Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘One day,’ he growled, ‘I shall avenge you, Mother, and all humankind will pay – this I swear.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Molly was one of those characters who I cared deeply about as a young reader. From the moment she appeared in Chapter 4 I loved her, and I didn’t stop loving her even when it looked as if she had treated Will cruelly and abandoned him. I knew there must be an explanation, and here she proved me right. I could talk all day about how great it is that she’s the plague doctor, and how she’s weathered the storms that’ve been thrown her way and carved out a business for herself that allows her to use her learning in a time when women were considered second-class citizens, but I’ll save that for the comments otherwise we’ll be here forever.
This chapter also answers a question that had been bothering me right from the beginning: why did Will never make more of an effort to escape from Spittle’s nefarious clutches? Surely the ruckus over Mr Balker’s murder must have died down enough by then to let Will make a dash for it when Spittle was sleeping? Alternatively, Will must by this time have had suitable knowledge of the shop to know which concoctions might knock the alchemist out for long enough to allow an escape.
At first it seemed to me to make little sense that Will would stick around when the means of getting away is presented to him with every customer who opens the shop door. In Chapter 6, however, the reason dawned on me, and this chapter confirms it. In that chapter, we saw Spittle demonstrate his first real command of the magical arts.
Being a young man of 1665, the Biblical concept of eternal damnation would be as tangible to Will as the promise of ascension to heaven, and Spittle’s necromancy would have cemented beyond doubt that the threat of everlasting hellfire was absolutely real. In this universe, Spittle really does have eyes everywhere, and really is capable of exacting all manner of terrible magical punishments on Will, should he try to leave. Throughout the story Will has demonstrated a wisdom beyond his years despite his rustic upbringing and illiteracy, and here I feel he is actually showing that wisdom again by not acting rashly with regards to his predicament. Our young hero is aware that his circumstances could change very quickly – the means to get away may still present itself, and he need only be ready to seize it when it arrives.
As a final note: with Heliodorus’ death comes the only direct mention of Hobb we get in this book, but it is a striking one. On tape, that terrible “Hobb is come!” was gargled out in a despairing death-rattle that haunts me to this day. What I’d like to know is whether all Children of the Mighty Three behold a dreadful vision of their patron lords or lady at the hour of their deaths, or if Heliodorus, having done great and terrible deeds in life, was singled out for that dubious honour.
Matt’s Thoughts: I remember being somewhere between 10-12 years old and reading a Three Investigators mystery. (Does anyone else remember them?) In the course of this mystery, young detective Jupiter Jones made a mention of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in which he totally spoiled the ending. I never got around to reading the original Christie until maybe 15 years later, and you would have thought with that much ensuing time, I would have forgotten that plot spoiler from my pre-teen days.
Unfortunately, no. As I read the Poirot book, I kept thinking, ‘Oh, I know how this one ends … bummer.’ So I will never know whether the finale of that book would have been considered one of her best endings.
Anyway, all of this is to say, that I was somewhat delighted to find that I didn’t see it coming, even on my third read through, that John Balker was actually in London looking for his daughter. I totally bought the red herring that it must have been some old flame of his. Not only is this a great piece of information to know, the little spark of hope that this offers for Will is a welcome relief from the dark tone of the story. Of course, it’s just a spark, especially with poor old Heliodorus (my favourite of the Jarvis rats) biting the dust at the end of the chapter.