Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘And that’s why she always used to warn me about charming gentlemen – because the Devil himself is a charming man.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Here we have another chapter that’s rather uncomfortable to read, with Nathaniel using his dodgy warlock powers on our Jennet. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I want to be like a big sister to her here. I want to tell her to stay with her book and her chocolate digestives and don’t even get up, and for the love of all that’s holy do not answer the door. But of course, we all have to read powerlessly as Nathaniel slimes into Miss Boston’s house and into the mind of her young ward.
As with the previous chapter, there’s just enough ‘removal’ here to make this scene digestible for young readers – Nathaniel uses magic rather than more overt means to extract the information he needs from Jennet, but he is still coercing her and taking advantage of her susceptibility to his artificial charm. What I think is really good about the way Mr Jarvis deals with this is that Jennet is never blamed for her infatuation at any point. It’s very clear that Nathaniel is a vile, abusive character with no redeeming features, and that he sees those weaker than himself as pawns to be used (see also the scene with the Gregsons in Chapter 1). I’ll go into more detail on this when we get to The Whitby Child, but for now I’ll say that I think this is an excellent introduction to one of the most infamous and loaded aspects of this trilogy.
The story of the ‘charming man’ has stuck with me right from when I first read this book (though I admit that instead of having a cautionary effect, it came across to me as a somewhat amusing metaphor for my involuntary propensity toward falling for fictional villains). Anyway, I was, and continue to be, of the opinion that the ‘charming man’ Miss Wether’s mother met is in fact a character from Robin Jarvis canon masquerading in a different guise. At the moment I have two suspects for the role of suave cufflinked Devil, but I can’t name any names. Suffice to say that we’ve a long, long way to go on the project before we meet either of them.
Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is darkly brilliant. Getting back to our human characters, I love the humour of the scene between Miss Wethers and Miss Boston, with their fussing and directness respectively. It’s a nice throwback to the original book and also a reminder, that of the original Whitby Witches, these are the only two left, which is somewhat sad.
Then the scene with Crozier at the Banbury-Scott house which nicely expands the mythology from the first book (no mean feat, given how apocalyptic that book felt in its finale) and gives it new directions.
But the bit that surely gives everyone the heeby-jeebies (do people still say that or am I showing my age?) is the Crozier/Jennet interaction. I won’t dwell on it too long, but it becomes more sinister the older I get. And also, Jennet, being the tough character that she is, you know she’d never do anything to endanger Aunt Alice and Ben unless she was totally being coerced by an evil power.
Finally, we have the fantastic story told by Miss Wethers, which struck me as having an air of poignancy. In many sense, it’s like a Jarvis nod to old horror stories of the early 20th century (it reminds me of my grandfather’s book of True Irish Ghost Stories which freaked me out no end when I peeked into it at age 12). But you also wonder whether there was something deeper underneath. Did Miss Wethers’ mother make the story up to scare her daughter away from men? It’s already hinted that Miss Wethers might not have ended up a spinster if it wasn’t for that story sitting in the back of her mind. Who knows?
Either way, it very economically sketches the tragedy of Miss Wethers’ life – just another dash of great characterisation in the Jarvis universe.