaced the brass around the fieldmouse’s neck. ‘Travel your own best way, in all things, Master Nep.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter almost feels as if we’re back in Hagwood, with the shapechanging and the mastering of new skills in tune with nature. It makes me wonder whether whatever power dwells within the werlings might have some relation to the power of the Green, or vice versa. Who’s to say what manner of creatures Virianna might have met in her long life, after all…

Matt’s Thoughts: It’s almost like a small interlude, this chapter, as we experience the joy of Whortle’s swimming lesson. I have been wondering about the spirit of the Glinty Water. Not remembering how this book plays out, I’m wondering whether it’s something along the lines of the Undine that we encountered in The Wyrd Museum series?

Whatever it is, it’s a reminder that whatever mysterious and magical creatures you find yourself encountering in a Jarvis book, there are always older and more mysterious creatures that have been around for centuries longer again. All just biding their time.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 11

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Alison wanted to say that she would go with him, but she held back. The moment passed and she was to regret it for the rest of her life. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What really caught me at the start of this chapter was Whortle joyfully playing in the mist. It’s a small moment, but one laced with sombre foreshadowing – none of the Fennywolders, least of all our young hero, have the slightest inkling of the terrors that mist will hold for them but a few short months later.

We see this grim foreshadowing again when Figgy tells Jenkin that ‘his head could fall off and we wouldn’t care’. It’s really quite grisly considering the manner of Jenkin’s death (and that too will come all too soon). It’s also pretty painful to see Jenkin become so angry over Hodge mocking Isaac Nettle – we know the Nettles will never have a chance for reconciliation and that Mr Nettle will end up a shell of his former self, having lost his son before time without ever really being a proper father to him. Then there’s the business with Alison, which really speaks for itself. Mousey soap opera at its finest and most miserable!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Somewhere, amidst all the frivolity of two groups fighting over a raft, a great pall of tragedy lurks. It starts with Whortle and Co being somewhat oblivious to the source of Jenkin’s pain. (Granted, it’s not helped by his own sense of self-blame as well. The moment where he describes his father as ‘better than the lot of you put together’ is heart-rending.)

But the grand irony is that Alison, despite all the damage she will do, actually does understand what’s going on for Jenkin and has a perception that others do not. Good qualities are not doled out equally in the Jarvis universe, with good and bad qualities existing side-by-side in many of his characters. (Except for Twit, who – whatever you may query about his intelligence – is pure sunshine.)

And then, finally, the oath. We’re not saying that this oath necessarily caused the problems of The Crystal Prison – we know too well the source of the issues there – but there’s yet another dose of grim irony that they unwittingly swear a doom upon themselves that actually does transpire in just a few months.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 10

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I don’t want to see your face ever again – I’m sick of the sight of you! I hate you! I wish you’d never been born!’ 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I mentioned before that it was good to see Whortle’s friends rallying around him, but it’s even better to know that one among them actually believes his stories about the water voles and journeying into the past.

In the original trilogy, we never really had this problem because the supernatural threat was right there from the very beginning – it’s not a question of believing in Jupiter when his henchrats are trying to peel your face off! This book, however, has that classic theme of Young Protagonist Tries And Fails To Convince Everyone Else That The Magic Is Real And Dangerous, Guys. So, in the spirit of that, I did breathe a sigh of relief when Sammy seemed to take Whortle seriously.

On a less pleasant note, there’s that scene with Jenkin. This would be very mysterious to a new reader, but we know his grief is Isaac Nettle’s doing. Even in a series for younger readers, Robin has brought a deal of humanity to his mice, and this also extends to having Jenkin parrot what he has evidently heard fairly often from his father. It’s quite painful to read, and therefore highly effective – moment of adult tragedy that cannot be solved or made better with magic.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A subtle but effective chapter here. First, there’s the cameo from Twit, getting just a passing mention from the perspective of our ‘main’ characters, but a reminder to all of us that he will do far more brave and heroic things than anyone could imagine.

It does make you wonder, who do we barely notice that would turn out to be great value in tough circumstances? Are we overlooking the everyday heroes amongst us?

But easily the most heartbreaking moment is the encounter with Jenkin. This is a very understated but strong way to introduce young readers to the idea of abuse and its consequences. (And this idea is carried even further in the next chapter.) Suffering at the hands of his father, Jenkin doesn’t act in an immediately likable way – he instead becomes more spiky, increasing his isolation from those who might be able to help him.

We knew from The Crystal Prison what Isaac Nettle was like, but this chapter gives us a view of that relationship and its impact on Jenkin that amplifies this even more. On the whole, I’m fascinated by how this book increases the overall character world of Fennywolde, even while being at heart a story about a kid trying to win an athletics competition by day and having strange encounters at night.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 9

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Mortal speck of bone and flesh!’ the Goddess roared. ‘You have earned my attention and you will suffer.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh boy oh boy, a nice big showy fight! Fire in the sky, Mabb screaming, voles getting possessed and mice getting hanged and everything going to pot! Horror, tragedy, doooooom! I feel like Scabmona at the Goregut festival. What a delight.

There were two details which caught my eye in between all the zap zap and floom floom, and they are these: Virianna describes herself as a ‘Daughter of Thamesis’, and makes mention of a prophecy wherein ‘the final end shall be shaped’ at Fennywolde. The powers of Light and Dark will apparently do battle, and ‘a God shall perish’ during this cataclysmic conflict.

The ‘Daughter of Thamesis’ thing is some solid in-universe lore – that would be the Thames Virianna is referring to, implying that it was once one of the Green’s sacred sites. This carries neatly into that scene at the start of The Crystal Prison where the river rejects Jupiter’s corpse, and brings with it the suggestion that, however polluted it will become by the time the Unbeest rears his ugly head in The Final Reckoning, a hint of the Green’s power might still remain there.

Virianna’s prophecy, however, is a giant great wodge of foreshadowing. She is clearly describing the finale of the unpublished fourth Deptford Mice book, and since we know that that would have involved the return of the Raith Sidhe in full force, it may well be Mabb who meets her end at Fennywolde.

For the time being, however, the powers of the Green are not enough to save poor old Fenny from the noose, and Young Whortle will never see his beloved home the same way again.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: We’re back in solid Jarvis territory with this chapter. It’s got everything – a spectacular reveal of the truth about Fenny, the grand tragedy of Virianna, the return of Mabb.

But the best thing about this chapter is how it makes the story even more complicated. Woppenfrake’s faltering step near the end of the chapter could take on a couple of meanings. On the one hand, it might mean that he is feeling sad, remembering what happened to his mother. On the other hand, it could mean that he is full of barely contained hatred for the mice and Whortle is in big trouble hanging around with him and his brothers.

Either way, we can never go back to the happy field.

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 8

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Lines of care crinkled the corners of her soft brown eyes but though they were gentle, they were not safe or tame. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: And we’re back to the life-threatening drama. I said there would be more for Whortle in the past than bloodless little war games, and this seems to be it – a confrontation with Mabb, and with Virianna; the water vole’s mother, who was, as it turns out, a goody-goody Greenie all along.

There’s a lot of time-travel-related plot puzzling to do in this chapter, but I had to laugh at Virianna mistaking Young Whortle for Bauchan. There’s definitely a hint of self-deprecating humour in that exchange where the vole witch tries to ‘cast him out’ in Genuine Original Oaken Throne Dialogue while Whortle just yells at her to get stuffed. Our young hero might’ve heard all the stories, but he could use a few lessons in how to comport himself with dignity and respect during his trips through the lands of legend.

As for Mabb, well, I think it’s fairly safe to say she would have been the arch villainess of the Mouselets. Considering that Bauchan gets all of The Final Reckoning and Hobb a large chunk of The Oaken Throne, it seems only fair that Mabb, Our Lady of Nightmare and if I may say so a highly underappreciated goddess, should have some page-time of her own.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m curious on whether there is a time paradox here. When the voles send Whortle back in time, there seems to be a quirk whereby he can interact with the past. He’s not just there passively watching.

Particularly when it comes to that velvet bag. It’s clear that Virianna meant to do good all those years past and is not the dreaded ratwitch everyone thought. However, would she have been able to hold off Mabb much better if Whortle hadn’t chucked her velvet bag into the pond.

In other words, was Fenny undone by the rash actions of a mouse who’d zapped in from several hundred years in the future? Who was sent there to find out how Fenny had been killed? (Thus the paradox.)

 

Whortle’s Hope | Chapter 7

Scan_20180702Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Recovering from a stitch in his side, Young Whortle gazed at the raft and loved it deeply. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts: A characteristic of the Mouselets is that there are chapters like these at regular intervals, so instead of getting full-throttle thrills and chills all the way through, we have time to breathe in between each major moment of life-threatening drama. There is still the lingering worry of the truth about Fenny at the back of Whortle’s mind, however, and it’s understandable that he just doesn’t have the full capacity at the moment for his training.

What I thought was really sweet was how his friends notice his moods and do all they can to encourage him, while also letting him have space if he needs it. None of them are really out for their own ends or harboring ill-feeling, as they might in a story for older readers. Instead, they all band together to help Whortle achieve his dream out of sheer kindness – not something often seen in Robin Jarvis canon.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, vomit jokes …we haven’t had too much of that in the Jarvis canon, but two spews in one chapter is good fun.

But while the world of the Fennywolde Games is fun, the plot strand that is really intriguing is the water voles and the truth about their mother …