Robin Jarvis or Why The Old Ones Are Still The Best

I love my books. Being reunited with them is always an utter utter joy. I’m such a dork. I say hi to my mum, hi to my dad, pat the dog perfunctorily, tickle the cats and then race upstairs and stare lovingly at my babies.

These shelves contain all the authors I can’t let go. Elsie Oxenham (Oh Joy just shut up!) A million Brent-Dyers (Margot! Why were you never expelled!). Lovely lovely Angela Brazils; all spines of ornate magnificence and prim and proper ladies with their hats on. Ethel Talbot. Antonia Forest (Autumn Term, the book I go back to and back to and back to again).

Right now I’m loving me a bit of Robin Jarvis.

Being a bit of a local girl, I first discovered him through the Whitby series; a trio of furiously dark and pacy thrillers set in and around Whitby. Whitby is a town built on stories. Dracula, Penny Hedge, the Hand of Glory, Caedmon – these stones are built on words. The Whitby series are amazing, wildly powerful fantastical thrillers that just made me long for more.

I slid into the Deptford (pronounced Detfud, thanks Michelle Magorian and Goodnight Mr Tom) Mice series, slightly awkwardly at first as I did the second and not the first and then I learnt about a cat but there were mice and it all got a little confusing so I stopped. And then I found the Deptford Histories and I’d found my entry points to the series. The thing about Robin Jarvis is that he writes big scopey challengingly fantastical fiction. The layers in these books has kept me coming back for nearly twenty years and I can guarantee I’ll keep coming back for a fair few more.

One of my greatest treasures is this.

It’s not particularly rare, not particularly priceless, but it’s one of the most magical books I own. The Deptford Mice Almanack is a weird little non-book but in the same breath it’s an everything-book. It completes the Deptford books to a mind-blowing extent, fleshing out the world to a stunning extent.

Gervase Brightkin, squirrel anthropologist, takes us through a year of life and events in and around Greenwich. During this we become aware of a strange new evil building in the area, one which leads the almanack to end on a particularly unnerving precipice. And I won’t spoil it here, but just let me say ROBINROBINWHYSTOPTHEREHUH?THINKOFTHECHILDRENWON’TSOMEBODYTHINKOFTHECHILDREN?

The artwork inside it is stunning. Jarvis wrote and illustrated it all – and tended to do the same throughout his other books (check out the Wyrd Museum trilogy for some more loveliness). One of my favourites is this:

I love how they’re not necessarily explained with massive chunks of text. And also even when presented in isolation, these images still have an emotional impact that reflects their power.

I also love the quiet humour. In between all the spine chilling incidents, there’s a lot of very clever humour that combines the more fantastical elements with a lovely visual humour. Take the following example from November 4th Prank Night: “…last year a young mouse was goaded into climbing the central mast of the Cutty Sark to hang a pair of Mrs Chitter’s bloomers upon the rigging”

The other thing is that this book draws on all the Deptford books – that’s a lot of folklore and mythology to build on – and then builds on that. It’s an eye opener and one that contributes to keep pulling me back to them. These stories don’t end.

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