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The Deptford Mice #1

The Dark Portal

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The first story in the breathtakingly original and utterly captivating Deptford Mice trilogy by bestselling author Robin Jarvis. In the sewers of Deptford there lurks a dark presence which fills the tunnels with fear: Jupiter, an evil being who aims to take over the world. Worshipped by the fearsome rats, Jupiter's dreams could well come true. Can the mice ever survive against such evil? Or have they lost the comfortable world they once knew for ever...

183 pages, ebook

First published January 1, 1989

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About the author

Robin Jarvis

48 books222 followers
Robin Jarvis (born May 8, 1963) is a British children's novelist, who writes fantasy novels, often about anthropomorphic rodents and small mammals—especially mice—and Tudor times. A lot of his works are based in London, in and around Deptford and Greenwich where he used to live, or in Whitby.

His first novel—The Dark Portal, featuring the popular Deptford Mice—was the runner up for the Smarties book prize in 1989.

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5 stars
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874 (36%)
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590 (24%)
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167 (6%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 128 reviews
Profile Image for Daisy May Johnson.
Author 2 books163 followers
July 25, 2014
I'm on a bit of a Robin Jarvis kick at the moment, and it was when I reread 'The Dark Portal' (the first in the Deptford Mice series) that I came to realise something.

I think that Jarvis taught me the concept of story, in a way. I think he taught me the concept of telling a single story within a greater whole. I am a fan of him, avowedly so, and love his work from the Whitby series to the Deptford books; from Aufwader to Green Mouse and everything in between.

His books are big books. They are unashamedly children's books too; scary, challenging and yet accessible literature, told in a rolling style that does not dress itself up behind dense stylistic shapes. These are stories which want to be told, to be read, and when they are read, they have the curious impact of pushing themselves under your skin and settling in that odd unsure space between reality and fiction. I grew up near Whitby and could almost see Aunt Alice, cycling over the bridge and tramping the beach, Ben and Jennet at her side.

But the Deptford books, oh the bigness of these books astounds me so (and my thanks to my equally beloved Michelle Magorian for teaching me the proper way to pronounce Deptford). These books are stories which stand hugely in their own right but also layer and cut against each other, their sediment shifting and revealing more of the individual story the more you read the other. This is great and clever work and patient, too, that quiet belief in the story to happen when and how it needs to happen, that shift in perspective that comes when you read one and come back to reread another. I admire this, I admire it greatly.

And so The Dark Portal sits, as a beginning to the Deptford Mice, but as a sequel to the Deptford Histories and as a companion to the Deptford Almanac (one of my most treasured books ever). It is, nominally, the story of a group of mice and a group of rats and an evil, terrifying figure in the shadowy sewers called Jupiter. The rats serve Jupiter and the mice keep their wary distance, living above the 'Grille' and rarely making trips down into the sewers. But there is magic in the Grille, dark magic, and one day it makes a mouse called Arthur Brown enter the sewers and so begin a series of dark and terrifying events which could change the world forever.

It is a story which sits comfortably and superbly so within itself. The world of the rats and mice (and squirrels, and bats) is huge and layered in mythology, story and truth. There's not one inch of this world I don't believe, and there's a part of me that wouldn't be surprised, even now, to see Twit shimmy up one of the plants outside. His competency in this world, the thick, dense taste of it, is beguiling. And it is powerful, hugely so, These are books that show relatively young readers just what can be achieved in books, in story.

(Do note, that if you're reading this with your own mouselets, there are some scary and bloody moments in it so do, as ever, read the book yourself and trust your instincts)

The Dark Portal is also a story that swells and grows, the more you read of Jarvis' work. You learn character backstories, motives, rationale and so much more. There are things in these stories which would feed the internet for weeks, and the puzzling out of meaning, the dull suspicion of something more than coincidence, and then the bright clarity of connection , is something that will always make me relish Jarvis' work.

Children's literature is good, guys. It's been good for a long while, and I think it's in a bit of a brilliant and golden position right now with the quality of work being produced. But with every trend there are individuals who are ahead of the curve, who are producing world-changing, genre-defining books ahead of their time. Jarvis was, is, one of those authors and The Dark Portal is a wonderful introduction to his work.

Profile Image for Kailey (Luminous Libro).
2,844 reviews433 followers
April 26, 2016
I had to DNF this one. It's boring, and the plot is trite, and the pacing is weird. I didn't care about any of the characters, so after I stuck with it through 100 pages, I called it quits.

The writing is really condescending, and points out the obvious over and over. In the beginning, the setting is described as a society of mice who are afraid of the sewers below their community because the evil rats live in the sewers and they eat any poor mice who go wandering down there.
Then a mouse named Albert is lured into the sewers, and the author thinks they need to tell me and explain again and again that Albert is afraid. He's afraid of the sewers because there are ravenous rats in the sewers. He's afraid of the rats because the rats capture and eat mice. Albert is afraid.
OMG, don't tell me 50 times that Albert is afraid. I can deduce that very well for myself!

That's probably why I couldn't connect with any of the characters, because I wasn't allowed to just feel the emotions of the characters through the story; I was TOLD the character's emotions, and that gets annoying really fast.

The pacing felt jarring and strange. One minute the characters are fleeing for their lives, and then we cut to a scene of a momma mouse with her little mouslings having cake a festival. The story didn't flow very well from scene to scene.

I've heard this compared to Redwall. No, no, no! Redwall actually has good writing and interesting characters.
Profile Image for Matthew Hodge.
593 reviews21 followers
November 14, 2019
This was one of my all-time favourite books as a kid and I've had a blast re-reading it to my daughter. It tells the tale of a group of anthropomorphic mice living in an empty house in Deptford. (The fact that it's such a particular suburb - not just a random house in London somewhere - is one of the things I've always liked about this book.)

The mice live a relatively happy life, except for the fact that down in the cellar is the Grill - an old piece of ironwork that leads into the sewers. And in the sewers live the incredibly vicious rats and their dark god, Jupiter, who mostly appears as a pair of glowing red eyes burning out from the dark portal of the title. At the beginning of the book, Albert Brown, the father of two mouse children, wanders into the sewers, for no reason that he can fathom. (Drawn on by the dark enchantments of the Grill.) He unfortunately doesn't make it alive past chapter one, but his death is then the trigger for all the action that takes place in the rest of the book.

From them on, it's an increasingly gripping read. It's hard to remember that when this came out back in 1989, the young adult phenomenon had yet to take off and so books for kids were largely of the Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings variety - larger-than-life, slightly fluffy and mostly ridiculous. But Jarvis' idea of storytelling was far different. His villains are truly vile - some of the most violent, evil characters to ever march across the pages of a children's book. But, in making the opposition so dark, it increases the peril that is facing his small vulnerable heroes. (And what could be more small and vulnerable than a mouse?)

So the end result was probably a book that would have been rather darker than the average children's book at the time, but now in this day of multiple dystopian series for teens, is yet another series on the shelf that gets crowded out by Hunger Games and Maze Runners and so forth. So, sadly, The Deptford Mice trilogy are mostly out of print in hard copy, which means that the world has lost Robin Jarvis' amazing illustrations (one per chapter) which he did himself. Clearly, his visual imagination was as energetic as his written imagination (in fact, The Dark Portal started as a series of sketches), because for me, the illustrations looked *exactly* like the story described in them, and made the words come to life.

That said, if you can forgo the illustrations, the trilogy has been re-released for a very reasonable price on Kindle, so hunt them down if you get a chance.

The end result is a story that I definitely wouldn't recommend for any children under the age of 8 or 9 (and even then). But for those brave enough to try it, I'd wholly recommend it.

His characters are so well drawn that even after all these years, I still consider Arthur and Audrey Brown, Twit, Piccadilly, Thomas Triton and Oswald old friends and I'm always happy to revisit them myself and introduce them to others.

And in this day and age, a bunch of diminutive heroes who stand up against evil - not because they have any superpowers or because they're dashing and brave, but just simply because it's the right thing to do - these are the kind of heroes I would like to see more of.
Profile Image for Redfox5.
1,554 reviews54 followers
January 22, 2018
I brought this book, when I was a kid from either Blackbush or Brooklands market (both now long gone). I tried so many times to read it. I would get a couple of chapters in, lose interest and then come back to it a year or so later. I think I once read it all the way through but the only thing I can remember from the book is that there were evil rats in the sewer.

Reading this as an adult was easier and I didn't lose interest, although the story is not that exciting and is fairly simplistic.

The mice are good, the rats are evil. Everything is very black and white. Even when you think one of the rats is being kind, it turns out to be a trick and actually he's still an evil rat.

I didn't really understand what Jupiter was trying to do. Release the black plague and kill everything? Wasn't really sure what his point was, or even how he had magic. Was he actually a dark Lord, as he was a physical being? The Green Mouse, who was the good lord, who seemed purley spritital.

This book is okay but I won't be looking for the follow ups, although I would read them if they happened to come my way. I'm not really sure where it could go from here now we've had the big shock ending.
Profile Image for Alastair Heffernan.
179 reviews21 followers
December 22, 2019
This is a fun read that pulled me through all the way to the end. It didn’t score higher principally because the lore of the book is very underdeveloped. In particular, there are several magical moments that seem more convenient than grounded in the logic of the book. Indeed, I never truly felt like the world made sense - which is a shame because I love the overall concept and feel this could have been a great children’s book if the ideas here were handled in a more cohesive and consistent way.
Profile Image for Lora Milton.
620 reviews
November 15, 2020
This is a whimsical children's story but it's not just a cutsie mouse story, there are elements of Horror for children. The rats peel mice, as in skinning, so probably for slightly older children with the disposition to enjoy things like Goosebumps.

It is mostly about a mouse family who travel, one by one, through a grate that they know takes them into the territory of the rats. First the father goes on a whim, then his daughter goes to look for him and soon several mice are where they shouldn't be in a dangerous place.

I don't often read stories directed at very young readers, but I liked the tone and the writing in this one. Adventurous mouse stories formed an essential part of my own childhood reading and I think this one could easily sit on a shelf next to The Secret of Nimh.

It's a surprisingly multi-layered story with a spiritual element, but mostly adventures of the child mice. Imagine Nancy Drew stories or the Hardy boys in mouse form. The quality of the writing holds up all through and this is a story I would happily buy for my nieces and nephews who are appropriate age for stories that don't write down to a child's level, but concern young characters with whom they could identify. One of the better contributions to children's literature that I've seen for a while.
Profile Image for Starslug.
7 reviews
August 19, 2009
The Dark Portal is an enjoyable mixture of cutesy mice, bloody death, and black magic. All in all, a unique mixture that combines to give this book a certain deliciously dark character.

The horror in this book is a little stronger and far more grisly than I expected: perhaps if I'd chosen the edition with the realistic rat's face, rather than the cutesy-poo anthropomorphic mice on the cover, then I would have been better prepared. What other book about talking animals would include demonaic rat gods, and grisly mouse sacrifices?

In contrast to the human skulls, decapitations, and cat demons, the mice themselves come across as possibly more gruesome: how stereotypically cute and good can you get? However, in the setting, this does work. Good and evil are resonably clear cut, embodied respectively in the cannibalistic, clawed, cultist rats, and the gentle, cute and vegitarian mice. Those who keep pet rats may be a little put-off by this slander, but otherwise, this makes for an enjoyable and genuinely creepy read.
Profile Image for Professor Weasel.
765 reviews9 followers
December 26, 2016
I forgot how dark these books are!! "The Crystal Prison" remains my favorite. During this reread I got annoyed at how dumb the mice were, running around the sewers. I guess the point was that the sewers had this "dark magical" pull on them that made them make bad decisions. But yeah, all the parts about the rats skinning mice and summoning dark gods are still deliciously horrifying. And I forgot how much I like Madame Akkikuyu (the Moroccan rat wannabe prophet) and the oracular bats as characters :)
Profile Image for Joanne.
138 reviews
April 27, 2020
I loved this series as a kid, and re-reading it as an adult is a joy. I'm only sad that this Kindle edition doesn't include the artwork that was in the paperback :(

Classic tale of innocence taking up the "sword" against evil. Yes, it's fairly simplistic compared to something more adult like The Wheel of Time, but for a YA novel, it's well written and gripping.

I just wish they'd publish The Deptford Histories for Kindle to round out the series for me!
61 reviews
June 28, 2021
I read book 1 'The Dark Portal' of the Deptford Mice Trilogy and wanted more so I got the rest of the set and didn't put them down.

The books are full of rich descriptive narrative and do not shy away from death being part of life and although fantasy this trilogy is no cheerful fairy tail; some of my favourite characters stepped up but not all of them made it. All of humanity is there in these books yet there is not one human in sight and our human failings are magically bestowed on mice, bats, squirrels, rats and cats. But thankfully the very human trait of altruism is still around in buckets as everybody rallies to prevent Armageddon. Looking forward to reading more of Robyn Jarvis books.

Profile Image for James Benham.
47 reviews2 followers
October 20, 2017
Don't let the fact that this story is about a community of mice trick you into thinking this is a sunny, lovely adventure. It is dark, gritty and gruesome (at least one character meets their grisly end being skinned). This means it may not be suitable for a lot of children, however, it is not so bad that I wouldn't recommend it to some proficient, well-read upper KS2 children. The tension is palpable throughout with Jarvis doing an excellent job of keeping you on edge and fearing for the young mice. A great read that keeps you genuinely fearing for the characters safety but grips you in a way that makes you unable to put the book down.
December 13, 2017
Disclaimer: No humans are present in the telling of this story.
Jupiter lives in the sewers and is lord over the rats. When a mouse from the Skirtings loses her mouse brass while looking for her missing father in the sewer she consults Madame Akkikuyu, a fortune teller, and Audrey ends up on an adventure in the sewers, herself. Now join the forces of a city mouse, country mouse, a seafaring mouse and the bats to try to find her. And what of Jupiter? May be too intense for real young children but teens should enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Erin.
1,725 reviews58 followers
March 2, 2020
DNF

Listening to the audiobook, gave up on part 5 out of 8. I just can't do it any more.

I don't care. I don't care about any of the characters. The story is not engaging me at all.

Maybe if I was a preteen reading this it would be different, but as an adult I just can't get into it.
Much preferred the Redwall books.

Such a shame, it had potential.
Profile Image for Emma Lauren.
321 reviews
May 25, 2019
The Dark Portal by Robin Jarvis was the first installment of the Deptford Mice Trilogy was the story of a village of mice trying to live through the temptation and danger of the sewers where the deadly rats live. That... that was where the interest ended. The book was dull, changed speaking characters all too often with no warning, and had confusing "plot twists." I will not be reading any more of this series, unless I am in the mood to be bored to sleep with odd mice trials and tribulations.
Profile Image for Lel.
760 reviews17 followers
March 6, 2021
I re read this for a challange and im not sure it stands up to what I remebered it being. It is aimed at a young audience and for them it would be gritty and full of twists and turns. As an adult I dont think I got as much enjoyment out of it.
Profile Image for Louel.
48 reviews
January 9, 2018
Profile Image for Hannah Polley.
637 reviews7 followers
November 24, 2020
Ever since there were mice in my uni house, I have been absolutely terrified of them and also rats by extension. So I felt very uncomfortable reading this book.

This book tells the story of mice that live in an abandoned house but they keep being lured into the sewer where the evil rats are. However, the rats are controlled by a magical dark force,

This book has an odd and surprising mix of humour and gruesomeness but it just wasn't really for me.

It ends on a cliffhanger so that it can set up another book but it is not one that I will be reading.
Profile Image for Cuyler schaub.
9 reviews
February 8, 2020
Honestly I loved the book. It fit right into my favorite genre and did it well in my opinion. I found the perspective entertaining and it was an easy quick read. Only issue I had was the way some of the characters talked and had to be written, there grammar (obviously not expecting rodents to be well versed) was so bad coming from the rats sometimes, I wanted to skip the paragraph until they stopped speaking because reading it was not enjoyable. All in all enjoyed it and will be reading the next 2 in the trilogy.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,331 reviews451 followers
July 8, 2014
twee

I did not enjoy it.

Library copy
Profile Image for Ellie Wyatt.
462 reviews1 follower
October 15, 2012


probably a good children's book. I dunno. nothing will ever compare to redwall as far as adventuring rodents. don't even try. thanks.
Profile Image for Jemima Pett.
Author 30 books325 followers
May 19, 2019
In 1989 there probably wasn't as much anti-anthropomorphism as there was a decade later.  This book seems to have gone in and out of fashion, but still came through ranked as a good spooky tale for children.

I'm not so sure of that.  It starts well, with a scary event happening to Arthur Brown, a respectable mouse drawn into the sewers below Deptford for reasons I've forgotten.  He fails to return and most of his family give him up as lost. Nobody should venture beyond The Grille into the sewers.  His daughter holds firm to her belief that he's alive, and goes, or is enticed, into the sewers to search for him.  As a result, several other parties set off in search of her.

In my normal manner I got confused as to who's who between readings, but eventually their characteristics became clear.  The denizens of the sewers are a whole different breed, and although they too have their distinguishing features, it hardly seemed worth remembering the distinctions since they are all extremely nasty, violent, and potentially deadly, as far as the mice are concerned.

Several strands of tale interweave, sometimes backtracking, and I began to find it a little tedious, when much of the action was along the repetitive ledges of the tunnels above the black water.

Some scenes stand out for excellence, imagery and sheer terror. Is this really suitable for children?  I think I'd have had nightmares.  Like The Screaming Staircase, I think it's for older children, although in this case the language and style is often simplistic, and sometimes downright old-fashioned. The early part could do with a good edit. It reminded me of the improvements I made to the first of my books.  I wonder if Mr Jarvis, writing it in 1980s, now feels the same.

The actual plot is really straightforward, although complicated by the several strands. But the way it is told makes it stand out. I nearly didn't finish it, because the ending seems obvious some way off, but the climactic scene is brilliantly, if horrifically, described.

I don't think I enjoyed it, and I won't be reading more of the series. I'm sure many older kids, especially those who like London and real places in their reading, will enjoy this very dark tale.
Profile Image for Karen.
765 reviews11 followers
August 28, 2021
This was a great book - British and apparently not well know here in the US. Reminiscent, though possibly even gorier, of Jacques Redwall series, it involves city mice and rats and sewers mostly. This is the first of a three part series of which I would like to read the rest, but probably won't. Not a series kinda gal, unfortunately. Another plus for this book is that it completed a challenge I have been working on since 2017 - Birth of a Reader - whereby I had to read one book for each year of my life. One really needs to be less than 30 years old to do a challenge like that. 67 is a lot of books to read!
Profile Image for Emma.
618 reviews134 followers
April 15, 2021
Very dated. One Black character named Akkikuyu who is labelled a witch, there is also an albino mouse called Oswald who is described as freakish.
The Mother mouse is domesticated and apparently has NOTHING left to do after washing and drying up.
Audrey could have been a fantastic main character seeing as she's painted as the hero, but typically she's the foil but then removed from the action while the men/boys have all the fun and she doesnt turn up again until the end and doesn't really do anything other than just exist.
Profile Image for Miles Nelson.
Author 3 books11 followers
July 10, 2020
I read this when I was young, and it was one of the books that formed a lifelong adoration for animal stories.

Unfortunately, it also scared me shitless. As much as I loved it, this book is not really for young children. It can get dark, miserable, eerie, and creepy, with a theme of death present throughout. It's been so long since I read this that I'm not gonna leave a full, but it had such a massive impact on my teen years that I felt I had to say something.
Profile Image for Jill.
978 reviews
November 20, 2020
I had read The Crystal Prison some years ago not realising it was the second book in the series. These books were those that my son read when he was young, and so I though I would give them a try. I'm glad I did, as I think they are good adventure stories for the young, although I can see some children may be frightened.
Profile Image for Shelly.
779 reviews
May 31, 2017
Wow, my oldest nephew let me borrow this book a long time ago. I never had or took the chance to read it, but then he suggested we read it out loud together since he was rereading his older books. I would not suggest this book to younger audiences since there is a lot or really scary nightmare inducing stuff for the young, but this book was incredible in plot and delivery.
Profile Image for Vivian.
299 reviews1 follower
October 25, 2017
This book was pretty close to being a perfect read in the traditions of Watership Down or the Redwall series. Just the right amount of violence to make it chilling but with the addition of honor and loyalty to bring out the cheers for the heroine and heroes. The character development was a little uneven in places but I did not see it as a major distraction. Looking for the next in the series!
Profile Image for Rittwolf.
172 reviews
August 28, 2019
I really enjoyed the audiobook version of this book. The narrator does a great job with the voices. I would recommend this book to older middle grade readers (maybe 10 and up) due to the grim/darkness in parts of the story. The print version of the book also contains some artwork by the author that I really enjoyed. I plan on continuing this series in the near future.
Profile Image for Jess Pagan.
43 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2020
Brilliant Adventure!

I'm a huge fan of The Thorn Ogres of Hagwood and bought this series based on that. This wonderful adventure is full of loveable characters, hated enemies and a sinister evil leader. I got swept in the world of mice and loved every minute of it! Now on with the second book!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 128 reviews

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