Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘How terrible it would be if Whitby became merely a town of vanished bygones, invisible as ghosts to the grandchildren of our grandchildren. The fossils found along our coast call to us of a history long disappeared. I wish for my photographs to do the same.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: What I love about Robin’s period pieces is how he manages to be so centred in the era, without it ever feeling forced or gimmicky. Which other middle-grade writer of today would casually include the Ewbank, gigot sleeves, bathing machines, and Frank Meadow Sutcliffe in the same chapter? Very Victorian, one and all, but somehow, none of it feels tacked-on. As a reader I feel like an inhabitant of 1890s Whitby, not a historical tourist. Is it just me? I honestly feel like this is something Robin does exceptionally well.
Speaking of Sutcliffe, what an uncanny moment when Lil is photographed, knowing she will find said photo in the devil’s paintbox almost a century hence. I love that despite all the upheaval and trauma she has been through, she still has the wherewithal to be inquisitive about Sutcliffe and to feel sorry that he’ll never know the full social and historical impact of his work. (Imagine if she had shown him her phone! All of time and space might’ve collapsed! Wise girl.)
We also get a little bit of Martha-centred heartbreak surrounding the photograph. Sad though it is, it’s also a piece of classic Robin Jarvis character-building. Of course Martha’s vapid wedding talk is a sticking plaster on crushing self-image issues and fear of ridicule. What do you mean, comic relief? What do you mean, happy secondary characters? Pheh! Paah! Not likely! In all seriousness though, I am reminded of Twit, and funnily enough, he had marriage troubles too…
Matt’s Thoughts: I will admit that this chapter finally roused my curiosity enough to research the two gentlemen who feature heavily. The Irishman was an easy enough suspect, but the actor was a little less well-known to me. I’m not sure what degree of information revealing will come later in the book, so I’ll leave you to do your own googling for now, but it’s a great touch to have these characters tied in.
In fact, it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the series is that I never thought we’d end up here. I’m not sure what I was expecting with a four-book series set in Whitby: perhaps something like the Whitby Witches series but slightly shorter? But this whole thing of time-travel, historical Whitby, goths, steampunks, 7os disco – and knitting, let’s not forget knitting – is something I would never have seen coming. I can barely imagine how you tie this altogether into a finale, but I’m sure it will work.