A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 6

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Oh, forgive me, Alice, say you forgive me – please!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  This chapter and the following two are some of the most striking in the whole trilogy. (Please do add your comments in this, dear Readers, as I’d love to know if this section had as much of an impact on you as it did on me.)

Finally, we catch up with Miss Boston in London, and of course, there are devilish doings afoot. Like Ben and Jennet, Aunt Alice cannot seem to go anywhere without the supernatural growling at her heels and making a nuisance of itself, and in this chapter we find that she can’t even visit an old friend for a few days without all manner of hocus-pocus ensuing.

What stands out to me about this chapter and the next two is the atmosphere of absolute dark dread. The ominous emptiness of the grand house, the icy demeanour of Judith Deacon, and the chilling scene where Mrs Gunning tries to warn Miss Boston of ‘great evil’ all contribute to make things suddenly profoundly ominous in a way that is far more pronounced than in The Whitby Witches. In that book, there was always a sense that our heroes could band together to save the day, or at the very least, make a noble sacrifice in the attempt. Here, the children are isolated from the one guardian who might be able to help them, and that guardian in turn has come into a situation in which she is, for the moment, powerless.

This whole chapter is very affecting, but on reread I was struck by the almost poetic imagery of Mrs Gunning on her deathbed, looking ‘more gossamer-like than the curtains’ and perfectly echoing the chapter title. At the close of this chapter, we must ask ourselves: if Mrs Gunning is about to pass through the veil, what might have already passed the other way and entered the realm of the living?

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m having such fun with this one. Whitby has become so much like a character in the story that it is immediately alienating to be thrown into London. Even more so, when you throw in all the goings-on at Mrs Gunnings’ house.

I always hate how Agatha Christie comparisons are the first to pop into my head with this stuff. (I blame that partworks series that came out at the newsagents a few years ago that I was collecting – drip-feeding Christie novels at the rate of one a fortnight for several years has blurred them all together in my brain.) But even if it’s not Christie, it’s Great British Novelistic Tropes thrown together. There’s the Woman in the Sickbed. There’s the Snotty Butler.

And, of course, greatest of all – the Terrifying Nurse. What is it about Terrifying Nurses? How many Christie novels feature somebody who looks particularly like they are slowly poisoning someone else? Or Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Or perhaps Nurse Noakes – if there are any fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (or the movie of the same name) in here?

Either way, what is going on here? What is this devious stuff – that feels like a trap – that Miss Boston has wandered into? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep reading!

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 5

 

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

On the ground, just next to where he had been crouching, were the gutted remains of a cat.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Having spent Chapter 3 with Nelda and last chapter with Miss Wethers and Jennet, we now take a peep into how things are for Ben.

On reread I’ve been noticing the structure of this novel a lot more, and I like how each of our main characters is established as having their own small ‘world’ within the overarching story. Nelda has her internal struggles and the woes of her tribe. Jennet has the difficulties of being an orphan on the cusp of her teenage years, expected to both care for others and submit to cosseting by her guardians. Miss Boston has some mysterious business in London that we will get around to in due course, and Ben has the worry of school bullies and the reassuring presence of Mr Roper.

I absolutely love Mr Roper. He’s another fantastic Robin Jarvis tertiary character; the little details about his cosy, old-fashioned house, lost wife, and passion for collecting sketch him out as a whole person in a few short pages. It kind of warms my heart a bit to see that Ben has a grandfatherly figure in his life to balance out all the strife he has already been though since arriving in Whitby.

A segue involving the deeply unpleasant but also slightly cartoonish school bully, and then we’re straight into some visceral gore with that poor mauled cat. Honestly at the close of this chapter I find myself wishing right along with Ben that Miss Boston were there to sort things out. She may not be absolutely exemplary at all times, but she’d be more use than Miss Wethers, who just isn’t equipped to deal with the string of peculiar happenings that Ben and Jennet call their daily existence. Come back, Aunt Alice, all is forgiven!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This is a very short chapter, and plotwise, mainly advances ‘The Mystery of the Missing Cats’, so I don’t have a lot to say on that front. (Though possibly because I’m not a cat person, I’m being too callous about how horrific this chapter is?)

However, I did love it for the character of Mr Roper. (Another one in possession of an old Bakelite radio, eh, Aufwader?)

And that sort of inspired me to start sharing ‘sea-themed’ English classical music. (The sort that I like to think of Mr Roper listening to on a foggy evening on the radio.) However, given that he went to sleep tonight dreaming of big bands and dancing with his wife, I will just have to share this one for today:

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 4

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘And that’s why she always used to warn me about charming gentlemen – because the Devil himself is a charming man.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Here we have another chapter that’s rather uncomfortable to read, with Nathaniel using his dodgy warlock powers on our Jennet. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I want to be like a big sister to her here. I want to tell her to stay with her book and her chocolate digestives and don’t even get up, and for the love of all that’s holy do not answer the door. But of course, we all have to read powerlessly as Nathaniel slimes into Miss Boston’s house and into the mind of her young ward.

As with the previous chapter, there’s just enough ‘removal’ here to make this scene digestible for young readers – Nathaniel uses magic rather than more overt means to extract the information he needs from Jennet, but he is still coercing her and taking advantage of her susceptibility to his artificial charm. What I think is really good about the way Mr Jarvis deals with this is that Jennet is never blamed for her infatuation at any point. It’s very clear that Nathaniel is a vile, abusive character with no redeeming features, and that he sees those weaker than himself as pawns to be used (see also the scene with the Gregsons in Chapter 1). I’ll go into more detail on this when we get to The Whitby Child, but for now I’ll say that I think this is an excellent introduction to one of the most infamous and loaded aspects of this trilogy.

The story of the ‘charming man’ has stuck with me right from when I first read this book (though I admit that instead of having a cautionary effect,  it came across to me as a somewhat amusing metaphor for my involuntary propensity toward falling for fictional villains). Anyway, I was, and continue to be, of the opinion that the ‘charming man’ Miss Wether’s mother met is in fact a character from Robin Jarvis canon masquerading in a different guise. At the moment I have two suspects for the role of suave cufflinked Devil, but I can’t name any names. Suffice to say that we’ve a long, long way to go on the project before we meet either of them.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: This chapter is darkly brilliant. Getting back to our human characters, I love the humour of the scene between Miss Wethers and Miss Boston, with their fussing and directness respectively. It’s a nice throwback to the original book and also a reminder, that of the original Whitby Witches, these are the only two left, which is somewhat sad.

Then the scene with Crozier at the Banbury-Scott house which nicely expands the mythology from the first book (no mean feat, given how apocalyptic that book felt in its finale) and gives it new directions.

But the bit that surely gives everyone the heeby-jeebies (do people still say that or am I showing my age?) is the Crozier/Jennet interaction. I won’t dwell on it too long, but it becomes more sinister the older I get. And also, Jennet, being the tough character that she is, you know she’d never do anything to endanger Aunt Alice and Ben unless she was totally being coerced by an evil power.

Finally, we have the fantastic story told by Miss Wethers, which struck me as having an air of poignancy. In many sense, it’s like a Jarvis nod to old horror stories of the early 20th century (it reminds me of my grandfather’s book of True Irish Ghost Stories which freaked me out no end when I peeked into it at age 12). But you also wonder whether there was something deeper underneath. Did Miss Wethers’ mother make the story up to scare her daughter away from men? It’s already hinted that Miss Wethers might not have ended up a spinster if it wasn’t for that story sitting in the back of her mind. Who knows?

Either way, it very economically sketches the tragedy of Miss Wethers’ life – just another dash of great characterisation in the Jarvis universe.

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 3

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Thou shalt be mine at the next full moon.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: In the unholy names o’ Them Wot Kips Out in Th’open Reaches o’ the Sea, this chapter! If we thought the business with One-Eyed Jake and Audrey back in The Dark Portal was bad, if we thought Isaac Nettle and Spittle were loathsome, if we thought Nathaniel’s warlock powers were the nastiest thing we were going to have to read with our own eyes in this book, Readers, we had another thing coming.

The figurative distance between Ben and Nelda that I talked about last chapter also comes into play for us as readers here, and is part of the way in which the mature and difficult subject of forced marriage is handled so well for a young audience.

By introducing this ‘adult theme’ within a fantasy setting, it allows young readers to engage with it in a thoughtful and compassionate way (poor Nelda! I hope she gets out of this, Esau is so disgusting, etc) while also being able to remove themselves from it if it turns out to be ‘too much’. As adults we know that forced marriage is still an awful reality for many young girls, but a nine-or ten-year-old reader might not, and this chapter allows for safe exposure to such a painful subject as this in the same way that mythology and fairytales do.

Speaking of mythology, Nelda’s predicament has elements of the story of Hades and Persephone, especially when it’s confirmed that Esau plans to forbid her from venturing out of the aufwader caves if the marriage comes to pass. It makes me wish her aunt Hesper were still alive to act as a Demeter figure and contest the union, as old Tarr doesn’t seem to be doing too well on that front. Still, at least the rest of the tribe seem to be on Nelda’s side, and perhaps there is a glimmer of hope as yet.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: A few of you were mentioning in the comments the fact that the American publishers hadn’t picked up on the last two books of the Whitby series. In the back of my mind, I didn’t think they were all that bad. But then when I got to Esau’s ‘punishment’ that he metes out for Nelda, I started to change my mind.

A younger reader might not realise all the levels of nuance involved in this, but at age 38, I certainly do.  Geez … a banishment probably would have been better! Having said that, it also has nice echoes of all those famous fairy tales and myths (Arabian Nights being the first that springs to mind) where a heroine is forced to marry an old, ugly suitor.

However, this is not an interchangeable fairly-tale princess. It’s Nelda. We care about her!

And all of the big emotion packed into the last few pages can over-shadow the awesome details of the journey down to the meeting council. But one detail, which it would be remiss not to mention, is the arms of Esau’s throne. (We like our serpent/dragon spotting at Myth & Sacrifice!)

A Warlock in Whitby | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘It is said that an aufwader’s heart is a sure guide,’ she told the boy, ‘and mine is full of despair and dread.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter sets up two major plot threads. To start off with, it’s lovely to see Miss Boston again after the trials of the first book, and the little detail that she is still caring for Miss Droon’s most beloved cat gives the impression that things are business as usual in Whitby. White witch or no white witch, Aunt Alice still has to do onerous chores like rescuing Eurydice from the ruin of the late Mrs Cooper’s house, and in this again we see the blending of the fantastic with the mundane – the element which makes this trilogy what it is.

Unfortunately for Miss Boston, however, the fantastic seems intent on ruining her day in the form of Nathaniel, and it is disconcerting that even she, with her own considerable gifts, falls for his wheedling charm.

Our next thread concerns Ben and Nelda. From the way The Whitby Witches ended, we knew that things looked bleak for the aufwaders, but it’s still a sting to see Nelda push Ben away. As a young reader I saw this from Ben’s point of view and thought it dreadfully unfair – these two have been through so much together, surely their bond ought to be the stronger for it?

Reading it now, though, I have a clearer sense of Nelda’s perspective. To her, Ben may be a friend, but he is also an onlooker to her life and the doings of the tribe. Ben is human, and thus can never truly be a part of the ancient culture of the fisherfolk.  If things get too heavy for him (and we must remember, he is only eight) he has guardians in the form of Jennet and Miss Boston, to whom he can run in the assurance that they will and can protect him.

Nelda, on the other hand, was born with the grief of centuries weighting upon her. She cannot distance herself from the reality of the aufwader’s doom in the way that Ben can, and it’s understandable that that drawn-out horror, combined with the uncertainty of her own fate on returning without the moonkelp, might cause her to retreat into herself and push even the most well-meaning away.

Still, it stings.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Our old friends from the first book return, but unfortunately, only to run into trouble of some sort. We have Alice Boston and her encounter with Crozier, which shows Aunt Alice’s inner strength, but also shows the danger she is in. Then we have Ben and the school bullies.

What I find particularly bleak about the latter scene is that this is a scene that could easily happen in any town. While there may not be any warlocks wreaking havoc, chances are quite strong that there is bullying happening in many schoolyards. I don’t know, maybe it’s just disturbing because it’s hard to ignore that there are people out there (even as grown-ups) who well deserve the epithet ‘one of the most unpleasant little yobs ever to have dreamt of having his knuckles tattooed’. If Crozier’s malevolence is veiled, Danny and Mark’s is overt, which makes it worse.

Still, it immediately sets up the challenges facing Ben, and it’s great to see Jennet in fine form.

But my favourite moment in the whole chapter is the last line where Ben tells Mrs Rigby she should have kept her cat on a string. When she holds up the bitten string – ‘But I did,’ she whispered, ‘I did.’ – it just gives me a delightful creepy frisson. As a famous person once said: Dare to be scared.

A Warlock in Whitby | Prologue & Chapter 1

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The years peeled away and before its luminous eyes the fish demon – last of the savage Mallykin race – remembered it all.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I think this is one of the most iconic openings to any Robin Jarvis novel. It takes what we saw in The Whitby Witches and, in a few short pages, distils it to its most grisly, most atmospheric, and most ominous essence.

First of all, we’ve got the fish demon; last of the Mallykin race and without doubt one of Mr Jarvis’ most infamous supernatural beasties. The Mallykin, as it has come to be known, graces the cover of the Hodder Silver edition in gloriously squamous detail, and was also front and centre on this promotional poster. It would have been on the cover of the first edition too, but, rumour has it, Robin’s publishers at the time thought it too ghastly, even for him. It was duly shunted to the back in favour of Nelda, but it got its own back when Mr Jarvis made it into a model and brought it on tour to terrify his young readers.

In most of Mr Jarvis’ work there are two kinds of evil: that which is honest in its malevolence, and that which is not. Nathaniel Crozier is the second kind, and a very fine example he is too. ‘Down-at-heel history professor’ is not exactly a look which inspires mortal dread unless one is an under-performing student, but from the second that train pulls into the little Whitby station, we just know it’s all downhill from here.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Apologies if I said this in an earlier post and can’t remember it, but I can’t actually remember what happens in this book. I have some vague memories of things from the last two Whitby books, but as to which book those come from, I just can’t remember.

This is a whole interesting side-tangent, but I’m wondering if the reason I can’t remember these books so well is simply the large chunk of life that intervened. To explain: I was a young teenager when the Deptford Mice was out and I pretty much read The Whitby Witches and The Alchymist’s Cat around the time they were written.

However, as I got into my later teens (and then went to university), I had less time for reading. (I was also notorious for getting lots of new books and never finishing them either, which didn’t help.) So I would buy every Jarvis book that I saw for sale, but often never got around to reading them.

So even though I owned the original edition, it wasn’t until a decade or so later that I actually got around to reading A Warlock in Whitby. And I think I read it in a rush one particular Easter holidays. So this does make me wonder, if I had read it when I was younger, would it have burned its way onto my brain more strongly? Is there something powerful about the books we love as a kid that resonate more strongly than the things we read as adults?

I don’t know, but I feel like there’s some truth in that, don’t you think?

Anyway, thus endeth the tangent. On to Whitby! I really like the low-key nature of the opening. An ugly thing crawls out of the ground in the prologue and a creepy bearded man arrives on a train. Because this is Jarvis, neither of these characters have made a huge splash in the town (and we’re still not sure how their subplots will intertwine) but the potential for them to be pretty freaking evil is right there.

Also, the scene where Crozier gives the enchanted stare to Emma Hitchin, the legal secretary, is somewhat of a new thing. It introduces (in a fairly careful way, given the possible age of the readers) a theme of lechery that also makes this book more icky. This then gets compounded when the scene with the Gregsons plays out.

There are echoes of Dracula in the requirement for an invitation, but Crozier is something else entirely. I don’t know about you, but when he looks out the window and spots Alice Boston, it makes me worried.

Up Next Reminder| A Warlock in Whitby

WHITBY 2

 

Salutations all, Aufwader here! Matt has tasked me with writing this Up Next post, so here goes.

In a couple of weeks we’ll be returning to ol’ Whitby bay for the next instalment of the Whitby Witches Trilogy. In this ghoulish middle book, we catch up with Ben, Jennet, and Aunt Alice to find out what has become of the last tribe of aufwaders following the loss of the moonkelp and the downfall of Rowena Cooper.

We’ll meet one of the most infamous Robin Jarvis villains to ever breathe the salty seaside air, and witness the rebirth of some of that master model-maker’s most grotesque and bloodthirsty horrors. Be warned, good Readers, there is no room for cream cakes and murder mysteries in this stark and fearful sequel. We have passed the shallows, and the black deeps now beckon.

If all this makes you gurgle squamously with anticipation, look for the illustrated first edition, pictured above, or the Hodder Silver version, below.

 

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