‘No such thing,’ she said for the umpteenth time. ‘There’s no real witches in Whitby – or anywhere else. Just annoying people like my mum and dad who like to dress up and dance round fires making twits of themselves. Tragic, yes; magic, no.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Little-known but probably unsurprising fact: I used to be a goth. Or rather, during my university years, I entertained an eccentric style that was loosely based on the ‘fancy historical goth’ look. I still enjoy the melodramatic, gloomy aesthetic, and appreciate the music even if it’s not my absolute favourite thing. Mr and Mrs Wilson, I raise my ruby-encrusted, spider-web engraved goblet to you both. You chose a lifestyle and you went the whole hog with that lifestyle, and I can respect that. The same goes for Mr and Mrs Thistlewood, despite that steampunk and its offshoots are a much-contested and oft-maligned subject these days.
What entertains me enormously about this series is its almost anthropological look at the goths and steampunks of Whitby. Every page speaks of Mr Jarvis’ gleeful delight in the sort of celebration of the macabre that I daresay he’s lived and breathed since the start of his writing career. (Admit it, Robin, you’re a goth at heart.)
Long-suffering, sceptical Lil is a great contrast to this, and she and Verne make a wonderful ‘spooky happenings duo’, something we haven’t seen that much of in Robin Jarvis canon so far. Usually, his heroes are vulnerable and alone, or vulnerable and in a group. But of course, despite that Lil and Verne do face a threatening separation in this chapter in the form of the storm, they have a connection that Ben and Jennet, Neil and Edie, or even the young protagonists of the Dancing Jax books did not have – they can text each other.
Matt’s Thoughts: First up, do stop and pay attention to the little elegant artwork that surrounds the chapter number in each chapter. Obviously, we’ve spoken in the past about how the text of the Jarvis books have unfortunately been separated from the illustration side of things over the years, so it’s nice to see that in this new venture with Egmont, his illustration work has become an integral part of the book creation. They’re just beautiful to look at.
This first chapter tells us more about Verne and Lil and also does a heck of a lot of foreshadowing (which you will either spot straight away or it will become clear as the story progresses). They’re obviously not Ben and Jennet, and Cherry Cerise is most definitely not Alice Boston, so it requires some adjustment, but by the same token, it’s not the same Whitby either.
They’ve had a Whitby Goth Weekend since 1994, which has since taken off to become a spectacular mix of goths, steampunks and other subcultures. (Check out these amazing photos!)
So while it’s a different Whitby, in some ways, it’s become even more interesting since the Boston days and a perfect setting for this dark tale that is about to play out.