Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis
A brilliant supernatural thriller with a modern twist, and a triumphant return from one of Britain’s best-loved writers.
At the end of a track, on the outskirts of an ordinary coastal town, lies a dilapidated house. Once, a group of amateur ghost hunters spent the night there. Two of them don’t like to speak about the experience. The third can’t speak about it. He went into the basement, you see, and afterwards he screamed so hard and so long he tore his vocal cords.
Now, a group of teenagers have decided to hang out in the old haunted house. Dismissing the fears of the others, their leader Jezza goes down into the basement… and comes back up with a children’s book, full of strange and colourful tales of a playing-card world, a fairytale world, full of Jacks, Queens and Kings, unicorns and wolves.
But the book is no fairytale. Written by Austerly Fellows, a mysterious turn-of-the-century occultist, it just might be the gateway to something terrifying…and awfully final. As the children and teenagers of the town are swept up by its terrible power, swept into its seductive world, something has begun that could usher in hell on earth. Soon, the only people standing in its way are a young boy with a sci-fi obsession, and his dad – an unassuming maths teacher called Martin…
Robin Jarvis is a a British children’s novelist who is probably most well known for the Deptford Mice series which were mostly published in the 90’s. However, Dancing Jax is the first book I have ever read by Jarvis, and I feel sad to have to say that because Dancing Jax really is a fantastic fantasy novel.
What I love most about this novel is that it is so quintessentially British. Jarvis has based most of the novel in the coastal town of Felixstowe. It’s portrayed as a pretty dismal place, where crime rates are pretty high and nothing much really seems to happen. There are countless references to our modern day culture such as – X Factor, Lady GaGa, Victoria Beckham, Jeremy Kyle, Facebook and so on. I love how Jarvis seems to have such an excellent grasp of what kids are like today – playing video games, watching trashy talent shows on television, listening to gangster rap etc. It breathes so much life into this fantasy story and gives it a brilliant comical twist that will have you sniggering in your seat.
Obviously I have already outlined the plot so I’m not going into too much detail there but I will say a few things on the characters. I really liked the fact that the main ‘hero’ (or not so much) of the story is Martin – a sci-fi-loving geek who collects unbelievable amounts of memorabilia, and quotes from a hell of a lot of sci-fi films. He’s a struggling Maths teacher who believes that drilling information into the kids heads over and over again is the only way they will learn. In other words, he has a pretty old-fashioned teaching method that doesn’t quite fit in with the times. He hates his pupils and they hate him back. The only good thing he has going for him are his partner Carol and her son Paul from a previous marriage. The relationship between Paul and Martin is very heart-warming throughout. They share a passion for all things sci-fi and you can easily see that Paul looks upon Martin as a fatherly figure. Martin, for me, was my favourite character. I was constantly rooting for him – not only as a parent, a husband, but as a teacher as well. You can’t help but want him to succeed. And even though he realises everything in Felixstowe has gone a little bit wrong, just a tad too late, you know he tried his best!
The next main character has to be the Ismus or also known as Austerly Fellows, the occultist & novelist who is responsible for the writing of Dancing Jacks – the book that has possessed almost every child in Felixstowe, and pulled them in to a whole new world. Austerly has taken over the body of Jezza – a lowlife thief who has broken into Austerly’s house and discovered the books. Now Austerly is handing out the books to every child possible and drawing them into the world of the Dancing Jacks – a fairytale world where werewolves, unicorns and fairy godmother’s exist. Austerly in the body of Jezza, is likened to Russell Brand in the book and this for me, was the perfect comparison and I’m sure you will see why if you read it yourself! He is a very enigmatic character and I am sure we will discover more in the next book…
The other things I must comment on are the almost ‘political’ rants littered throughout the novel. At times it feels as though Jarvis is unleashing his own views of today’s society through the mouths of his characters. There are several rants about the poor standards of the NHS, the school system today, teenage pregnancies, and the publishing world as well. Here are some examples:
There are no children in this world anymore. You dress and treat them as mini-adults. You let little girls play with dolls that look like Berlin prostitutes – you foist on to your young people role models whose brains are never as active as their underwear, and whose achievementsextend only as far as the bedroom door and the ability to blurt every detail of what happens behind it. To be pregnant at thirteen is no longer an everlasting shame, merely a career choice.
It’s the big chains and supermarkets that dictate what we put out there now. What they want is more of the same of anything that sells in bulk. Bookshops want to lure customers off the street so that’s why they demand crap by celebrities.
I love that the inclusion of these sneaky comments make this novel so much more than just a kid’s fantasy novel. I think kids could actually learn a thing or two from what Jarvis has to say!
This truly is a great book for kids and I hope everyone who reads this will pick up a copy at some point. It is due out on 3rd February and is aimed for kids ages 11+. It is obviously meant as part of a series and the ending really does leave you on a cliff-hanger! I know I can’t wait to read the next one! Thanks goes to Harper Collins for sending me a copy!
To read my interview with Robin please click here.