Freax and Rejex marks Jarvis' return to the realm of Dancing Jax, a world within which the book of the same name has lulled the vast majority of the British population into a state almost demonic possession where they are convinced of their “true” identity within the sinister fairy tale realm of Mooncaster. Those who submit to the influence of Austerly Fellows’ occultist text become part of his “magickal Kingdom” and a member of its playing card-based Court. As a result of this, they also become devoted and submissive to his proclaimed figurehead in our “real” world (which they consider to be a pale imitation of that which they inhabit when in Mooncaster), the Ismus.
Where Dancing Jax concentrated predominantly upon setting up the Court itinerary, Freax and Rejex has its focus firmly upon those teenagers upon whom the lure of the text has no effect – the so-called “Aberrants” who find themselves persecuted, both for being different to what has become established as the “norm” and for what is deemed as resistance to the new British regime and, thus, subversive and dangerous.
By the outset of the second book within the Dancing Jax trilogy, the text has been published on a wide-scale basis and we are made aware via the “Baxter Blog”, a singular website of resistance hosted via a Dutch server (and scrambled via other channels), that the vast majority of those who sought to protest against the hostile takeover of the Jax regime have been silenced and force fed sections of the text. As a result, they have become one of the mass of “brainwashed sheep” who now populate the British Empire. There remain a “scant few” who still resist, whether simply via avoidance of the book or natural immunity. Martin Baxter, writer of the many times re-established “Baxter blog” and one of the few resistant individuals remaining by the conclusion of the first book in the trilogy, urges those few resistant individuals to abandon Britain, a “finished” country, via his escape route, suitably protected by safeguards put in place to ensure those who have fled are not discovered.
By ensuring his audience is reminded of the risks of resistance in this manner, Jarvis establishes a clear sense of threat at an early stage. Further, we see the first death before the conclusion of the first chapter, meaning we are aware nothing is certain and the security of characters to whom we have been introduced is not guaranteed. Without giving away the fate of specific characters, this is something which continues throughout the narrative.
Not content with the chilling effect produced by the first book’s cult-style parallels and premise, Jarvis seeks to up the ante within the second. A weekend of “glorious Mooncaster-themed fun” has been organised for children aged between seven and sixteen who have not yet “found their way” into the Realm of the Dawn Prince, otherwise also known as Mooncaster. As might be expected, the Ismus intends for this to form part of a global publicity campaign aimed at “damage limitation” in light of the rumours circulating concerning his bid for the minds of the populace, whilst also ultimately serving his own means and ends.
The “weekend” camp is filled with a hot potch of characters from across the nation and for whom, similarly to a Big Brother style situation, close proximity, coupled with the stresses of the growing realisation that there is no intention to release them from the confines of the camp once they have crossed the threshold, prove too much. The initial games and feasts give way rapidly to enforced reading of the “hallowed” text and declaration that the teenagers are to be deemed “internees” of the camp, subject to supervision by guards and capable of punishment in the event of disobedience. By this stage, the holocaust parallels are obvious. Sure enough, those who have travelled to what has been specified as a “holiday camp” are set to physical labour, forced to “earn” their place within the facility. At sixteen, they are advised they will be relocated to an adult camp.
Jarvis cleverly subverts our expectations in connection with the teenage “interns”, by ensuring the stereotypical views we might hold of “chavvy” Charm and the arrogant Marcus, for example, do not ultimately prove to be sure-fire. Once again, as with Jax, his skill in ensuring his characters’ dialogue rings true and in demonstrating regional accents simply via his choice of words and sentence construction adds to the equation. Ultimately, a number of the characters who appear weaker at the outset or less likely to succeed are those we find ourselves rooting for as they attempt to pit themselves against the will and control of the Ismus and his itinerary.
Whilst we see some of the creatures known to frequent Mooncaster within the camp’s bounds during the course of the narrative, arguably, it is not as a result of these threats that we are subject to the greatest sense of horror. Frequently, the treatment to which the children are subject makes for extremely uncomfortable reading, whether or not blood is shed and there is one specific example towards the conclusion of the narrative which provides a particularly harsh psychological blow and gut wrenching moment, for the reader and characters alike. The more susceptible might find themselves looking away from the page for a moment, as this is definitely not a read for the faint hearted. Here, Jarvis also provides a clever contrast between the manner in which Ismus’s Lockpick treats the children, toying with them whilst doing so and the more obvious cruelty of the Punchinello guards.
Ultimately, it is the manner in which the children see their personal identity eroded and the frequent sense of a lack of control over events which comes across particularly clearly via the events and this which is especially disconcerting. The immediacy with which social media and the reach of the internet is both able to aid and hinder the spread of the “Jax” manuscript is also an aspect which is hinted at by the author and thus proves itself interesting to speculate upon. It appears fitting that this is something which is alluded to but that throughout the bulk of the novel that Jarvis concerns himself predominantly with maintaining his overreaching focus upon the fates of the children within the camp. By the conclusion, however, this is something which once again comes to the forefront for reasons which will become clear to those who avail themselves of a copy of the book. In bringing things full circle, Jarvis thus places events in a position so as to leave them ready for the conclusion of the trilogy. In Fighting Pax the Ismus envisages extending his reach even further than has previously been the case…
Freax and Rejex is, once again, both dark and disturbing and, as such, remains with the reader after the conclusion of the narrative. The writing is tight and events well-paced, whilst also allowing for satisfying character development. Pleasingly, the second of the three book story arc also has the clout to stand alone on its own merits, whilst slotting neatly into place for the purposes of the trilogy. Taken together, this is one trilogy it’s easy to find oneself lured towards reading.