Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘I cannot sleep for the fear which freezes my blood – the same blood which will turn to brine when the time comes.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Somehow it never occurred to me that the aufwaders would have to endure the Whitby holiday season. Perhaps because the fisherfolk seemed so timeless and mythical up until now, it was difficult to imagine them sharing their shimmering beach and ghostly caves with sunburned, ice-cream-toting tourists until it was spelled out on the page. Were Nelda’s plight not so dire and her tribe’s existence not so threatened, it would almost be amusing to think of them chuntering and moaning grouchily in their caves while screaming children hurtle up and down outside.
As things stand, a few noisy holidaymakers are the least of the aufwader’s worries. I admit that I didn’t remember this chapter in any great detail, so to read Nelda’s confrontation with Tarr was a heart-skipping experience. I love the characterisation of Mr Shrimp in that scene – we can clearly see his internal struggle and get a strong sense of him as a layered and flawed character.
Clearly, he loves his grandchild and is racked with guilt at what he sees as his failure to protect her, both in her current situation, and last book in relation to Esau. This pain is exacerbated by Tarr’s memories of the death of Nelda’s mother and the prospect of living through that horror again with his only remaining relative. On top of that, he both blames Nelda for endangering herself and the tribe, and hates himself for harbouring those feelings.
He knows that Nelda saved them all by obtaining the guardian from Esau, but in his new position of leadership, the ire of the Lords of the Deep is his responsibility more than anyone else’s. It’s a wretched situation all round, but I was glad to see that the tribe at least felt shame for trying to dictate Nelda’s choices about her baby, and that Nelda herself denounces them as weak and cowardly in their surrender to mob rule.
Matt’s Thoughts: Mr Jarvis, such cruelty to your characters! If it’s not enough for Nelda to be cursed to die a miserable death, you let her get completely ostracised by the aufwader community, including Tarr. Utterly tragic.
But also, the scene carries subtle echoes of the many, many girls in times not too long past, who also suddenly found themselves shunned and treated as second-class if they found themselves pregnant under less-than-ideal circumstances. They may be humanoid non-human characters, but the dilemmas that the aufwaders face feel very human.
Almost as a bit of relief, we get to enjoy the building of the Penny Hedge (which is totally a real thing), with more Sister Frances comedy … and a wedding announcement, no less. This chapter reminds me of a combo of Heartbeat and The Wicker Man, which is perhaps why I like it so much.