Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘The Allpowerful does not “ask” – he demands.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Hillian is my favourite of the three (or rather, two-and-a-bit) antagonists who are introduced in this chapter, and I’ve always liked the little scene where she does her summoning on the shore. On reread, it reminded me of Doctor Spittle’s necromancy magic in Chapter 6 of The Alychmist’s Cat – both scenes are momentous to the plot, but both have their grandeur tarnished somewhat when the everyday intrudes.
In Spittle’s case it was his relentless mumbling and Will’s long-suffering attitude which lightened proceedings. Here, it is a combination of Hillian’s utter failure to be adequately dressed for the Whitby weather and the fact that her ritual takes quite a while to bear fruit that makes the whole thing seem faintly ridiculous. Honestly, what’s the point of being the Almost High Priestess of the Black Sceptre if your good shoes get ruined in the wretched wet sand and your unholy invocation to the powers of the fathomless oceans takes so long to work that you have time for a smoke break? A bit shoddy, I call that. A bit unprofessional. Evidently, bringing a puny warlock back from the dead is not high on the agenda of the Deep Ones.
Speaking of Nathaniel, did anyone else groan and think ‘oh here we blooming well go’ when the Coven of the Black Sceptre was brought up? A glad day it was when Crozier suffered his agonising and well-deserved demise in A Warlock in Whitby, but it seems his witchy groupies aren’t likely to follow suit any time soon. As the last part of this chapter illustrates in gruesome detail, the new Whitby Witches are just as dangerous as their deceased leader. Despite the coven member’s botched assassination-by-ammonite, it looks as if Ben, and the rest of our heroes, may be facing their worst peril yet.
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, we’ve definitely got our villains now, as we meet yet another coven. In many ways, I find this to be the mirror image of Book 1. There we were introduced to a bunch of sweet old ladies who lived in Whitby who got together for witchcraft.
Here we have a sort of slightly younger, shop-working class of woman, who also get together for witchcraft on the side – but of a much darker, murkier type.
She only gets one chapter, but the character of Susannah O’Donnell is another fascinating Jarvis ‘grey’ character – yes, she’s part of the Crozier coven, but under different circumstances, might she have chosen a different path? (And we’ll never know now.)
Meanwhile, I love the idea of the fishmonkey barking orders. (And the inspiration for that particular character came from a fake mermaid that Robin found one day.)
I should also add – now that I’ve had a read of Robin’s Whitby Child page, that his inspiration for Sister Frances came from the comedienne Joyce Grenfell, but I must confess I’ve never seen any of her films. Anyone else?