The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 8

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Cherry Cerise moved through a dreamlike, warped vision of Whitby.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I love Cherry’s little adventure through Lil’s mind. It’s a fascinating concept, and makes me wonder what Cherry would see if she did her ‘party trick’ on us rereaders. Hidden among the great and small impressions of our lives, would there be a rippling wheat field or ancient oak to represent our enjoyment of Mr Jarvis’s books? I’d feel sorry for Cherry exploring that aspect of my psyche – she’d probably be set upon by hordes of poison-clawed forktails…

I really appreciate the return of Scaur Annie, even if it isn’t really all of her. So now it’s confirmed that Annie was a weather witch – with Cherry and her colours and Lil with her knot magic, here’s a question: what sort of witch was Alice Boston?

Matt’s Thoughts: I was trying to put my finger on what was different about the feel of this particular Whitby book, relative to the original trilogy and even Power of Dark, and I think it’s to do with the pace of the story at this point. Jarvis’ stories are usually more steadily-paced tales with mounting peril rather than breakneck thrillers, but there is no let-up here.

Bugs are out of control, Scaur Annie must be brought in – it’s all urgent.

This cameo by Annie was quite interesting because I realise that we never quite got to see Annie in full magical flight in the first book. Her story was always intertwined with that of Pyke’s. But here she is in her element, conjuring up nature. (Just like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds only you’re happy to see the birds.)

It’s a reminder that every witch in Whitby has had their own style of doing things, while still having an enormous amount of power. Annie, the wild nature child. Mrs Boston with her tweed and cups of tea. And Cherry with her Canadian accent and 70s record collection.

Up Next Reminder | Time of Blood

the deptford mice almanack _0002

In keeping with the decision we made in October to tackle books 1 to 3 of The Witching Legacy as they were being published, here at Myth & Sacrifice we now present something hot off the presses, the most recent addition to Robin Jarvis canon, the one, the only, Time of Blood!

Zip into Whitby’s Victorian past with Lil as she pursues the nefarious Mister Dark and attempts to liberate Verne from his clutches. Marvel at a lost way of life interwoven with ancient magic and the powers of the almighty sea. Thrill to gruesome murders in shadowy places, wonder at figures of fame and renown, presented as you’ve never seen them, and tremble as our spooky happenings duo face their spookiest happenings yet.

Avail yourself of a luridly purple paperback here, and dress in your best. There’s an occasion like no other taking place down by the shore, and you’re all invited to attend.

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 7

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The noise of their tiny wings was deafening.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Those of you with insect phobias, take cover! It’s absolutely chilling when Lil and Verne realise that the Carmine Swarm is supposed to sting, and even worse when the plague is described as descending like rain, to the screams and wails of Whitby’s unfortunate inhabitants. As for that ill-fated helicopter, at this point it’s that or an agonising rot from the Yellow Scourge, and frankly I’m not sure which is worse. Will there be anybody left in Whitby once all the paints are used?

Matt’s Thoughts: And now insects! (Have I mentioned the Exodus Ten Plagues connection already, or did I imagine that I did?) What hits me is the sense of escalation here. We’re not even out of the woods on the yellow scourge and now we have to endure the other paint blocks as well! It’s just intense, intense, intense.

And then the movement from the goings-on in the cottage to the spectacular helicopter scene. It’s horrific. And #PrayForWhitby is a particularly grim reminder of the several times a year (it feels like) that we see similar hashtags in other parts of the world.

I’ve spoken on other occasions how you hit a point in some Jarvis books where you’re not sure how any of the characters are going to get out of the scenario that they’re in. Normally it happens towards the end of the book, but this time we’re halfway in and the story could go anywhere …

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 6

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘That’s what we’re up against: creatures so old, so powerful and terrible, we’d be out of our puny minds to even dream of getting mixed up with Them.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There’s something really lovely about the phrase ‘I cast my net and haul ye home‘, in the context of Lil becoming a bone fide Whitby witch. It speaks of centuries of connection between the magic-working folk of the town, and the sea, with the aufwaders as the binding chord in that partnership. I like that Lil gets to have a moment of some gravitas, since until now she’s been dismissing the idea that her knitting power is ‘real’ witchcraft.

As horrifying as the yellow scourge is, it’s also brilliantly handled, like every Robin Jarvis catastrophe, in a way that makes it seem personal. There are some ‘disaster movie’ elements, like the town being quarantined and the army having to be called out, but we also get the pitifully homemade precautions Verne’s family have taken against the plague, and their relieved faces when Lil’s magic works.

There’s even a callback to Verne’s zombie apocalypse obsession – originally a point of humour, now turned, er, deadly serious (sorry). It’s kind of telling of the desperation of the situation that he can say ‘maybe this is how it starts’ with a straight face and, though we’re all hoping this isn’t going to descend into lurching corpse territory, we can’t help but consider the possibility.

As for the First Mother, boy does that explain a lot. Of course the Triad are three naughty children who never get their own way!

Matt’s Thoughts: So now we add a new layer to the Jarvis mythology with the backstory of the First Mother and the various forces that she let into the world. Now this is, of course, where we either have just the Three Lords of the Deep and Dark OR, if you are a subscriber to Jarvis Universe Theory, we could possibly have all sorts of other powers come into existence as well – the Green, the Lady of the Moon, etc. These are the names that different creatures have given them over the years, but are they just forms of these ancient powers?

Throw in a bit of time travel paradox set up and a rather disturbing vampiric finale, and this book is on a pretty dark course compared with Book 1, considering we’re only six chapters in!

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 5

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘You shall call me Queller.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I wish Scarborough hadn’t been mentioned in this chapter. Shortly before I read this book, I had a somewhat unearthly, vaguely unpleasant experience staying there. While it was an odd couple of days, nothing catastrophic happened. The weekend after I left, one of the town’s biggest hotels was closed down due to an outbreak of a contagious illness that was causing a lot of furore in the UK news at the time. So for me, the mention of Scarborough just made Whitby’s yellow scourge all the more vividly, luridly real.

All that aside, Cassanda Wilson finally gets to begin her character arc, and it’s quite something. I can’t help but feel sorry for her, and although her jealousy does not excuse her mistreatment of Lil, it’s understandable. Her daughter now has the one thing Cassandra spent her whole life wishing for – something that, despite Mr Potts’ assurance, cannot be got by work and wishing alone.

To be honest though, I feel like Cassandra doesn’t actually want to be a real witch, not a Whitby witch, anyway. She doesn’t want magical power to help others or keep the town safe, she wants it to show off, to prove to anyone who’ll listen that she out of all Whitby’s myriad goths is special and unique. And of course, that makes her a target for supernatural beings of a darker nature.

Matt’s Thoughts: I always love it when Mr Jarvis takes a pop culture trope and gives it his own spin – in this case, the epidemic. It also reminds me of The Alchymist’s Cat. People becoming seriously ill and it affecting people left, right and centre – it’s gripping stuff.

Having said that, I’m not sure whether the flu season moves from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern, but we’re just coming out of winter down here in Australia. Aand it was the worst flu season I’ve ever seen. I’m used to getting a cold or something about once a year which will give me a day in bed with fever, a day in bed recovering and then a congested head for the rest of the week.

But I – and what seemed like 2 out of every 3 people in Australia – came down with flus that involved three days of fever, another three days of not being able to move and then at least another couple of weeks where none of us really wanted to show up at work but sort of had to. It was so pervasive and affected so many people that it was the first time I’d really started to worry about these sorts of epidemics and what they might be like. That said, it was nothing like yellow projectile vomit and I don’t remember any of the buildings changing colour, so I’m pretty sure we’re safe. Still …

Only note to add about the graveyard scene was that I love the way the drama comes out of Cassandra’s insecurity and ego. It’s her disappointment with not being able to do real magic that makes her susceptible to Dark’s evil forces. (I somehow feel that Dark, with his penchant for manipulating women, would have quite happily shared a pint or two with Nathaniel where the two of them could swap stories about the situations they had engineered.)

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 4

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘That’s some serious megaton magic.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The second I saw that ‘a colour a day‘ rhyme while rereading this I muttered ‘nope, nope nope!’ into my keyboard. (Yes, Matt, I ended up getting this one on ebook.) Then I saw ‘Scourge Yellow’ and my ‘nopes’ got louder.

Most of the time, Robin’s books make evil and enjoyable reading. I love me a good peeling, a grisly mother’s curse or werewitch coven, a necromancer apothecary being dragged shrieking into the fires of hell. There have only been a clawful of things that have truly scared me in Robiny canon so far, and they are, in order: a certain malevolent mechanical from Deathscent, a certain magically animated something-or-other from The Fatal Strand, the Punchinello guards from Freax and Rejex, and Scourge Yellow.  (Actually I think the Punchinellos deserve to be first in that list as all the others aren’t fully sentient, but frankly, I don’t want to give them that level of influence.)

Please, readers all, do list your True Robiny Fears in the comments. Keep me company in my abject, unfounded terror. Mine all work on me because, like all good scares, they feed on my specific fears and phobias. (Lordy do I hate Punch and Judy!) In the case of Scourge Yellow, it’s more of an ‘adult fear’ thing – I have a horror of substances throughout history which seemed harmless but turned out to be the opposite. To use an example from this chapter, the idea that paints once contained arsenic and lead is just. So horrifying. To me. And people used them. With no idea.

And now Lil has used the yellow block with no idea of the plague that’s about to sweep across her beloved home town! I hate it! Thanks for the nightmares, Mr Jarvis!

Matt’s Thoughts: One of the things that I loved about the original Whitby trilogy was the combination of ‘small village’ humour with the supernatural darkness, and this chapter is a nice nod to that. The difference this time is that the local officials and police aren’t ignorant about the existence of magic in Whitby, they just have no idea how it all works.

One thing I should also mention that I don’t think quite happened in the first Witching Legacy book is the usage of actual pop songs. I noticed this first in the Dancing Jax series, where Mr Jarvis threw in an extraordinary amount of pop culture references. (Many used to stunning effect, but I’ll get to that next year!) We’ve amused ourselves on here with our own playlists and musical imaginings for the past nine books, but it’s always interesting when we get something specific – in this case, T. Rex singing ‘Hot Love’. It immediately adds a new layer to Cherry when we know what sort of music she listens to.

And when you see this live video, it does look like T. Rex shared Cherry’s love of colour. In fact, she was probably at the gig …

But the fun is short-lived because that yellow paint seems to be making people sick …

P.S. To respond to Aufwader’s call for Real-Life Robiny horrors – the ideas of his that actually disturb me – is a concept in Dancing Jax, but I’ll save that for next year. But of the books that we’ve read so far, I think the concept that gets to me most is the Black Plague of The Alchymist’s Cat and just how comprehensive that particular disease was. (Scourge yellow I find I can distance myself a bit from, but I can understand Aufwader’s distress!)

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 3

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It’s paints!’ she exclaimed.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I’m so sorry everyone, but I read and absorbed Deathscent first, and for that reason Jack Potts will forever come second to the mechanicals of Englandia in my esteem. Then again, if you enjoy Jarvis Universe Theory (as Matt has aptly named it) it’s pretty fun to imagine Potts getting sidetracked on his way to the Uplifted Isles and deciding that he’d be more at home in Whitby. Somewhere out there, Gloriana’s royal household is one butler short.

In this chapter we also have the return of Lil’s love for forgotten and obscure words. One of the strongest and most enjoyable aspects of this quartet is the wordplay and tinkering with dialect that goes on – we’ll see this most prominently with a character in Time of Blood, but we’ll get to them next month.

Then there’s that box. That vile, fiendish, malign, maleficent and positively diabolical box. I hate it. I ain’t ready.

Matt’s Thoughts: I love the ambiguous nature of what goes on in this chapter. Jack Potts shows up, but it’s not immediately obviously how his game is going to work. And then the parcel in the fireplace with its letters from the past … how did they come to get there? We’re clearly going to get a bit of time travel, because we’re encountering the famous Time Travel Paradox, but under what circumstances?

And how dangerous could paints be? This is my second time through, but I distinctly remember reading this the first time and having no idea how deadly a paintbox could be…

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 2

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

And the left eye flickered.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter starts with something really interesting that we haven’t seen much of in the reread so far: ordinary characters having to deal with the practical aftermath of last book’s showstopping finale. In the Whitby Witches Trilogy, the whole business with the Lords of the Deep was wiped from collective memory. Ben even lost his second sight, but ended up with two living parents in compensation. In the Deptford Mice, the heroes might’ve had a lot of emotional baggage as a result of Jupiter’s defeat, but the sun was restored to the sky and everybody lived leafily ever after.

Here, however, the finale of The Power of Dark has had mundane, practical consequences. The taking-apart of Whitby’s tech in the name of Melchior Pyke’s age-old grudge has cost Verne’s parents the family business and caused a deterioration of their relationship, affecting Verne’s well-being in turn. Sure, it’s not epic angst over the supposed murder of one’s best friend, turning one to the bottomless rum bowl of depression, nor the noble shouldering of indescribable grief in order to ascend to a sacred spiritual sovereignty. But parents with money troubles is something a lot of young readers have likely suffered in their own lives, and Verne’s plight resonates.

Then there’s the fascinating mystery of the Nimius. One day it allows Verne to soar through the night’s sky, the next, it tips him head first into the world of (here it is again folks) Dancing Jax, with blank-eyed, zombie-like strangers pursuing him.

This whole chapter is unbelievably creepy, but what punched me in the gut was Mrs Gregson’s rather pathetic cameo. In A Warlock in Whitby, she was unwilling landlady to Nathaniel Crozier, who kept her husband in a suspended magical stupor to ensure her compliance. Now, we learn that Mrs Gregson is a widow, scraping out a difficult life alone. I’d wish her and all Whitby a quiet, magic-free existence, but we all know that’s never going to happen.

Matt’s Thoughts: And it’s just another day in Whitby, where people throw money at you. But we’re also seeing a reversal of the nice family situation that was set up in the first book. Back then, whatever happened to Lil and Verne, their families were always there (albeit oblivious to what was going on). But the fighting between both halves of the two couples, plus the fights the couples are having with each other – it sets up an unstable world for our two young heroes. And that’s before we even get to the Paintbox of the title…

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 1

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Rise and dance the jig of Dark for me.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This summer I had the spine-chilling experience of hearing this chapter read aloud by Mr Jarvis himself at a book festival, and I must now strongly argue for a set of Witching Legacy digital audiobooks narrated by the author. (What about it, Egmont?)

Great as this chapter is and fantastic as it was to hear it read aloud to a crowd of silent, breathless new Witching Legacy fans, I do rather weep for Tracy and the Empress of the Dark (to call back to Roslyn Crozier) that she might have been. She was all set up in the first book to be a major, albeit unwitting, player in the machinations of Mister Dark and the Triad. I can’t help but feel that she has been unceremoniously disposed of here, and I would have loved for her to have stuck around for a bit and had a full arc in the style of Pear or Alison Sedge.

All that aside, this is one ghoulish chapter, and a good setup for the overall tone of this book, which is a lot grimmer than the relatively fluffy Power of Dark. First of all, a run-down scrap metal yard at night is a Dancing Jax setting if ever there was one, and the casual murder of the night watchman has that classic Robin Jarvis Grew Up On Horror Films And It Shows feel.

Mister Dark himself also seems to have acquired a bit of the gravitas afforded to semi-major Robiny villains. We’ve seen what’s at stake for him in the prologue, and this knowledge lends all his actions a hint of true menace, tinged with desperation. If he fails, he will be forfeit to the pettiest and most sadistic deities of the Whitby Witches universe, and we all know what happens to paltry warlocks who displease the Lords of the Deep.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, any thought that Power of Dark was a bit light-on has been banished by this curtain-raiser. A few of us had hopes that Tracy might turn out to be an interesting character in her own right as this series went on, but she’s gone by the end of the chapter!

That said, I am very glad to see the return of Jack Potts. He was far too interesting a character to leave behind in Book 1, and this interesting mix of robots and witchcraft is fascinating. (That said, I haven’t read Deathscent yet, which I understand also shares a steampunk theme? Or is that my imagination?)

 

The Devil’s Paintbox | Triallum

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Know this,’ the emissary warned. ‘Should you fail, there is no returning. You will suffer Their full wrath and endure torment – forever more.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: What immediately hits me about this prologue is how deeply Robin Jarvis it is. That might seem redundant, as of course all of this is Robin Jarvis, but that opening line is the voice of someone who has spent over two decades finding and perfecting a certain mood and style.

‘Indistinct shapes, blacker than the eternal night that reigned over this furthest region of the sea, guided the shadowy figure to the place appointed.’ 

Really, with an opener like that, you know you’re in for a grand time. Then we get a shadowy meeting in which an outcast doer of nefarious supernatural deeds comes into the presence of malevolent, godlike beings and so enters an unholy contract. What more could we possibly ask for?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: He seemed to be somewhat of a side character in the first book (despite having his name in the title) but Mr Dark has moved front and centre to be a new Jarvis villain for the modern day. Quite comfortable dealing with ancient forces on the one hand, while also handy with how to get to people via their smartphones …

I’m probably the last generation of teenagers that didn’t have a smartphone (and even  mobile phones in general only took off in my university years). So I read stories of the stalking and bullying and whatnot that happens nowadays – and I’m starting to worry about my own kids as they head into that age group! – but Mr Jarvis has taken the phenomena of our modern life and put his own supernatural spin on it with no trouble whatsoever. Great stuff!