The best book I read in 2014 was Robin Jarvis’ Fighting Pax, the conclusion to his surprisingly awesome Dancing Jax trilogy. I’m fuzzy on the finer details since I finished it in August.
Robin Jarvis writes horror novels for kids and young adults. I’ve been following his work for some time, reading his Wyrd Museum trilogy and all about the Deptford Mice. His writing is similar to Alan Garner and Susan Cooper in that most of his books are set in Britain, and involve a young protagonist confronting a supernatural threat. Jarvis illustrates his own work, with each chapter getting its own picture. In his other novels Jarvis has written about a giant cockroach with Hitler’s face, a ginger tabby trying to conquer the world, and a wooden pig.
In-text, Dancing Jax is a children’s book written by a 1920s magician which brainwashes any readers into thinking that they live in his fantasy. Present-day burglars stumble upon a hundred or so copies of the book, sell them at a fete, and things snowball from there until the book forms the basis of a world-dominating cult. Basically, imagine if Aleister Crowley wrote about Uqbar. The fun thing about this premise is that is vaguely satirical while being completely horrifying. I’m not sure if Jarvis meant to parody religion and pop-culture publishing fads like Harry Potter, but it’s hard not to see parallels.
The other satirical element of the book are the sections set within the world of the magician’s children’s book. Jarvis writes the text of the brainwashing book like a parody of Enid Blyton, with sickeningly twee characters and patronizing narration. This makes it particularly satisfying when a character from the real world enters the book and starts beating people up.
The first book, also called Dancing Jax, is about the spread of the Dancing Jax craze and one maths teacher’s vain attempt to stop it. The sequel, Freax and Rejex, involves the few children immune to Dancing Jax being incarcerated within prison camps. In Fighting Pax the protagonists from the previous books team up to take down the cult leader, who at this point is running the world.
What I like about the Dancing Jax series is that Jarvis goes where few other authors would take their fantasy books. Freax and Rejex uncomfortably echoed books I’ve read about the Holocaust, as the children are placed in awful conditions where they are constantly demeaned by monstrous guards. This sort of thing is what really gives the trilogy its chills, and the reader a sense of cathartic satisfaction when the relevant nightmarish antagonist is defeated.
Fighting Pax begins in North Korea, where the Jax-immune protagonists are being sheltered by the regime. The characters escape from North Korea as soon as it’s clear that they’ll soon be handed over to the cult, and the soldier girl who is guarding them joins the protagonists. Fighting Pax contains the most sympathetic depiction of the North Korean government I’ve ever seen in fiction, though anything would be preferable to the monsters of Jarvis’ imagination.
One disturbing event from Fighting Pax occurs when the characters travels to England. This involves going onto the plane, and the planes are packed because everyone wants to get there. People are in the aisles and safety precautions have completely gone out the window. The Jax-affected know about the danger, they just don’t care.
The more you read Fighting Pax the more extreme and explosive the action becomes. Towards the end there is even a shout-out to ‘Die Hard.’ I get the feeling that Jarvis typed out the conclusion of the novel in one giddy night. You get an infectious feeling of excitement and tension from the climax, and that’s a good feeling.
I’m not sure if Jarvis had a moral message in mind when writing this trilogy. There’s undertones of satirising pop-culture and religon, but that could just be the inevitable result of writing about a brainwashing book. The religious satire is undercut by a cameo from Jesus Christ. He pops outta nowhere and attacks a dude with an axe. Also, the magician seems to be sponsored by Satan.
The Dancing Jax trilogy stands head and shoulders above the rest of Jarvis’ bizarre body of work. If i were a big-shot Hollywood exec I’d call up Jarvis and beg him for the screen-rights. Get Peter Jackson to direct, maybe. You should read the Dancing Jax trilogy right now. Fans of Stephen King would especially be comfortable with these books, You owe it yourself, as a literate human being, to at least try the Dancing Jax Trilogy.