The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

London had cast her spell with great success, never was there a more willing victim to her charms.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Matt mentions that this chapter is a mirror of the first pages of The Whitby Witches, but I noticed as I was reading through that it’s also a rather clever little book-end for the Deptford Histories as a whole.

Our young hero and his travelling companion wind up on a questionable errand in a confusing and forbidding city. Thinking to find someone whom they have travelled a long way to meet, they enter a seedy dive, whereupon they become targets for sundry evil-doers with dark secrets connected to the main story-line.

In the third book of the Histories, an almost identical scene preludes the finale, but here it is our opener, setting up our secondary villains Jessel and Carver (what fantastically rat-like names!) and delivering Will into the clutches of the loathsome Doctor Spittle.

The scene in the Sickle Moon is one of my favourites in the Histories, and Peggy Blister has got to be one of my favourite minor characters. What I love about her is that she could so easily have been a bit two-dimensional; just another ‘tavern wench’ to provide mildly uncomfortable comic relief. Instead, she leaps off the page as boldly as our protagonists, make-up flaking, rotten teeth clacking, queen of all she surveys (even if all she surveys happens to be the dingy environs of a down-at-heel public house). She is rather gloriously unpleasant, and despite her lies about Will I cannot help but like her for the larger-than-life caricature that she is.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oh, the bleakness of this thing! It’s like a mirror image of the opening of The Whitby Witches. In that book, our young heroes – also orphans like Will – head to a new town, not knowing what to expect. To their surprise, they find love, friendship and a town that is special.

The exact opposite happens here. The city of London – cast in all its ominous 17th century shadow – rises up to swallow Will. Instead of community, the one person he has in the world is violently dispatched and a young boy is on his own in a rather nasty city.

The only ray of light in the whole thing is that John Balker, before he exits the stage, finally seems to make peace with the past. (I’m starting to wonder if it’s a bad sign to make peace with your inner demons in a Jarvis book! It seems to shorten your life-span.)

So we’re left reeling from the shock of what happens to John, only to have the arrival of the mysterious Dr Spittle. (More on him later.)

In the meantime, do Jack and Jessel not remind you a lot of the rats? Opportunistic, out for themselves and no worries about using violence.

It’s going to be a grim 14 chapters. (And I’m loving it.)

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4 thoughts on “The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 2

  1. I love just how bleak and morbid this book is even by Jarvis’ standards. Granted, there’s no better time period to revel in it – as a kid I grew up with the ‘Horrible Histories’ books and these were some right bleak stuff, and I appreciated them for how much they didnt cutesy up history either, especially the periods much fawned over in pop-culture (if I see another kitschy depiction of Victorian London ever again…)

    The London shown here is such an evil hellscape, while literally – there has been a good few literary links with the rise of industrial society and Hell – William Blake and his ‘dark Satanic Mills’, Allen Ginsberg using Moloch (basically a proxy Satan in pop culture by now) as a metaphor for capitalism in ‘Howl’, etc. The fact that this book has the miserable London be the birthplace of Satan’s child may be a stretch, but then again, given all the stuff in the Mooncaster books…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What happens to Will in this chapter is hands down the most terrifying thing I can imagine. Everyone this kid knows is either dead or too far away to contact for help. He can’t leave the apothecary because he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit. He had to watch said murder in full. And now he’s got to stay with some smelly old guy as his slave? Genuinely horrifying. Gets me every time.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. The chapter title, a quote from Mr. Balker, is so very poetic… “Where Dreams and Nightmares Mingle”. A perfect description of a big city like London.

    I particularly like the contrast of the distant, enthralling place Will sees at the end of the last chapter, and then as he enters it how disillusioned he becomes. It’s reminiscent of Twit’s late night ride with the bats, and his seeing the beautiful twinkling city lights below… but then he sees and hears the despairing creatures who inhabit London.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Doctor Elias Theophrastus Spittle. Now that’s a…hmm…downright interesting choice of name right there. In more ways than one…

    This chapter is just soaked in dread and atmosphere. There’s a constant sensation that something is wrong. The paranoia slowly turns to panic as Will and the miller are sitting in the pub, waiting for a man who never turns up, and then explodes into sheer terror when the pair of cut-throats ambush them. Then Will’s only companion is mercilessly put to the knife, leaving the poor kid falsely accused of the murder and in the power of a figure ten times more frightening than the murderous rogues.

    What makes it so tragic is just how many chances Will had to turn around and ride away from London before it was too late. There were so many moments when he could have gone home, forgotten all about the letter and just lived out his days on the family farm, happily unaware of the horror that would have lain in store for him. But he didn’t because he was burning with curiosity about that mysterious uncle of his. And you know what they say about curiosity. Mr Balker was right. There are some paths which are best left unwalked. As Will and the reader is soon to find out…

    Like

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