The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 14 & Finale

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘For I am Jupiter,’ he lied. ‘Lord of All.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The Deptford Histories are, in my opinion, some of Mr Jarvis’ best work to date, and this ending is definitely up there with one of my favourite twists in any novel.

In fact, there are a lot of favourites here. We’ve got the perfect blending of fiction and history with the Great Fire of London as a backdrop for our character’s final reckonings. We’ve got the visceral grotesquerie of Magnus Zachaire’s reanimated corpse clawing its way out of the earth. We’ve got Spittle’s glorious showdown with his familiar, grown mighty and terrible under the alchemist’s own tutelage, and, finally, the bitter clash between Jupiter and Leech.

Once again, Spittle is faced with his own hubris come back to haunt him. It was he who trained Jupiter in the dark arts. Spittle sought the elixir of life that means there can be no true victor of their battle. Spittle hauled Magnus Zachaire from the cold oblivion of the void, incurring his wrath and bitterness and compelling him to seek revenge. The alchemist’s dreadful fate is entirely of his own making, and he pays the price for his arrogance and perfidy in what has to be one of the most nightmarish (and satisfying) death scenes I’ve ever read.

If Jupiter’s birth won the award for Most Grandiose Arrival into the story, Spittle’s death certainly wins Most Outlandish Exit. Dragged into Hell itself by an undead mage, his immortality singed off with his hair, screaming for mercy the whole way? Yikes! That’s some Don Giovanni business right there.

To that glorious epilogue, then. I have a mental image of the dark portal in grainy 2D animation, fathomless and waiting. There are no candles before it as yet, but a shaft of ruddy light falls onto the scene from the distant fire, far above. The thin black shape of Leech crawls in like a spider and begins to purr, and, as the dreadful sound shakes the searing bricks and rattles Becket’s bones, a fell darkness seeps forth and covers the cavern in impenetrable night. In their squalid holes and tunnels, the rats of Deptford go about their business, heedless of the evil that now sleeps among them, unaware that Jupiter, Lord of All, has at last come into his kingdom.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oh. Yeah. Another out-of-the-park finale. Giant cats, a battle between fire and water (which brilliantly echoes The Deptford Mice books if you’ve read them, or just works well as a story element in this book if you haven’t), a re-animated corpse and the Great Fire of London.

What else could you want?

Except a twist where the cat we thought we knew as Jupiter turns out not to be the Jupiter we thought we knew. (If you know what I mean.) In his final moments, the ‘real’ Jupiter (as I’ll refer to the one in this book) learns to be kind to his brother and gives up his dream of doing magic, only to find that Leech has gone too far down a dark path to give up. What a poignant moment!

At least it seems that Will and Molly will end up okay, with a bit of coin, and a chance to get back to Adcombe. (The only ray of sunshine in what has probably been the darkest Jarvis book so far in the re-read.)

Finally, one fascinating detail that Aufwader and I have been sitting on since we read The Final Reckoning was that in the finale of that book, Jupiter has a flashback where he remembers escaping from his cruel master during the Great Fire of London. And it describes him running through London, having his ginger fur being singed.

Which, of course, is slightly different from how the finale of this book worked out, where Leech didn’t have ginger fur during the Great Fire and was actually rescued by Will, rather than fleeing from the fire himself. So I’m assuming that while Robin always had Jupiter’s origins pegged as being in 1600s London (which would make sense, given that his idea of a nasty plan was to give all humans the Black Plague again) the Jupiter/Leech side of the story was possibly thought up later.

If that’s the case, it’s one of the greatest afterthoughts ever.

Anyway, after this much grimness, I’m ready for a seaside holiday. Who wants to come along for another trip to Whitby? Not much bad stuff could happen out there, right?

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One thought on “The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 14 & Finale

  1. For me, the reanimated corpse of Magnus Zachaire is one of the most frightening things in this overall very frightening book. There is something about the idea of a walking skeleton that makes me uneasy… well, I guess it would pretty much anyone! Especially if you were in Spittle’s position, being attacked by one. Its description alone is enough to send chills down my spine… empty eye sockets, the jaw suddenly falling open, the tattered shroud and stench of the grave. It’s a relief when Magnus’ spirit unites with his body and it’s restored to life.

    Somehow it makes a lot more sense that Leech would become the Jupiter we know from The Deptford Mice. With his hateful personality, it’s believable that he is that same character, whereas the ‘real’ Jupiter was merely headstrong, yet well-meaning. One is left to wonder though, if the ‘real’ Jupiter had lived, how WOULD he have become the evil lord of the rats? It seems that that indeed was his destiny until Leech stole it from him… although perhaps Magnus misunderstood his vision of the future, naturally believing that “Jupiter, Lord of All” would be the ‘real’ Jupiter and not an imposter. He did at the same time tell Leech that disaster would come of his feelings of jealousy, and that the living god in the sewers would rise if “the present path [was] followed unswervingly”. Leech already hated his brother and wished for his destruction, so maybe he was meant to be ‘Jupiter’ the rat god all along.

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