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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 11

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘I call upon the warmth and protection of the First Mother!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter hit me like a tonne of bricks. We’ve all struggled and had times in our lives when we’ve felt despair and hopelessness, and I can remember thinking the first time I read Cherry’s speech to the two women on the bridge; ‘If there’s some young person out there having a bad time and they’re reading this, I hope it helps them’. Sometimes, that’s the most important thing a story can do.

With Cherry out of commission and The Crystal Prison happening all over again (now with an all-new goth cult) the little interlude with Jack Potts and the tea is a welcome distraction. Who’s side is that bargain-bin mechanical even on at this point? What is stewing in his kettle of a head, and what’ll happen when it inevitably boils over?

Since we aren’t doing illustration nominations for this series, I’d like to mention the art for this chapter as a favourite. There goes Catesby over the rooves of beleaguered Whitby, silhouetted against a classic Robiny sky with the little crosshatched clouds. Love that!

Matt’s Thoughts: A beautiful moment of sacrifice by Cherry (always bound to happen to a Jarvis character once we find out their back story!) and Despairing Black is stopped.

The mist here actually reminds me of notorious British horror novel The Fog by James Herbert, which featured a fog which came out of a crack in the ground and sent most of England mad / insane.

Of course, now with mental illness, depression, anxiety and suicide being an unfortunately common experience, these things are harder to turn into pure entertainment. I feel Mr Jarvis handles the topic really delicately in this chapter.

We realise – from the several suicidal people in this chapter – how badly this particular colour plague is affecting the town but I also feel there is a sense of Jarvis not revelling in this one to the same degree as the more physical horrors that he would normally inflict on his characters.

Finally, you could argue that there is madness in town as well, especially from the crowd gathered outside the Abbey …

 

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The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 10

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Make your daddy even more proud than he already is.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: When I first read Cherry’s story I found it to be, well, a little schmaltzy. But then, everything about Cherry is larger-than-life and soap-operaish, so why shouldn’t her backstory be similar?

Whatever you think of the tragic tale of an estranged daughter meeting her dying father for the last time in a seedy Chicago dive and deciding to follow her true life’s path before it’s too late, I say it fits.

Matt’s Thoughts: What can I say about this interlude except that it’s beautifully written? Also, after the very English-bound nature of – well, of all the Jarvis stories we’ve been covering in this re-read – to have a sudden switch to Chicago (for a meeting between two Canadians) is an interesting change. At the same time, it’s also a tragic flashback and arguably one of the most moving things in the book so far.

Finally, in subtle Jarvis style, he’s snuck past the editors again … this time with an exotic dancer who becomes a witch.

The Devil’s Paintbox | Chapter 9

 

devils paintbox

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It was I who made you, I who razored and sawed you open, spliced morsels of ape brain into your cloven skull and stitched flight to your back.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Guys I’m getting flashbacks to Will and Molly visiting the pest-house to try to get a confession from Carver. This time, however, the stakes are much higher. If things didn’t look plaguey enough before, they certainly do when Lil and Verne are surrounded by the sick and dying.

I really, genuinely hope that Cherry’s surmise was right and Cassandra is under some sort of sorcery-induced hypnotism, because the alternative is too awful to contemplate. Her hateful disownment of her own daughter is one of the most painful moments we’ve had in this series so far, including the tragic scenes with Clarke.

As for ‘Queller’, I think we all knew what was going on there. Now it is confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt with the arrival of Catesby, everyone’s second-favourite malevolent moggy. Then there’s Orkid, who is almost certainly a Bespoke Robiny Death written with an unfortunate reader in mind.  Whoever that poor activist is based on, Mr Jarvis probably isn’t sorry, but we at Myth & Sacrifice extend our heartfelt condolences. Rest in pages.

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m assuming that the Royal Hotel in this chapter is the actual Bay Royal Hotel in Whitby, in which case, this is what the ballroom looks like. When I see this photo, I imagine Mr Jarvis being in Whitby for a book signing or something similar, having dinner in the ballroom, having a look around and thinking, ‘Hmm … what if this place was full of sick and dying people?’ Then chuckles to himself, while everyone around him thinks it’s because he loves the menu …

Anyway, I’ll stop writing fan-fiction about Robin and get back to the story, which is just getting grim. Sickness to begin with and then the falling out between Cassandra and Lil (which is particularly tough to read when Cassandra has always been such a kind mum to Lil in the past).

But … on the positive side, Catesby is back and taking out environmentalist Instagrammers, so at least the chapter ends happily for the ‘wicked old sheep killer’.

P.S. At the last minute I came across this great video made to advertise the Royal Hotel, but which is also a phenomenal set of shots of Whitby. The fact that there is not a human being in site in most of the images just seems to make it more atmospheric, to my mind.

 

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.

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…

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