Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘It is said that an aufwader’s heart is a sure guide,’ she told the boy, ‘and mine is full of despair and dread.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter sets up two major plot threads. To start off with, it’s lovely to see Miss Boston again after the trials of the first book, and the little detail that she is still caring for Miss Droon’s most beloved cat gives the impression that things are business as usual in Whitby. White witch or no white witch, Aunt Alice still has to do onerous chores like rescuing Eurydice from the ruin of the late Mrs Cooper’s house, and in this again we see the blending of the fantastic with the mundane – the element which makes this trilogy what it is.
Unfortunately for Miss Boston, however, the fantastic seems intent on ruining her day in the form of Nathaniel, and it is disconcerting that even she, with her own considerable gifts, falls for his wheedling charm.
Our next thread concerns Ben and Nelda. From the way The Whitby Witches ended, we knew that things looked bleak for the aufwaders, but it’s still a sting to see Nelda push Ben away. As a young reader I saw this from Ben’s point of view and thought it dreadfully unfair – these two have been through so much together, surely their bond ought to be the stronger for it?
Reading it now, though, I have a clearer sense of Nelda’s perspective. To her, Ben may be a friend, but he is also an onlooker to her life and the doings of the tribe. Ben is human, and thus can never truly be a part of the ancient culture of the fisherfolk. If things get too heavy for him (and we must remember, he is only eight) he has guardians in the form of Jennet and Miss Boston, to whom he can run in the assurance that they will and can protect him.
Nelda, on the other hand, was born with the grief of centuries weighting upon her. She cannot distance herself from the reality of the aufwader’s doom in the way that Ben can, and it’s understandable that that drawn-out horror, combined with the uncertainty of her own fate on returning without the moonkelp, might cause her to retreat into herself and push even the most well-meaning away.
Still, it stings.
Matt’s Thoughts: Our old friends from the first book return, but unfortunately, only to run into trouble of some sort. We have Alice Boston and her encounter with Crozier, which shows Aunt Alice’s inner strength, but also shows the danger she is in. Then we have Ben and the school bullies.
What I find particularly bleak about the latter scene is that this is a scene that could easily happen in any town. While there may not be any warlocks wreaking havoc, chances are quite strong that there is bullying happening in many schoolyards. I don’t know, maybe it’s just disturbing because it’s hard to ignore that there are people out there (even as grown-ups) who well deserve the epithet ‘one of the most unpleasant little yobs ever to have dreamt of having his knuckles tattooed’. If Crozier’s malevolence is veiled, Danny and Mark’s is overt, which makes it worse.
Still, it immediately sets up the challenges facing Ben, and it’s great to see Jennet in fine form.
But my favourite moment in the whole chapter is the last line where Ben tells Mrs Rigby she should have kept her cat on a string. When she holds up the bitten string – ‘But I did,’ she whispered, ‘I did.’ – it just gives me a delightful creepy frisson. As a famous person once said: Dare to be scared.