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Myth & Sacrifice

The Great Grand Robin Jarvis (Re)Read

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whitby series

The Whitby Child | Chapter 14

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘OUT ON YE! OUT ON YE! OUT ON YE!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Well, how about that then. Thanks to a bunch of sticks, the Triad become the Dyad, Whitby is rolled right on back to normal, the aufwaders are saved from extinction, and our young heroes get to run into their parent’s arms.

Like all good Robiny endings, this one offers more questions than it answers. Was the Penny Hedge really imbued with divine power, or was it Ben’s gifts which activated it? If there was some form of God possessing Sister Frances, how long had that really been going on for, and what were the extent of that being’s powers in that form? If the Deep Ones cannot die, being unstoppable forces of nature, what happened to the Lord of the Frozen Wastes? And, most importantly, how are Ben and Jennet ever going to live happy and contented lives after everything they have witnessed?

I wish them well as much as the next reader, but Ben was almost gorily murdered on multiple occasions, and Jennet has been through enough trauma to last her a lifetime. Plus, it occurred to me that these children have only just learnt to process their grief over the death of their parents, only to have that selfsame beloved Mama and Papa appear again before their eyes. It’s miraculous and wonderful, yes, but don’t try to tell me that family doesn’t have a lot to work through.

I said last chapter that I’d save my final words about Nathaniel for this post, so here they are: Most. Satisfying. Villain death. Ever. That scraggly old slime found his natural habitat in Rowena’s innards! Good riddance to bad dress-sense!

On the other tentacle, my pangs of sorrow for Aunt Alice are soothed somewhat by the knowledge that this is not the last we shall see of her, nor of old Whitby Bay. Last year, Mr Jarvis decided to ‘go back’ with a certain luridly turquoise offering currently sitting on my shelf, next to its sickly yellow sibling and hot-off-the-press purple cousin. We’ll all be ‘going back’ too, in time.

Matt’s Thoughts: I could go out on a limb and be slightly controversial yet, but I almost feel like this is Mr Jarvis’ most poignant finale so far. I mean, we were all pretty gutted by Audrey and Piccadilly back in the day, but reading about Ben getting his eyes anointed by Nelda before losing his special sight … that was truly heartbreaking.

It’s taken me by surprise just how much I have enjoyed this trilogy this second time around. The characters, Robin’s obvious love for Whitby, the amazing  back mythology. It’s potent, potent stuff.

And finally, I can’t resist finishing with a song that’s a bit left-field but bear with me. Last year, I found myself listening to old songs by Harry Secombe (Welsh singer, one of the performers on The Goon Show and Mr Bumble in the movie Oliver!). I think I was just getting nostalgic for the type of music my mum used to listen to when I was three or four.

Anyway, I came across (i.e became obsessed with) this one particularly old-fashioned song called ‘The Lost Chord’. It was actually written by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) and, believe it or not, was one of the most purchased songs in the 1880s and 1890s. (Of course, in those days, buying a song meant getting the sheet music and taking it home and having a bash yourself on your own piano.)

The song is rather quaint and Victorian and in it the narrator talks about a particular chord of music they accidentally played once on an organ and then couldn’t ever find again. And in the end, the singer hopes that ‘it may be that death’s bright angel shall speak in that chord again’.

This concept of ‘Death’s Bright Angel’ is a fascinating one, given the figure of the cherub that appears throughout this book, making things shine. I’m not saying the song was necessarily in Robin’s head when he wrote this character, but nonetheless I like the idea. Plus, given Miss Boston’s age, ‘The Lost Chord’ would well and truly have been a standard by the time she was a young girl. And I could certainly see many of the old ladies of Whitby owning Harry Secombe records back in the day. So is this an appearance of death that would have meant something to someone of her generation?

So in memory of Alice Boston, the aunt we all wish we had, here’s Harry Secombe singing ‘The Lost Chord’.

 

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The Whitby Child | Chapter 13

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Nathaniel Crozier, warlock, High Priest of the Black Sceptre and destroyer of vulnerable souls, appeared exactly the same as when Jennet had last seen him.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: At the beginning of this reread, Matt mentioned that the idea of an undead Nathaniel was making him nervous. Since he had trouble remembering the ending of this book, I daresay this chapter was none too welcome.

I’ve talked about Nathaniel ‘still badly-dressed even in death’ Crozier enough during this trilogy, so I’ll save my final comments about him for the next chapter.

For now, let’s have a look at Jennet and excuse me Robin but how dare you kill Pear off? How dare you not even give her a chance to turn her life around? It was obvious that Jennet was the first inkling of happiness she’d ever known! How dare you have Meta’s overwhelming devotion to Nathaniel and blindness to all else be the thing which eventually caused her to kill her own daughter, beautifully and poignantly illustrating the very personal damage that is caused by cult-like indoctrination and neglect?! How dare you have Jennet lose her only friend?! May your gansey unravel, Sir! You’ll be hearing from my team of many-eyed, tentacled lawyers!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: How great is this finale? It’s really almost like Chapters 12 through 14 are one big race to the end, with barely any breathing points in between. It’s just home run after home run.

Nathaniel coming back from the dead? Brilliant.

Fishmonkey copping his just deserts? YES.

Rowena as well? Added bonus I completely forgot was in there. (Though how I could forget the details on a finale as well-orchestrated as this is beyond me. Apologies Mr Jarvis! I will try to only read these when I can give them my full attention from now on!)

And the NOOOOOOOO!!! moment as the Pear/Jennet subplot comes to its inevitable conclusion.

Maybe it’s because compared with the stand-alone nature of the Histories, the Whitby mythology has had three books to develop, but this whole conclusion feels huge, and almost like it is tying together strands from all of the books together. (There’s something grandly symphonic about the whole thing. I’m just not sure what symphony.)

The Whitby Child | Chapter 12

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Nice doggy want some exercise?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  Oh lordy, this chapter is so much. We’ve got Jennet’s panic when it occurs to her that her brother might be being murdered that very moment; followed by Aunt Alice finally being filled in on everything; followed by the ‘infernal parody of Christmas with demonic carol singers’ (nice one, Miss B); followed by Jennet being horrifically possessed; followed by Aunt Alice performing what can only be described as an exorcism to no avail; followed by Ben’s supposed bloody death and Miss Boston facing off a rabid werewitch in her own home, and, finally (take a second to catch your breath, everybody) the reveal that Ben is not actually dead but was concealed by Irl’s charm! My goodness!

Clearly, we’ve now moved into classic Robin Jarvis finale territory – the stakes are higher than Meta’s opinion of herself, and despite that only a three-legged cat has died so far, things are looking just a teeny bit desperate for our heroes. What terrors await them as the Coven of the Black Sceptre crow their triumph? Come, Readers – to the abbey!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Best. Chapter. Ever. While there were many people that complained about the Star Wars prequels, surely one of the good things to come out of the films – even for the nit-pickers – was the moment at the end of Attack of the Clones where we see something totally unexpected: Yoda in full flight, taking on Christopher Lee. 

I couldn’t help but draw the same comparison with the too-awesome-for-words scene with Miss Boston fighting off a vicious werbride in her home. It’s a great comic action scene in what is otherwise a pretty scary chapter.

But poor Eurydice …

The Whitby Child | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Your old life is over – you belong to him now.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter’s title is almost as good as ‘Cream Cakes and Death’ in The Whitby Witches – with Mr Jarvis, you know that delectable sweets and grisly horror always go hand in hand.

There’s some great characterisation here, with Miss Boston attempting to clumsily rectify things with Jennet and misinterpreting her moods with pitiful inaccuracy. The part where she surmises that Jennet has fallen out with her friends is especially wince-making, given what has already happened, and what is yet to come in this chapter’s second half.

At this point I feel nothing but sympathy for Pear. The life she describes, being brought up in the coven, has clearly been one long and painful ordeal for her. To elaborate on what I said in Chapter 9, the werewitches are disturbingly close to a real life cult; Pear mentions being forbidden to consort with other children growing up, being punished for imagined transgressions by the group, and feeling that she couldn’t survive outside the coven.

The fact that she still does as Meta has ordered her is disappointing, but understandable. Pear has had sixteen years of Nathaniel-centric brainwashing, even aside from him being her father. I do still hold out hope that the power of friendship will win through, but alas, it may be too late.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Ah, now the back story falls in place. Well, maybe, it’s true – you should just stick to one monarch at a time. Now that we know what the Lord of the Frozen Wastes is up to, the whole thing becomes even more creepy, as we just feel the vastness of the danger that surrounds our small innocent heroes.

And the classic moment of betrayal – Jennet and Pear just seem to be drawing close together again, but it’s actually a cover for drink-spiking. Such a complex mess and sets us up for the home stretch of this book and trilogy.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 10

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

[S]eated upon … the majestic thrones were the shadowy, writhing figures of the Lords of the Deep and Dark.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is my favourite chapter in this book and probably one of my favourite approaches to ‘mortals meet their gods’ in a fantasy setting that I’ve ever come across. We all love Tarr and Miss Boston and we all agree that despite their faults they can both carry through when it’s called for, so it seems quite fitting that they should be the ones to take the Lords of the Deep and Dark to task.

Tarr and Miss Boston’s journey down to the depths is marvellously cinematic, with the swirling waves and undersea wonders, and I love how everything almost reads with a greenish, ocean-turquoise tint once their heads dip beneath the surface. The cathedral-like cavern of the Triad is also a glorious feast for the imagination, though it seems a shame to me that such beauty should be wasted on such a trio of salty, belligerent curmudgeons as the Deep Ones are.

Speaking of, I just love that moment where Miss Boston lays down the law at them as if they were three misbehaving pupils in her class. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that Miss Boston really says a lot that needed to be said there, and despite that the Deep Ones take as good as they get, the sound telling-off they receive is ‘good enough for them’, as Aunt Alice might say.

When I first listened to this story I had not yet been exposed to the idea of cosmic horror, or indeed that ‘tentacled abomination’ business that so many creators in that vein now go in for. To me, the reveal of Irl was almost a completely new thing, and was uniquely horrifying. It still makes my skin crawl a bit to read about his many eyes, though my heart bleeds for the countless ages of suffering that most worthy of aufwaders has been forced to endure.

This is a chapter full of well-orchestrated ups and downs, for the sad part is that Tarr and Miss Boston’s deep-sea tour fails in its mission. Ben might have the amulet of Irl, but Nelda and her unborn child are now even more doomed than before. Deeps bless them, indeed! Not likely.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, there goes the budget for a TV series, as Mr Jarvis takes us all epic and IMAX down to the throne room of the Lords of the Deep and Dark. There’s something awe-inspiring about the whole thing, especially since they have been such shadowy figures. (I mean, if they’d never made an appearance, that wouldn’t have surprised me – they are, after all, such shadowy figures lurking in the background quietly pulling strings that affect everyone.)

It’s also just great, because we have two such elderly characters (Miss Boston and Tarr) showing there is nothing aged or feeble about their courage … I also find it interesting that there are three rulers of the Deep and Dark. I have often thought that maybe we’d have a lot less in-fighting and politics if we got a representative from two of the major parties to run the country (we have two major parties in Australia plus a bunch of smaller ones) so they could spend more time governing and less time trying to harangue the opposition.

But then again, the last historical time I heard about two rulers was Julius Caesar and Pompey, and look how that turned out …

I would love to know more of the story of Irl as well but again, like much of this story, there’s so much mythology being made in the present day, there’s no time left to dive into the mythology of the past!

The Whitby Child | Chapter 9

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Tonight the brides of Crozier will be unchained!’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The moment when I realised that ‘The Ballad of Molly Werbride’ was foreshadowing was one of those great Robin Jarvis moments, like the epilogue of The Alchymist’s Cat, or when Rowena turned back time. It was a moment that made me go ‘oh, that’s good!’ and have a little cackle to myself before reading on.

This chapter is definitely one of the most unnerving in an entire trilogy of unnerving chapters. We see the vicious truth of the Coven of the Black Sceptre, and feel Jennet’s crushing sense of betrayal when the reality of her new friends is revealed. What makes this chapter so creepy is that the way the folk band endear themselves to Jennet is, as far as I’m aware, quite close to how real cults bring in new members. They’re almost too friendly and welcoming, and to vulnerable, sheltered Jennet, they seem like the perfect escape from a life that she finds stifling.

The folk band have painted a picture for her of their carefree life on the road, but the reality of the matter is that they’re more trapped and confined than Jennet ever was. It’s very gratifying to see that she at least has the strength of will to resist Nathaniel at the last, and that Pear seems to have turned a corner away from her grim upbringing for Jennet’s sake. As for Jennet’s daring escape on the handlebars of Sister Frances’s bicycle, what a fantastic image! I love the illustration for this chapter, but I’d love to have seen Sister Frances yelling, ‘Get thee jolly well behind me, and stay there!’ on the small screen.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Oh, it’s all heating up! The Lords of the Dark and Deep want Miss Boston. (WHY??? I can’t remember and it’s killing me!)

Then there’s Jennet and her moment of truth. Loved this whole sequence. Not only do we just have a straight up bit of black magic / werewolf horror, we also get a great chance for Jennet to work through her bitterness and show us that she does care for Ben and Miss Boston. So it’s a great character turning point for her as well.

And who didn’t give a big cheer when Sister Frances showed up? Now, I even more want Miranda Hart to be in the TV adaptation – after all, she’s had practice riding a bike in Call the Midwife. She’s ready for this role. But, in all seriousness, these little moments where somebody you might have written off as purely comedic turns out to be of great value or the tragedy of Pear, whose desire for a friendship with Jennet leads her to try to save her – all this is Mr Jarvis in top form.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 8

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Imagine all those hearts that will turn to her – will she spurn them and be a cold destroyer of men?’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The folk band are probably my favourite thing about this novel, and a large part of the reason I always wanted to attend Whitby Folk Week. In spending some time with them, we also get a peek into Jennet’s head, and start to see some of her own personality shine through.

In light of what we learnt about Meta last chapter and what we’ve been told so far about Jennet’s state of mind following the events of the previous book, it would be easy to define Pear and Jennet’s newfound friendship in relation to Nathaniel. The folk band are coven members; Jennet is still haunted by their High Priest’s memory; obviously, they’re out to reel her in. While I’ll be coming back to Crozier and the machinations of his witches later, let’s focus just on Jennet and Pear for the moment.

Paranormal shenanigans or no paranormal shenanigans, Jennet is still an orphan who feels cut off from others her age and longs to escape from the small town that is her home. She’s also on the cusp of adolescence, with all the revelations that brings.

In Chapter 1, it’s mentioned that one of the reasons Jennet feels alienated from her school friends is that they are interested in ‘being chatted up by a group of spotty lads with bad breath who wear too much cheap aftershave’. While it’s possible that Nathaniel’s conditioning might have discouraged Jennet’s curiosity about boys her own age, I think it’s more likely, given her sudden and rapturous devotion to Pear, that Jennet is just now discovering that she likes girls. The giddy nature of their meeting and instant connection, combined with the golden afternoons they spend together can be read – at least from Jennet’s perspective – as a blossoming romance.

As for Pear’s feelings about all of this, we know she has a strong bond with Jennet and is protective of her to a certain extent, but we have yet to see where her loyalties truly lie. I’m sure we’d all love for her to break away from the corrupting influence of Meta, who has been so warped by her obsession with Nathaniel that she cannot even try to be a decent parent. Once again, Jennet and her affections are being manipulated for dark purposes, and I just hope that Pear proves good and true.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t have a lot to say about this chapter except that a) I really like the illustration – which I’ll save for the favourite illustrations post – and b) that if Mr Jarvis ever decides to write a book for adults, I think the Werbrides of Crozier back-story would be creepy, unsettling and fascinating.

What were these women in their past before Nathaniel? How did they meet him? What made him select them? There are hints, but I feel like there’s a whole horrific story there waiting to be told.

The Whitby Child | Chapter 7

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

The ghost of his mother smiled at him, then like a flickering will-o’-the-wisp she turned and floated further away.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Oh, Pear! Wonderful, marvellous, scintillating Pear! Merry, mirror-skirted daughter of mystery! A true Robin Jarvis creation from her raven head to her dusty toes.

If there was a certain song or band that inspired ‘The Ballad of Molly Werbride’, I’m not sure I want to know about it, because we as readers probably all have a different idea of what it sounds like. I imagine the folk group in general to have the vibe of Fairport Convention, and I’d love to know what everybody else hears when Pear sings.

As for the second half of this chapter, I have a disconcerting feeling that ‘third time lucky’ may ring true for the Coven of the Black Sceptre. Miriam’s attempt to lure Ben to his death with the shade of his mother comes off as especially cruel and underhanded, considering Ben’s argument with Jennet over his ability to see the ghosts of their parents earlier on. I’m probably missing something, but I find I can’t recall why it is that Ben stopped being able to see ghosts and yet can still see the aufwaders? Still, all may yet be revealed.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Quite a long chapter, but so much going on with our human characters. I’m so glad I can’t remember this one, because while the plotting of this book still has that infallible sense of Robin Jarvis timing, nonetheless, it heads off in quirky directions that I don’t always see coming.

So, for instance, the introduction of the female folk band and the beginning of the friendship between Pear and Jennet is quite a brilliant touch. Of course, we get sinister vibes about the band right from the start, but nonetheless, who doesn’t want Jennet to find a friend, given all that she’s been through? I certainly do!

It becomes a bit like a Shakespearean tragedy – for the characters, things are starting to look happy and there’s a sense of new beginnings – but for us, the readers, there’s a sinking feeling that things are going to get worse.

Also, what’s the deal with Sister Frances and her blank-outs? This, too, is a new thing. It’s almost like every woman in Whitby (apart from Edith, who is exactly what she appears to be, no more and no less) seems to have some secret side to themselves that you never hear about.

I’m in for a TV show of this trilogy, anyway, that’s for sure!

Finally, great cinematic showdown between Ben and Miriam at the end. He’s such a trooper and I hope life improves for him!

The Whitby Child | Chapter 6

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Ah’ll not let owt take thee from me, not while theer’s life in my bones.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: I remember the scene with the gull’s eggs in lurid detail. I remember it giving me the absolute frights, I remember the way Prunella Scales made Ben sound as if he really was about to be sick from sheer horror, and I remember almost feeling that way myself as a young listener.

This is pretty uncharacteristic for me. There’s very little in Robin Jarvis canon that genuinely terrifies me (usually it’s more of a ‘woo yeah, rip his head off!’ situation …once a cultist, always a cultist, I suppose) but the scene with the serpents hatching from gull’s eggs really stuck with me. That in itself is odd, that I, a confirmed reptile, should be so twitchy about snakes. But it’s not really the snakes themselves that are scary in this scene.

I think what makes this particular omen of the Deep Ones so striking is how plain weird it is. It’s like something from the borders of a medieval manuscript; an almost Biblical sign of an all-powerful deity’s displeasure, like toads falling from the sky.

The sand in Miss Boston’s room and dead fish on the beach, while alarming, were pretty par for the course in terms of Things You Might Expect From A Triad Of Sea Gods. Snakes hatching from gull’s eggs and then throttling the poor birds in a grotesque parody of the Mother’s Curse, however, is more than just abhorrent. It requires consideration, the careful singling-out of a specific pair of victims, and a deeply malevolent intent to cause actual mental trauma. The Lords of the Deep and Dark are not here to mess about, and I don’t like to think too hard about what else they might have up their watery sleeves!

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’ll be straight up: this chapter made me cry. First you have Ben and Nelda talking to one another again, and her realising that he can understand her predicament and be a friend. And then we get a second moment of mushiness at the end with the dramatic entrance of Tarr. 

That said, just in case you were worried he was getting soppy, there is of course the hideous prospect of gulls’ eggs with snakes in them (which adds another layer to Mr Jarvis’ serpent mythology). It’s also just creepy all round. Or if not creepy, at least something that would get morbidly re-shared on YouTube if it featured in Planet Earth Season 3.

But, anyway, so glad to know that relationships are being built back up. Which probably just means Robin is planning something dreadful for these characters in a chapter or two (I really don’t remember how this book pans out!), but I’ll try not to think about that …

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