My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve written about The Whitby Witches before but never quite in the guise of a formal review. Upon the decision that I wanted to use this book in my PhD (and how, oh how could I not…), I knew it was time to fix that. And so: a review. But how to review this dark and powerful and wildly fantastic book, oh where to begin with such a book that is the first in a trilogy but not, somehow. The Whitby Witches is of Whitby and responsive to Whitby and in dialogue with the story of Whitby and all of the stories of Whitby. It’s a beginning, yes, to this story, but also a response to Dracula and to the Hand of Glory and the Barghest and to the sea and to the storied history of Whitby itself.
So. A beginning. Jennet and Ben, orphans, are off to Whitby. They have been fostered by Alice Boston (Aunt Alice), a redoubtable woman of redoubtable talents. She is 92 years old, insists on climibg the 199 steps before breakfast every day and is holding a secret of her own. But then again, so is Ben. And so is Whitby.
But the thing about secrets is that they insist on being discovered and so, eventually, awfully, things begin to occur in the Whitby. Events spiral. People die. Darkness rises. Aunt Alice, the children and their friends, must make a stand against the darkest of evils.
This is such a book. I remember the first time I read it, growing up in the North Yorkshire Moors, and I was almost made breathless by this story. Jarvis’ style is so honestly readable; he faces the darkness and he brings to it such glorious moments of people and heart and bravery, that this book deserves to be at the forefront of our consideration of British children’s literature. I devour this book. Every time.
For sometimes I think this series is forgotten and that is not right. It is a matter-of-fact story about magic and power and friendship and hope and being very, very brave. It is a story about people. And magic. And fear.
And it is very, very good.