The Alchymist’s Cat by Robin Jarvis

The Alchymist’s Cat by Robin Jarvis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every now and then I return to Robin Jarvis’ work like somebody finding dry land after weeks at sea. I first came across the Deptford books a long while ago, somewhere in that messy early nineties period of children’s literature where nothing was quite sure of itself and the era defining books had not yet been born, nor had we quite recovered from the eighties. Children’s literature was in a place that it did not quite yet understand and then there was Jarvis and his wild, rich fantasy steadily burning in the dark. The Deptford books. The Whitby books. They were local, intimate, everyday wildness. The importance of having a book set in places you knew about and not just named with a mash of a keyboard. Children who went to school in schools like you. Real world stories embedded in magic.

These are brutal books and violent, too, and there will be moment that will be difficult for some readers. Yet alongside this is a powerful and deft story that rolls steadily along and pulls the reader with it every step. There’s a wildly moving subplot that was all too briefly present for me (you’ll know it towards the end of the book) and I’d have welcomed more of that. I love those moments when Jarvis juxtaposes the brutality of man (and animal) with a kind of raw hope and faith in what people can achieve and be. I love that.

I also love how much faith Jarvis shows in his readers. These are big, big books that cover a lot of complex and often quite adult themes, but they work because Jarvis believes in his readers. He doesn’t go delicately into that good night but rather he tells you how it is for these people and it’s up to you to find the good – to learn how to see them and find the spaces for hope and kindness, even in all the grotesque shadows.

As this is a prequel to The Dark Portal, I was wondering whether to recommend that you read that first or this. I think you get a lot of benefit either way but for the full kick, it would probably be The Dark Portal (and indeed, its sequels) before heading to The Alchymist’s Cat (and its sequels).

And, as a final note, it’s beyond time for these books to be adapted for the screen.

View all my reviews

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