The Whitby Child | Chapter 9

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Tonight the brides of Crozier will be unchained!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The moment when I realised that ‘The Ballad of Molly Werbride’ was foreshadowing was one of those great Robin Jarvis moments, like the epilogue of The Alchymist’s Cat, or when Rowena turned back time. It was a moment that made me go ‘oh, that’s good!’ and have a little cackle to myself before reading on.

This chapter is definitely one of the most unnerving in an entire trilogy of unnerving chapters. We see the vicious truth of the Coven of the Black Sceptre, and feel Jennet’s crushing sense of betrayal when the reality of her new friends is revealed. What makes this chapter so creepy is that the way the folk band endear themselves to Jennet is, as far as I’m aware, quite close to how real cults bring in new members. They’re almost too friendly and welcoming, and to vulnerable, sheltered Jennet, they seem like the perfect escape from a life that she finds stifling.

The folk band have painted a picture for her of their carefree life on the road, but the reality of the matter is that they’re more trapped and confined than Jennet ever was. It’s very gratifying to see that she at least has the strength of will to resist Nathaniel at the last, and that Pear seems to have turned a corner away from her grim upbringing for Jennet’s sake. As for Jennet’s daring escape on the handlebars of Sister Frances’s bicycle, what a fantastic image! I love the illustration for this chapter, but I’d love to have seen Sister Frances yelling, ‘Get thee jolly well behind me, and stay there!’ on the small screen.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oh, it’s all heating up! The Lords of the Dark and Deep want Miss Boston. (WHY??? I can’t remember and it’s killing me!)

Then there’s Jennet and her moment of truth. Loved this whole sequence. Not only do we just have a straight up bit of black magic / werewolf horror, we also get a great chance for Jennet to work through her bitterness and show us that she does care for Ben and Miss Boston. So it’s a great character turning point for her as well.

And who didn’t give a big cheer when Sister Frances showed up? Now, I even more want Miranda Hart to be in the TV adaptation – after all, she’s had practice riding a bike in Call the Midwife. She’s ready for this role. But, in all seriousness, these little moments where somebody you might have written off as purely comedic turns out to be of great value or the tragedy of Pear, whose desire for a friendship with Jennet leads her to try to save her – all this is Mr Jarvis in top form.

Up Next Reminder | Thomas

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I can remember exactly how I first came across this story. Like many of my early Robiny discoveries, it began with a rainy afternoon at the library. I was ten and summer break was just around the corner. I’d availed myself of the usual suspects – among them an old BBC audiobook of The Amber Spyglass, which I still think is the best recording of that book you’ll find – and was on my way to the check-out desk when I spied the silver spine of a new Robin Jarvis tape.

I took a peek at the cover, grinned at the loathsome visage of a vicious-looking beastie, and flipped the case over. To this day I’m not sure what drew me more, the enticing premise of ‘four years since the fall of Jupiter’, or the mention of terrifying heathen gods, but that new tape got top spot on my library pile. I had absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for.

To you, Readers all, I now extend the bejewelled claw of invitation. Who will set sail with Thomas and Woodget upon the roaring oceans?  Who among you has the courage to venture through poison-tipped peril, to hear the beating of pagan drums in the night and breathe the searing air of forgotten temples? Join us; share a flask of rum, pull up a cotton bale, but hang on tight to your packs. A storm’s a-brewing, and it’ll not pass us by.

 

 

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Of course even if you have the original edition, you’re going to want this one too, as it’s clearly the best. (Hodder Silver, 2000)
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Not to sneer villainously but, well, I daresay you could do better than Thomas’s face. (Chronicle Books, 2006)
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Finally, there’s this illustrationless but easily accessible version. (Hodder, 2007)

The Whitby Child | Chapter 8

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Imagine all those hearts that will turn to her – will she spurn them and be a cold destroyer of men?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The folk band are probably my favourite thing about this novel, and a large part of the reason I always wanted to attend Whitby Folk Week. In spending some time with them, we also get a peek into Jennet’s head, and start to see some of her own personality shine through.

In light of what we learnt about Meta last chapter and what we’ve been told so far about Jennet’s state of mind following the events of the previous book, it would be easy to define Pear and Jennet’s newfound friendship in relation to Nathaniel. The folk band are coven members; Jennet is still haunted by their High Priest’s memory; obviously, they’re out to reel her in. While I’ll be coming back to Crozier and the machinations of his witches later, let’s focus just on Jennet and Pear for the moment.

Paranormal shenanigans or no paranormal shenanigans, Jennet is still an orphan who feels cut off from others her age and longs to escape from the small town that is her home. She’s also on the cusp of adolescence, with all the revelations that brings.

In Chapter 1, it’s mentioned that one of the reasons Jennet feels alienated from her school friends is that they are interested in ‘being chatted up by a group of spotty lads with bad breath who wear too much cheap aftershave’. While it’s possible that Nathaniel’s conditioning might have discouraged Jennet’s curiosity about boys her own age, I think it’s more likely, given her sudden and rapturous devotion to Pear, that Jennet is just now discovering that she likes girls. The giddy nature of their meeting and instant connection, combined with the golden afternoons they spend together can be read – at least from Jennet’s perspective – as a blossoming romance.

As for Pear’s feelings about all of this, we know she has a strong bond with Jennet and is protective of her to a certain extent, but we have yet to see where her loyalties truly lie. I’m sure we’d all love for her to break away from the corrupting influence of Meta, who has been so warped by her obsession with Nathaniel that she cannot even try to be a decent parent. Once again, Jennet and her affections are being manipulated for dark purposes, and I just hope that Pear proves good and true.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t have a lot to say about this chapter except that a) I really like the illustration – which I’ll save for the favourite illustrations post – and b) that if Mr Jarvis ever decides to write a book for adults, I think the Werbrides of Crozier back-story would be creepy, unsettling and fascinating.

What were these women in their past before Nathaniel? How did they meet him? What made him select them? There are hints, but I feel like there’s a whole horrific story there waiting to be told.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 7

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The ghost of his mother smiled at him, then like a flickering will-o’-the-wisp she turned and floated further away.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh, Pear! Wonderful, marvellous, scintillating Pear! Merry, mirror-skirted daughter of mystery! A true Robin Jarvis creation from her raven head to her dusty toes.

If there was a certain song or band that inspired ‘The Ballad of Molly Werbride’, I’m not sure I want to know about it, because we as readers probably all have a different idea of what it sounds like. I imagine the folk group in general to have the vibe of Fairport Convention, and I’d love to know what everybody else hears when Pear sings.

As for the second half of this chapter, I have a disconcerting feeling that ‘third time lucky’ may ring true for the Coven of the Black Sceptre. Miriam’s attempt to lure Ben to his death with the shade of his mother comes off as especially cruel and underhanded, considering Ben’s argument with Jennet over his ability to see the ghosts of their parents earlier on. I’m probably missing something, but I find I can’t recall why it is that Ben stopped being able to see ghosts and yet can still see the aufwaders? Still, all may yet be revealed.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Quite a long chapter, but so much going on with our human characters. I’m so glad I can’t remember this one, because while the plotting of this book still has that infallible sense of Robin Jarvis timing, nonetheless, it heads off in quirky directions that I don’t always see coming.

So, for instance, the introduction of the female folk band and the beginning of the friendship between Pear and Jennet is quite a brilliant touch. Of course, we get sinister vibes about the band right from the start, but nonetheless, who doesn’t want Jennet to find a friend, given all that she’s been through? I certainly do!

It becomes a bit like a Shakespearean tragedy – for the characters, things are starting to look happy and there’s a sense of new beginnings – but for us, the readers, there’s a sinking feeling that things are going to get worse.

Also, what’s the deal with Sister Frances and her blank-outs? This, too, is a new thing. It’s almost like every woman in Whitby (apart from Edith, who is exactly what she appears to be, no more and no less) seems to have some secret side to themselves that you never hear about.

I’m in for a TV show of this trilogy, anyway, that’s for sure!

Finally, great cinematic showdown between Ben and Miriam at the end. He’s such a trooper and I hope life improves for him!

The Whitby Child | Chapter 6

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Ah’ll not let owt take thee from me, not while theer’s life in my bones.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I remember the scene with the gull’s eggs in lurid detail. I remember it giving me the absolute frights, I remember the way Prunella Scales made Ben sound as if he really was about to be sick from sheer horror, and I remember almost feeling that way myself as a young listener.

This is pretty uncharacteristic for me. There’s very little in Robin Jarvis canon that genuinely terrifies me (usually it’s more of a ‘woo yeah, rip his head off!’ situation …once a cultist, always a cultist, I suppose) but the scene with the serpents hatching from gull’s eggs really stuck with me. That in itself is odd, that I, a confirmed reptile, should be so twitchy about snakes. But it’s not really the snakes themselves that are scary in this scene.

I think what makes this particular omen of the Deep Ones so striking is how plain weird it is. It’s like something from the borders of a medieval manuscript; an almost Biblical sign of an all-powerful deity’s displeasure, like toads falling from the sky.

The sand in Miss Boston’s room and dead fish on the beach, while alarming, were pretty par for the course in terms of Things You Might Expect From A Triad Of Sea Gods. Snakes hatching from gull’s eggs and then throttling the poor birds in a grotesque parody of the Mother’s Curse, however, is more than just abhorrent. It requires consideration, the careful singling-out of a specific pair of victims, and a deeply malevolent intent to cause actual mental trauma. The Lords of the Deep and Dark are not here to mess about, and I don’t like to think too hard about what else they might have up their watery sleeves!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’ll be straight up: this chapter made me cry. First you have Ben and Nelda talking to one another again, and her realising that he can understand her predicament and be a friend. And then we get a second moment of mushiness at the end with the dramatic entrance of Tarr. 

That said, just in case you were worried he was getting soppy, there is of course the hideous prospect of gulls’ eggs with snakes in them (which adds another layer to Mr Jarvis’ serpent mythology). It’s also just creepy all round. Or if not creepy, at least something that would get morbidly re-shared on YouTube if it featured in Planet Earth Season 3.

But, anyway, so glad to know that relationships are being built back up. Which probably just means Robin is planning something dreadful for these characters in a chapter or two (I really don’t remember how this book pans out!), but I’ll try not to think about that …

The Whitby Child | Chapter 5

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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.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 4

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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?