‘The Crystal Prison’ by Robin Jarvis

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Friday, February 18, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

I remember reading Robin Jarvis’ Deptford Histories Trilogy when I was younger and being utterly, deliciously terrified by them.  They were books that I would only read with my back placed firmly against a wall so that I could be absolutely sure that nothing was sneaking up behind me waiting to grab me.  I’ve never been particularly good at estimating reading ages and the fact that neither myself nor any of my friends has spawned (and if they had, the spawn wouldn’t be of an age to actually be reading these books yet without some miracle of biology) doesn’t exactly help.  The murky distinctions between children’s literature and young adult literature also complicates things, so I’m just going to say that Robin Jarvis is one of my favourite fantasy authors for people who are younger than me and leave it at that.  That said, I still really enjoyed reading The Crystal Prison even though I’m now far beyond the age of the target audience.

In this second installment in the Deptford Mice Trilogy, Audrey makes a deal with the mysterious Starwife that she will journey to the countryside, taking the mad rat Madam Akkikuyu with her, in exchange for the Starwife saving her friend Oswald’s life.  The two of them set off with her brother Arthur and friend Twit to visit Twit’s family and stay with the fieldmice of Fennywolde.  Once there, however, the countryside proves to be far less idyllic than Audrey had anticipated.  Many of the country mice do not take kindly to the newcomers, and soon their peaceful lives are threatened by an even greater evil which has come with the mice from Deptford.

Having read all of the Deptford Mice books now (one of the unforeseen benefits of being behind with reviews), I think that this one is my favourite.  Robin Jarvis does a wonderful job of creating the society of the fieldmice and of making it different from that of the town mice in Deptford that we saw in the first book.  The pace of life is slower but there are also far more dangers to be thought of: the fieldmice post guards constantly around there homes, whereas danger for the city mice is an external thing which thus far has remained outside their domain and is only encountered by those who go looking for it.  I particularly liked the traditions and folk ways which played such an important role in the fieldmouse culture and in the plot of this novel, including the much greater emphasis on the Green Mouse and the mouse religion.  This managed to be both charming and rustic as well as having a latent threatening quality, and I enjoyed watching Jarvis show how this tension slowly and believably built up as the fieldmice transformed from welcoming but wary characters into a raging mob.

Madam Akkikuyu is a wonderful character.  She has a distinct way of speaking that is instantly recognisable, and I’m pleased that this book spends more time with her than the first installment, The Dark Portal, did.  The Crystal Prison also sees the other characters develop well: Audrey becomes more sensible as she is forced to make difficult decisions; Arthur plays a much bigger role, allowing the reader to get to know him a bit better; and Twit shows that he is not as empty-headed as all the mice suspect (although I’m sure the reader won’t have been lured into the same trap) simply because he is cheerful and has a rural accent.  In this, and in its cliffhanger ending, it paves the way well for book three.

The Crystal Prison by Robin Jarvis.  Published by Simon & Schuster, 1994, pp. 261.  Originally published in 1989.

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