The Woven Path| Chapter 13

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It’s horrible that something so lovely could be the cause of so many deaths.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I thought that Dancing Jax was the first of Robin’s books to have its own soundtrack composed of real-life tunes, but evidently, I was wrong. In this chapter we have both ‘Stairway to the Stars’ and ‘Moonlight Serenade’, period hits that add an extra something-or-other to the wartime romance unfolding before us.

On a more macabre note, I find it a really interesting twist that Neil can see the bombsite ghosts. Thus far, he hasn’t shown any supernatural talent, especially compared to Edie, and yet here he is, running from her spectral subjects. This implies that either; the ghosts are visible to everyone but those who come across them choose to believe they are imagining things; or that some outside influence, be it the fates, the gateway, Belial, or even Edie herself, is influencing Neil, uncovering previously dormant psychic ability. Either way, it’s a brilliant, chilling scene.

Lastly, there are the collisions between Edie and Neil, and between Angelo and, well, himself. I have to laugh every time Ted narrates his own past actions in horrified whispers, cringing at his cheesy turns of phrase and smarmy behaviour toward Jean. It really endears us to him as a character, to know that he knows he was once deeply obnoxious, but has now seen the error of his ways. It’s a shame that it took his own death to realise how ridiculous he was being, but with time and fate aligned, perhaps that can be undone.

Matt’s Thoughts: I love the adult level of complexity that this story has introduced, despite having an 11-year-old protagonist. We have Angelo talking about the fear of death that all bombers had, plus the moral ambiguity of a job that required you to drop bombs on other human beings.

There is the bleakness of the departed spirits that hang around Edie, and their loss.

There’s the Archduke of Demons lurking somewhere in the background.

This is all big stuff for little readers to cope with.

And then – what’s up with Kath? (Unlike Wendel and Dimlon, I did not see that coming at all. Clearly, Robin was getting better at springing the surprise nasty characters on us by the mid-90s!)

Now, the kidnapping of Ted – does this cause a time paradox? Was this meant to happen (in the vein of Time of Blood)? Or is this deviating Ted/Angelo off on a different path? I’m not sure …

And one final thought – while this book is completely unrelated to the Whitby series, we do, in the character of Edie, have another child who can see the dead. Which – just having finished off a Stephen King recently – ties into Mr King’s cast of ‘shining’ kids who see things.

This has got me thinking: where did this idea of children with an extra sense of perception come from? Did The Shining start it in the 70s and every other story is a nod to that one? Has it been a concept that’s been floating around in mythology for centuries? I’m not sure, but – like vampires – it’s a plot device that rarely gets old. (And certainly not when you’ve got someone like Robin Jarvis spinning the yarn!)

Actually, I didn’t intend ‘spinning the yarn’ to be a gag either, but clearly it is. I’m now curious – did this end up in our vocabulary as a nod to the concept of the weavers of fate?

The Woven Path | Chapter 12

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Belial had claimed his first victim.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Doris Meacham is definitely a Mrs Chitter sort of character. She arrives looking somewhat frivolous and abrasive, but leaves accompanied by a sympathetic tear from us readers.

The sewing circle might sneer at her sorrow over the death of her little dog, but how do they (and we) know that that is the only unhappiness Mrs Meacham has suffered since the war began? Perhaps the brutal killing of her pet was the last in a line of unspoken traumas in that lady’s life. In those days and that culture, it was far less likely that a woman might be free to express grief openly, and perhaps her pet was the only companion Mrs Meacham had left in the world. Even if he wasn’t, her pain is completely understandable given the sudden and violent nature of her loss. I, for one, feel sorry for her during the ‘yellow candlewick’ scene, and have no patience left with the vile Ma Stokes.

With that out of the way I suppose we have to take a look at our monster of the week, Belial. Wikipedia names him a figure of malevolence in both Hebrew and Christian texts. Alternatively ‘Beliar’, ‘Baalial’, etc, he is apparently alike in powers to the Biblical Satan, sometimes referred to as Lucifer’s father or accomplice, and referenced in Paradise Lost. Belial’s forte is, as demonstrated in this chapter, the ability to take on any form. I honestly can’t decide how I feel about the use of a Hebrew demon in the context of a pulpy murder scene in which said demon takes on the appearance of the ‘squander bug’ caricature, but it’s certainly a striking decision, and the stuff of a campy 70s b-movie. One can almost see the fake blood spurting in all directions.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: It may have a cute teddy on the front, but it also has a giant freaking cockroach. For a while there, I thought this might have been a softer Jarvis book, more about atmosphere and history than dark monsters and villains but no – he’s well and truly ramped it up to his familiar level of intensity.

Anyway, I should mention that I got curious about the name Belial as well, because I remembered seeing it in old King James Version Bibles, but I couldn’t remember where. Where you see it is that in various spots in the Bible, there will sometimes be mentions of groups of pagans – or sometimes just one individual – who seeks to lead the true people of God astray. And a phrase keeps appearing ‘sons of Belial’ or ‘son of Belial’ to describe those.

It’s never clear what Belial is in the Bible, but clearly it is some sort of grouping for evil people. So Mr Jarvis’ imaginative take on Belial as the Archduke of Demons – and clearly with shapeshifting ability – is quite clever.

And brutal. Ugh. I hate cockroaches.

The Woven Path | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Within the dense blackout, an ancient horror was prowling and already the first chill tendrils of its power were threading through the gloom.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  In comparison to ‘Murder in the Park’ or ‘Cream-cakes and Death’, ‘The Broken Seal’ is not the most chillingly ominous of Robiny chapter titles, but it’s definitely in the top ten.

There’s something about it that conjures up visions of vintage horror films in which beleaguered tomb-robbers are dragged to gory deaths by venom-spewing demons, and so forth. As a title it would not be out of place on the cover of a tatty paperback novel found in the back of a cramped and mouldering bookshop in some small English town, which in turn harbours some awful evil of its own.

Speaking of evil, I daresay the blunt sadism of the scene with Mrs Meacham’s dog may have contributed to this book being at least as unrecognised as The Alchymist’s Cat. A bit of violence is all well and good when it’s animal to anthropomorphic animal, but wanton cruelty on the part of human characters to pets and other vulnerable creatures is not to be tolerated, and is very jarring and difficult to read.

There is however an important point being made here, as in Emelza’s death: during times of wide-spread suffering, be it plague or war, the worst of humanity will take out its anger upon the innocent and defenceless, which, sadly, includes the creatures it called friends in better times.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’ve got to say, this book is really potent. We’ve got ancient supernatural horror somewhere, but day-to-day we’re living in the realities of war-time East End.

Having now read the particularly unpleasant scene involving the dog, though, I take back what I said about Ma Stokes potentially having a heart of gold. This does not seem to be the case and, in fact, I’d be happy if she got dispatched in the next few chapters.

But being a Jarvis book,the villains only tend to get away with more and more as the book progresses …

 

The Woven Path | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘S’pose next you’ll be telling me your lot’re goin’ to win the war for us.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  So the truth comes out. Ted has made some sort of mystical pact, and Neil is now lumbered with his teddy bear’s existential quest through time.

Among many intriguing questions this raises, there’s this: which three, out of the four people, are set to die? If Ted is indeed the soul of Angelo the GI in small and kapok-stuffed form, what terrible guilt does he carry with him? Is it pretty Jean he mourns, or his best buddy Frank (an Oswald if ever there was one, and, like little Josh, completely undeserving of whatever supernatural nonsense is about to come his way.) Or will Kath turn out to be more important than either? Only time will tell.

As a last note, my top two moments in this chapter have to be the use of ‘treacle’ as a verb, and Angelo’s snort-worthy line, ‘who wants to be surrounded by a museum?’ You tell us, Signorelli.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Great, great setup here. Also, I had been thinking the last few chapters that Ted had a particularly obnoxious American accent – very much as if he were an extra on The Sopranos – so I was somewhat glad to find the character of Angelo is very much Italian-American. (Sorry, that’s not a spoiler, is it? Surely everyone else guessed that Angelo is Ted before he became a furry?)

Maybe it slows the story down a bit, but the clash of cultures between the two Americans and the two East End girls is greeat, not to mention the little details that not all of us know. Well, maybe all the rest of the British readers know about this, but some of it was new to me. I didn’t think of the fact that people would still head out in a blackout to do things around town like movies and pubs, but clearly they did. (Which makes sense, really. You’d be so stressed by the goings-on that of course you’d want to do something that escapes it.)

Finally, mention of the Bethnal Green underground station took me back to my times in London back in 2016, because we would often jump off the bus and head down that tube station. Which – as I write this – has just reminded me of a historical plaque I saw at the tube station which has pretty much foreshadowed where this book might be going. But I’ll get back to that later.

But if only I knew, I would have taken a picture of the plaque while I was on holidays! Little did I know that nearly every day, I was passing through another Jarvis location.

Anyway, if you are visiting London, I do highly recommend visiting Bethnal Green, and particularly the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood which is right nearby.

The Woven Path | Chapter 9

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

His glass eyes seemed to blaze with a light all their own when his gaze fell upon her.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Poor Neil – gets hurled fifty-odd years back in time and still can’t escape having his ears chewed by crotchety old ladies! I have to hand it to Ursula Webster though, she may have been cruel, but at least it seemed to be due to her great age and inexperience with young people, as opposed to the hard-boiled malice of the dreadful Ma Stokes.

What’s great about Robin’s characterisation of these kind of unpleasant figures, though, is that you can almost always see how they came to be so horrible. In some cases, like with Mrs Banbury-Scott in The Whitby Witches, this inspires a degree of empathy or pity. In others, for example the nefarious Dr Spittle, this serves to create a portrait of a warped individual whom we understand to some extent, but whom we will nonetheless come to loathe in due course. Unless she has some epiphany further down the line, Ma Stokes is absolutely the latter, and I for one am not looking forward to spending the next five days with her any more than Neil and Ted.

 

Mrs Stokes is the absolute archetype of this. She may have been soft of heart at one stage, but it is so buried beneath a brutal exterior that who would know? (I’m probably going to be proven wrong in two chapters and find out she has a secret heart of gold and is just ‘bunging on’ the crank act – as we would say in the colonies. But for now, she’s hardly Mother of the Year, right?)

However, for me, the perfect moment in this chapter – which is my favourite moment in the book so far, and just might be one of the Great Jarvis Moments for me – is the scene where Ted is peeking through the banisters at Jean. At this point, we know no backstory, we don’t know how he met her, but he’s somehow spent fifty years (and a lot of that in a glass case, by the sounds of it) thinking about this woman. Only to be a teddy bear when he meets her again.

It’s a big grown-up emotion, but Robin rightly assumes that his readers will go along on the emotional journey. It’s certainly given me all the feels.

 

The Woven Path | Chapter 8

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

As the skies flared and the fires rampaged, a small child hared frantically through the chaos.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Yes, Edie! Love this kid! A miniature queen of the rubble who bites the hands that try to save her and wears live ammunition as jewellery. For the first human Robiny heroine, she’s a very fine start indeed.

I also love the clever touch with the time portal here. In the middle of an air raid, of course nobody is going to notice a giant, corkscrewing, violently purple vortex spitting out a kid in slippers from the future! (Except the only one who needs to, apparently.)

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Is it my imagination or is World War II becoming a glamorous movie setting nowadays? There was the odd WWII movie in my day, but I do feel like it’s a lot more prominent now to set stories during the war. It’s almost as if, as it becomes more distant in living memory, we are finding the idea of the war more interesting and romantic.

All of which is to say, this story would work even better as a film today than it would have in 1995 when it came out. Special effects would well and truly be up to a character like Ted, kids are braver at the movies. Bring it on, I say!

Also, really clever use of surprise here. I was fully expecting the child scrambling across the rubble to be Josh or Neil, but then when it turns out to be a girl, I got thrown for a minute. Enter Edie, clearly with her own fascinating back story and set of powers. Looking forward to finding out more about her.

Not so sure about the Belial box …

 

The Woven Path | Chapter 7

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Josh gazed at the whirling, fire-ringed vortex.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This is one of those definitive Robin Jarvis moments, like Audrey before the Green in the Chamber of Summer, or when Ben first spies Nelda at the Abbey cemetery. When I think of the Wyrd Museum trilogy, the ‘fiery gateway’ is what comes to mind first (closely followed by a certain awe-inspiring scene in The Raven’s Knot which I won’t spoil.)

I can honestly say that I never want to see this series adapted for television or film, because no animation nor CGI on the Green’s good earth could ever do justice to lines like ‘A searing flash of violet lightning streaked abruptly from the immense depths of the vortex’s heart’, or, ‘The Separate Collection was filled with purple flame and putrid smoke, yet through the reek he could see his brother standing by Ted’s cabinet and the youngster was looking intently at the fiery eye of the evil storm.’ Usually at scenes like this we’re inclined to say ‘how cinematic’, but here I’d like to forget adaptations just the once, and think, ‘what vivid writing’ instead. That’s just me, however. What say the rest of you?

The magical portal back in time has been done by numerous authors and directors in numerous different ways, but this has to be a particularly striking example, especially because of how dangerous and violent it feels. This is no sparkling doorway or mysterious wardrobe, but a fire-vomiting vortex that will genuinely hurt anyone who comes near it, be they small adventurer or no. Alas, fate decrees that two small adventurers and one talking teddy must take that risk, and so our story begins to unravel in earnest.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: We were promised time travel on the back cover and here it is. With all the spectacular light and sound effects we would expect. (Though I will take my co-blogger’s point that Robin’s descriptions of this are more than just an attempt to do cinema on the page, but it actually is a mind’s-eye world that he crafts time and again with that particular writing style of his.)

What I also love is the concept of the rescue mission for the younger brother. I felt that the strength of the first Hunger Games was not so much the concept of the games, or anything like that – but actually something more simple: an older sister who would face potential death to save her younger sister.

So Neil’s journey into danger is not because he’s particularly brave, but because he wants to save Josh. Which is what the manipulative Ted knew all along, really.

The Woven Path | Chapter 6

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The far side of the bed was empty.

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  I love how we’re now just running with the idea that there’s an evil animate teddy bear out to get Neil’s kid brother. It should be ridiculous, and it kind of is, but that’s half the fun as far as I’m concerned. Why shouldn’t Neil go storming into the shadowy fastness of the museum to rescue Josh from what he imagines to be the nefarious clutches of Ted? What better way to open the box of nightmarish delight that is the rest of this book, if not with one small, pyajma-ed boy out to rescue another in the dead of night?

As for Miss Celandine, her pride in her knitting is rather endearing, even if her implements are somewhat threatening when raised toward Neil’s unsuspecting head in a darkened room. We have to wonder about the ‘One’ she continually references, and what use that absent girl might have for a square of green, tinselled wool, into which is clearly woven Miss Celandine’s lifetime of heartache. Her little dancing scene is particularly sad – as the Mother third of the Webster trio, there was evidently a time when she lived for the promise of a family and children. Instead, as Neil observes, she has found herself husbandless and childless, imprisoned in the Wyrd Museum with her sisters, slowly going senile. Perhaps that square of sparkling wool is her only way out.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: As well as triggering a spooky expedition into the Museum at night-time – which was always on the cards – there’s a great deal of personal angst in this chapter, isn’t there?

There’s the unspoken frustration of Neil against his father, his father’s irritation with Neil (and probably himself), the care that Neil has for Josh. I have no doubt that there are families where kids like Neil do have to be more mature than their years to cope with the shortfalls of their parents, and it all reads authentically.

But then we also see that there’s pain going on for Miss Celandine (although her backstory is a lot more shadowy). Clearly, the weaving of the loom is significant and most likely tied to the arrival of the boys, but to what degree?

I know at some stage there will be a character who will explain all this, but I’m actually enjoying the mysteriousness of it all at the moment. Besides which, Josh is lost. That’s worrying enough.

Finally, I loved the throwaway scene with Josh and the petals that end up in the shape of a tree. (Did he put them there? Did they just fall that way and he noticed the shape? Either way, it’s a great image.)

The Woven Path | Chapter 5

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘What the heck you scared for?’ he cried. ‘Yer ten times bigger’n me!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I once described Dancing Jax as ‘Wyrd Museum for a modern audience’. What I meant was ‘Wyrd Museum was riffing on Hollywood whimsy and British children’s classics first’, and this is where we start to see it.

Ted is a fascinating character. In Mr Jarvis’s handling of that cuddly ball of bile and sarcasm, there is an outright (and, in the mid-90s, not yet tired) rejection of the twee, vaguely Victorian portrayal of talking toys which Robin, and his readers, would have grown up with.

As Ted says to Neil, ‘this ain’t no kindergarten story’. Toys do not wake up on the stroke of midnight, there is no Santa Claus, and sometimes the ghosts of WWII GIs insult your dad to your face and then expect you to bust them out of glass cases. The whole feel of this chapter is more The Magic Toyshop than Winnie the Pooh, and it works extremely well. We kind of hate Ted a little for trampling on our happy childhood dreams, but equally, the possibilities of what might be really going on with him are too intriguing to resist.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m thinking now that if we were to film Wyrd Museum, we’d run into rights issues nowadays given that Ted became the name of the famous Mark Wahlberg talking bear comedy.

But this Ted was around first, and I love the way his smart-talking American sass offsets the spookiness. (After all, if everyone sounded like the Webster sisters, it would run the risk of being a very grandiose book.) It’s pretty clear that our Ted is the soldier from the prologue, but really, the questions this raises are just more tantalising, even if we know that much. Like how did he become a teddy bear? How did he end up in the museum? What will he do if he gets out?

And, on a more sinister note, I’m starting to feel as if there is a villain of this piece, but we don’t know much about them. (It might be the giant cockroach thing on the cover, or it might be something else.) With previous Jarvis novels, we’ve known what the threat was early on, but the vagueness of this one is compelling.

The Woven Path | Chapter 4

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Red for the mother, white for the maiden and black for the crone.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I knew Celandine would turn out to be important! Foolish Neil for disregarding her words, for we the readers know them to contain strands of significance. Ursula might be aware that her sister gambols about the museum at night, but how much does she know of the state of Celandine’s mind? Perhaps that bestockinged lady is cannier than everyone believes.

In this chapter we also get a bit of genuine Jarvis Scare with the museum as a living entity, out to confound and consume young Neil. (Poor kid, even his new home is out to get him.) Sadly, what truly awaits our hero in this trilogy makes his imagined crouching fiend seem like a pretty daydream.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: As a fan of movies, I’ve always found it a funny thing that acting is prized as being the be-all and end-all of a film, without recognising that in many cases, the location of the story itself can be much more interesting even than the characters in the story.

How many great darkly fantastic cinema tales have we seen where a character arrives at a place that is somewhat dark and spooky? In this particular case, it is not the acting that usually creates that atmosphere, but in fact it’s the set-building, the lighting, the props people – these are the people who have done the magic to draw the audience in.

All of which Robin has an eye for – either on purpose or instinct drawn from his experience in television. So once the building gets dark and Neil is wandering through rooms without end and getting lost, the spookiness is real and palpable. I have no idea whether this story is going to get as dark and violent as all its predecessors, but I love it based on atmosphere alone.

Then, the other part that I love is that for the first time – that I’ve spotted so far – Robin’s books are connecting with another well-established fantasy world: that of Wagner’s Ring Cycle! More correctly, he is probably drawing on the ancient Norse myths which inspired Wagner to write the Ring Cycle operas (and later Tolkien as well), but I’ll talk about Wagner because I used to be a huge fan of the Ring Cycle in my younger days. (That was before I had three kids and struggled to find time to listen to a 16-hour-operatic tetralogy). The part that I’m thinking of is the beginning of the final opera of the four, Twilight of the Gods (which translates, as only German can, into one single word: Götterdämmerung). In the opening scene, three Norns appear – three sisters weaving the loom of fate.

I’m pretty sure they also explain in that scene – if not, then it’s somewhere – about the concept of the World Ash Tree, from which all things arise.

There is also, of course, the concept of the Triple Goddess as well: the mother, the maiden and the crone, which is being drawn on here too.

Normally, this would be all very grand and operatic, but in the Jarvis version, the sisters are stuck in a corner of East London, perhaps even going senile. And the remainders of the ash tree are sitting in an old water fountain out in the backyard. It’s understated and brilliant and we know it’s all going to come alive.