After all the rodents in the Deptford Mice books, it’s very interesting to see some people in this universe. We’ve seen Mr Jarvis’ skill with human facial expression already in The Whitby Witches, but the early illustrations in this book show off what he can do with ink. One detail I really like is how solid this picture is – Mr Balker’s hands on the wooden table top look how a 17th Century miller’s hands would have looked, and his and Will’s drinks look heavy in their tankards. Will’s hair seems realistically in need of a wash, and the posture of the little group even suggests a cramped, dingy space. Plus, we have our first and only depiction of Peggy Blister. Is it just me or do her flying ribbons remind anyone else of Mabb’s headdress?
I really hope Mr Jarvis was referencing the many depictions of Florence Nightingale with this picture. Even though we are in 1665 here, the whole thing has the look and feel of a Victorian tableau, or even an engraving. So atmospheric, and so macabre.
There’s something totally surreal about the old plague doctor’s uniforms. It’s never stated in the books, but when you see Molly in uniform, she looks something like a cross between The Fly and an alien stork. Also, the picture appears (at least in my edition) a few pages earlier than the moment when Spittle looks out the window and spots her. So from that perspective, the picture gives us a foreshadowing of what it is that Spittle is seeing. It also marks the turning point where the Black Death has arrived and we realise how dark this story is going to get.
And as for this one, what is there not to like? First of all, it’s epic Jupiter, in his absolute prime, breathing fire. What I also love is that we’ve lost all sense of the real world in this one. We know from the book that all of this is taking place in the apothecary’s downstairs room, but there is no sign of furniture or walls to give us any sense of place. So the battle visually takes on a bigger scale than just two magical peeps having a go at each other in a small wooden room. I love it.