It is four years since the fall of Jupiter, but upon the Cutty Sark all is far from well. Thomas Triton, midshipmouse, is tormented by horrific visions of the past; of stormlashed seas, ferocious battles, lost cities and terrifying heathen gods. But now the time has come to confront the most chilling memory of his youth and a dark secret.
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.
Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my FINISHING THE SERIES! list.
I loves me a good series! But I'm terrible for starting a new series before finishing my last - so this reading list is all about trying to close out those series I've got on the go.
As a kid, I was a big fan of the Deptford Mice trilogy: brave young mice take on evil rats and their badass overload cat/ sorcerer, Jupiter. What set them above other ‘talking animal adventures’ is the dark/horror edge that is Jarvis’ trademark. The rats are very big on skinning mice and eating them – frying the ears is a particular delicacy. He’s not afraid to lay down a body-count to rival Robocop.
But where the Deptford world really takes off (for me) is with the Deptford Histories where the classic horror elements grow stronger. The Alchemist’s Cat tells the back-story of the big, bad sorcerer cat, Jupiter - that’s a great book. The Oaken Throne tells the back-story to the Star-Wife and the war between bats and squirrels - that’s my favourite book in the Deptford world and one I’ve re-read many times since I was young.
Then we come to Thomas, the third in the Deptford Histories, which tells the back-story of one of the main mouse characters, Thomas Triton (the fierce old sea-salt). I somehow missed Thomas when I was young and never even knew this book existed until a couple of years ago. I re-read the whole series shortly before I joined GoodReads last year, and ordered my copy in then – but what with the baby and moving house and all the other good books on my list, it’s taken me a while to get to it.
Reading Thomas has been a big nostalgia trip, filling in a few blanks from a series I know so well and tying together the back-stories of a couple more characters from the original trilogy. It’s a very enjoyable story – everything I’ve come to expect from Jarvis – likeable characters, great tone for the dialogue (Woodj’s country bumpkin talk is adorable) and a creeping sense of horror.
It’s nowhere near as tightly tied into the Deptford world. The Thomas Triton we know in Deptford is an old sailor who’s settled down on a moored ship. We know he’s got some darkness in his past that causes him sleepless nights and drives him to rum – this is that tale. It’s a sailor’s tale, so it happens in far flung corners of the world (not Deptford). It’s a tale that touches only feather-light on the Star-Wife and on Jupiter not at all.
We have a whole new big-bad – the horrific snake god (Sarpedon) who’s trying to reincarnate and usher in an era of darkness, and the dark cult (The Scale) who worship him. What Thomas does well is flesh out the wider ‘Deptford’ globe visiting, Crete, India and Singapore and mentioning many more. Thomas makes it clear that London is not alone in hosting civilizations of small, anthropomorphised creatures– they’re all over the world. It also gives Jarvis an opportunity to play with more exotic creatures. No longer limited to mice, rats, cats, owls, bats, squirrels, etc – Thomas introduces us to Mongooses, Tree Shrews, a Jerboa, a Sable and a Loris.
The story itself is well told – the beginning serves up the knowledge that Woodj will never make it home from this adventure, leaving a lingering sense of dread over the events. The escalating adversaries in the form of Morgan, Dahrem, The High Priest and then Sarpedon keep the pacing fast and dramatic. The big actions set pieces are vivid and memorable – the crash of the Calliope, the showdown in the mountain temple and the big final battle, etc. The little backstory tie-ins for Morgan and Madam Akikuyu are nicely done, as is Madame Lotus’ vengeance on Thomas and the final twist for Woodj.
If I had read Thomas back when I first fell in love with the rest of the series, I would likely rate it as highly. But coming to it fresh, now, it just feels a little too distanced from the rest of the books to really resonate. But it’s a good book and a fun read, and I’m glad I’ve now completed the Deptford Histories series.
So many references to other books in the series, I'm not sure how many people would get into this stand-alone, but it's a good yarn.
By this stage in his career, I feel like Jarvis knew his audience and what he could get away with. Which is to say that this book feels darker and more violent than any of his previous outings and the ending is the most morally ambiguous of any of his books to date.
Still, if you like his other stuff, this is another great yarn.
The last of the Deptford Histories trilogy, and probably the least good one? But it was still a barrel of fun, and the trilogy as a whole is brilliant - dark, often brutal YA fantasy about mice, rats, cats and other animals in a Game of Thrones-esque world that features evil cults, magic, struggles for power, betrayal, ancient prophecy, ruined cities and friendship. The series does veer into bloodsoaked grand guignol at times, but it's always engaging and tremendous fun.