Robin Jarvis (born May 8, 1963) is a British children's novelist, who writes fantasy novels, often about anthropomorphic rodents and small mammals—especially mice—and Tudor times. A lot of his works are based in London, in and around Deptford and Greenwich where he used to live, or in Whitby.
His first novel—The Dark Portal, featuring the popular Deptford Mice—was the runner up for the Smarties book prize in 1989.
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.
Whitby is my favourite place in the UK, bar none, and so upon finding this book during my most recent visit to this beautiful town, its needless to say I was very excited.
I loved all the urban myth aspects to the novel, and the eeriness in which these legends were present in the book, however the writing style made this book quite un-enjoyable on the whole. I am baffled as to who the target audience was for this book. The writing style was very much for middle-grade, however the plot seemed far too sinister for such young ages, as did the complexity of the plot, and the chapter structure. This for me meant that the book flowed very poorly. I had no real attachment to any of the characters, other than Ben, and had a strong dislike for Jennet, which stuck even until the end.
As for the ending, this for me was the worst bit for my personal reading preferences. For a book of 316 pages, page 314 seemed far too late for the villain to finally be defeated, leaving only 2 pages to wrap up the entire novel. The final 100 pages was just a big jumble of seemingly "the final showdown" moment, but then something else would pop up, be defeated, and then something else would pop up...this went on for a painstakingly long time, and I really struggled with the last 100 pages. This is also why I was then mesmerised as to how it all got wrapped up in the space of 2 pages.
On the whole, I truly do think the novel had potential, and in terms of recreating a beautifully vivid image of Whitby and its eerie folktales, it was perfect. As for everything along with it, there seemed to be no clear audience in mind, which led to a very unclear writing style trying to execute a very jumbled narrative.
3.75🌟 This is a fab book for older children, engaging charming but with a delicious sense of menace. It had a kind of 5 Children and It and The Dark is Rising mash up quality to it, which is no bad thing.
I’m not sure what age group this book is intended for, I’m guessing around 10-ish as this is a book I would have adored at that age. The descriptions of Whitby are perfect and who wouldn’t love a book filled with witches, aufwaders and barghest? I have to search out the other books by this author.
Honestly I thought the third act of this book was completely garbage and left the whole read feeling utterly disappointing.
The world and characters as they're set up make for a potentially interesting plot with a boy who can see ghosts and an adoptive aunt who could once do the same but now enjoys the company of other old ladies whom perform seances together, but alas this is abandoned in favour of a more convoluted story whose climax is woefully poor.
The authors over reliance on character monologuing to deliver exposition was the first sign that this stories conclusion was going to be handled poorly but good God the barrage of bait and switch scenes that take place in the last 2 chapters was like reading an essay that was simultaneously fearful of overstepping the word count whilst frantically attempting to cram as many tropes in as possible before ending.
In all honesty I could never recommend anyone take the time to read this book unless you're looking for an example on how not to conclude a story.
Edit: Reading other peoples reviews it seems that a lot of people read this book in their childhood or adolescence and at that time it meant something important to them so maybe that's the trick to enjoying this book?
P.S. I'm reading this as a part of a book club so will be interested to find out how my colleagues felt, may update this review after some reflection with others.
This book is still as good as I remember from when I was a teenager [if not better as I know whitby better now] It’s still a dark and fantasy filled book with a twisted happy ending just like as I remember - which I love! So if you are into overly happy endings, unicorns and glittery gnomes.....this probs isn’t the book for you 😅 I just wish I could locate the other two books in the series so I could finish it off 😩
This is a modern classic! Reading this as an adult, I can honestly say that I would have enjoyed this just as much when I was aged as the target audience thirty years ago! Mystery, frights & intrigue abound, I would recommend to children and adults alike. Completed this in one three hour sitting.
Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Admittedly this is a reread (I have actually no idea how many times I've read this since I discovered it aged 14 but as I'm er quite a bit older now it would be fair to say a lot...)
I am so excited that Egmont classics are producing a reprint of one of my favourite series of books. Recently I read 'The Devil's Paintbox' and 'The Power of Dark' which are part of a quartet of new witch stories set in Whitby. While I loved them there's something about the original trilogy as you first discovered it as a child. I became a lifelong Robin Jarvis fan after reading the Deptford Mouse books - he is one of the few authors where I will pretty much read anything he writes.
Anyway this book when I first discovered it introduced me to a dark and bittersweet dark fantasy world where many traditional urban fantasy tropes are subtly flipped or subverted. It's always hard not to fall in love with Jarvis' characters - or to seriously hate and fear the truly rotten ones! The Whitby Witches tells the story of orphans Ben and his older sister, Jennet, who are having difficulties within the care system because Ben is different. He has the sight and struggles not to say what he sees to others. This has resulted in the pair being returned to the orphanage by more than one set of prospective parents, leaving the pair quite insecure, Ben isolated by his ability and Jennet with a sizeable chip on her shoulder and an unwillingness to trust. Finally a new home for them is found in Whitby - the orphanage is as keen to be rid of creepy Ben as anyone else - with the sprightly and eccentric nonogenerian Alice Boston. Miss Boston is the first person to understand that Ben is sighted and to accept the pair. However just as Jennet thinks life might have taken a turn for the better, strange things start to happen in Whitby. A huge black dog stalks the lonely lanes at night. A strangely charismatic widow opens an antique shop. And Aunt Alice's friends start to go missing only to turn up dead one by one. There's something foul in the state of Whitby and somehow the unlikely trio must get to the bottom of it.
The Whitby Witches has lost none of its charm or engaging power since I read it the first time, no mean feat for any book that is loved to death by yours truly. I think it's fair to say that it was an extremely formative book for me too, spawning my love of urban fantasy and the mystery genre as well as a love for older characters teaming up with young protagonists, enhancing a pre-existing love of folklore and legends and ghost stories, and creating a hunger for endings that stick a sly penknife under your ear, even as you acknowledge that the book has ended in the best way possible. So in short Robin Jarvis is responsible for a lot of my formative development. (Thanks!)
I could go on but it's better if you just read the book yourself. You won't be sorry.
Een ietwat kinderlijke maar toch enge tekening op de cover past goed bij de inhoud van het boek. 2 weeskinderen komen bij een oude dame logeren en voelen zich daar al snel thuis. De jongen heeft het tweede zicht en kan dingen zien die normale mensen niet kunnen zien, zoals geesten en Vagelingen. Er gebeuren geheimzinnige en vooral gevaarlijke dingen in het stadje en met de komst van de 2 kinderen lijkt alles naar een climax toe te groeien. Hekserij en geesten, moord en bereigingen geven dit boek een dreigende en sombere ondertoon. De 2 kinderen zijn geestelijk gekwetst en de personen rondom hen hebben ook allemaal wel wat speciaals. Hoewel het allemaal allesbehalve leuk is, wordt het wel leuk verteld en is het razend spannend om te lezen. De karakters worden nogal zwart-wit getekend en het is direct al duidelijk wie tot de goeden en wie bij de slechten hoort. Dat maakt het makkelijk om als lezer mee te leven met de juiste personen. Er gebeurt veel en er zijn weinig rustpunten in het verhaal, het is meeslepend en erg vlot te lezen. Een minpuntje vormt wel het einde dat nogal snel komt en geen mooi afgerond geheel vormt. De details kloppen wel perfekt met heel wat details in het voorafgaande in het verhaal maar het lijkt niet compleet. Dat wordt nog eens benadrukt als de hoofdpersoon de bedenking maakt dat zijn werk nog niet af is. Hopelijk is er een vervolg.
It took a while for the story to get going, but as it got further in I slowly got into it. Set in Whitby, a place with a lot of lore and legends. Ben and Jennet are orphans that have been taken in by the elderly and eccentric Miss Boston. Ben has had trouble fitting into other foster homes since their parents deaths because he has the gift of sight and can see the dead among other things. His sister Jennet does not share his gift so therefore doesn't know whether to believe he can see what he says he does, although she is fiercely protective of her younger brother.
Miss Boston has a circle of friends who are as "interesting" as herself, but with the advent of a new woman in the neighbourhood, Miss Boston's friends are starting to drop like flies. Ben makes friends with a strange girl on the beach that no one can see but him and he discovers a whole new hidden world. It was an adventure story with a bit of supernatural mixed in, would appeal to readers aged 12+ This is a series of books, not sure if I will delve into book 2 or not. Bonus material is included in the back of the book in this republished edition.
This is an unnerving and chilling book. It is about two orphans, Jennet and Ben, who are sent to another foster parent called Miss Boston( also known as Aunt Alice) and then weird things start happening, such as, Ben's visions getting worse, Jennet and Ben finding out that Miss Boston and a group of old ladies are witches and then there is a new person in the town of Whitby who is making mysterious occurrences happen.
This is a very unusual and mythical book. I would definitely recommend this book for Halloween or a spooky occasion because this book is quite gruesome and grim. The only thing I would say could be better in this book is the description, the tension is really good, it's just the description and the clearness of the writing but other then that this is a good book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
A fun read whilst on holiday in Whitby, made me eager to get out and do some more sightseeing. Actually a little scary too, especially when read in a near silent holiday cottage with dim lighting! Would recommend for children 9+
I'm new to Robin Jarvis but loved this classic which has everything you want in a spooky MG read - witches, folklore, magic, tea & cake, quaint seaside towns and dark energy rippling throughout. Might have get stuck into the series now. Recommended!
I picked this up when I was I Whitby as I love the town and I wanted to read more stuff that was set there. The Whitby Witches was just so fun! I loved the plot and the characters. I do think the ending was a bit rushed tho.
This is a fast read because it seems to be written for older kids (maybe 9-14?), but the tone of the plot seems more targeted for adults. It's very atmospheric, and does a great job of bringing the town of Whitby, England, to life. The author draws heavily on local Whitby lore like the Barguest (psychopomp black dog) and mixes it with the tropes of the Christie-esque old-lady detective, the good-hearted orphan(s) with Special Abilities, and sanitized allusions to H. P. Lovecraft -- some of the characters in the book are clearly a variant of the residents of Lovecraft's village of Dunwich, and there are very vague allusions to the "Deep Ones." It's kind of fun to play "spot the allusion" with this book. It's easy to see how it inhabits a similar sphere as Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket's books, though it's older than both.
Unfortunately the plot tries to do too much and ultimately does none of it very well. Most of the characters are extremely one-dimensional (this character is Obsessed with Cats; that character is Rich and Fat). Characters often put together huge plot-moving secrets on the basis of almost nonexistent information. The ending(s) stretch out forever, as others here have noted. Overall, I think if I'd encountered this book when I was 12, I would've absolutely loved it. But having encountered it first as an adult who's done a lot more reading, I see it as a book that has a lot of potential, but in which the flaws outnumber the virtues.
Ben and Jennet are travelling from the North East of England to Whitby, North Yorkshire to a new adoptive home. Since the death of their parents they have moved from foster home to foster home: Ben's ability to see dead people tends to put off foster families. On arrival at Whitby they meet their new adoptive mother- the eccentric elderly Alice Boston. The children settle in quickly, enjoying getting to know Miss Boston and explore Whitby, getting to know the local legends, including the story of St Hilda, Dracula and the Barguest, a sort of ghost dog whose appearance foretells death.
When a mysterious and sinister woman, Rowena Cooper, appears and insinuates herself with Miss Boston's friends, some very mysterious things start to happen. Ben meets a strange group of creatures that only he can see- the Aufwaders- who are dying out due to a curse. How their story, that of Rowena Cooper and a mysterious nun fit together makes for a great fantasy read.
It would work brilliantly as a class novel, especially for a KS2 learning about coasts and shores as a Geography topic. It would also be a great guided or independent read for Y4+. My only quibble is that for me the ending felt a little unresolved, possibly as it is the first in a trilogy.
First of all, Whitby is one of my most favorite places in the world. Quaint, haunted, gorgeous. I spent one of the best weekends of my life there.
So when I saw this, admittedly Harry Potter-esque, book in a clearance sale all I had to see was "Whitby" and "Witches". DONE!
But wow, disappointing. I finally stopped b/c I just didn't care. WAAAY too many subplots going on and not doing much to tie them up. (And I gave up close to the end.) Character development not great. There was a character map in the beginning, describing very interesting ladies, who were all KILLED OFF, halfway before the book was over. Why bother telling me all these things about them and ensuring I can tell them apart if you're just going to off them.
*sigh* Tell me about a great book set in Whitby. Please.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
[Quick review from memory before I re-read and re-review at a later date]
(Oh my, this book. My mother's favourite and I think it might be one of mine, though I'm slightly confused at the lower rating. Vague snatches of scenes though no memory of characters. A definite re-read, sooner rather than later. Perhaps not written terribly well, despite the story?)
Read this as a child on holiday in Whitby, it was lots of fun spotting the items from the book in the Whitby Museum, and it's one of my favourite books. Scared to re-read it as an adult, I'm afraid it may lose its power.
Re-read October 2021 - still fantastic reading it as an adult.
I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Coming to this new edition of Robin Jarvis’s classic young adult novel for the first time as an adult I feel that I definitely missed out as a child by overlooking his work. This is a wonderful, dark, spooky tale set in the seaside town of Whitby (famed for its ties to Dracula so giving the setting a layer of superstition before the book has even started) with an archetypal struggle between good and evil.
Two orphan siblings – Jennet and her younger brother Ben – have been moved from foster home to foster home since their parents’ death as their carers find Ben’s possession of ‘the sight’ too disturbing. Branded troublemakers the two are ejected from their previous home only to find themselves living with Miss Alice Boston, a surprisingly sprightly 92-year old with a unique perspective on the world and less than ordinary pastimes. But Whitby is under threat and Jennet, Ben and their new foster mother are drawn towards danger as they try to avoid becoming casualties of the supernatural forces wreaking havoc on the life expectancy of the locals.
This is a wonderful book that is not afraid to place its wonderful characters in real peril - Jarvis is not daunted to bump someone off if the plot demands it. This makes the book that much more dramatic, scary and thrilling. As an adult I found it hugely compelling – if I had read this as an older child I imagine I would have found it deliciously chilling and engaging. This is rightly considered a classic of its genre. What a gem.
This is a reread of a childhood favourite inspired by a recent trip to Whitby.
I am delighted to find out that I love this book as much now as I did 25 years ago. The characters are well-rounded and relatable, the plot is riveting, and the devotion to the real-life layout of Whitby is commendable. I enjoyed the illustrations (done by the author Robin Jarvis) a second time and think that they add a lot to the book, especially when imagining some of the non-human creatures who appear.
This is a YA book detailing the adoption of two orphans by a 92 year old woman, who may or may not be a witch. I won’t comment more on the plot as I would be in real danger of straying into ‘spoiler territory’ but need to stress how good I found it to be even as a grown-up.
One thing that did surprise me when reading this now is how incredibly dark elements of it are. However I say this through a 2022 lens, and do not even vaguely recall being scared or surprised by the content as a child. Were it released now, I would imagine it would cause some scandal if offered to nine year olds and would need some content warnings for parents. That being said – there are no other aspects of the book which seem dated or uncomfortable after a reading in today’s climate and so it has aged well.
Two orphans, Ben and Jenet travel to the seaside town of Whitby where they have been placed into foster care with the kindly old eccentric Annie Boston. Ben, it seems, sees dead people, and that has been a bit disconcerting for their previous foster homes. Annie, gifted with the Sight herself, is not worried by Ben's abilities, but her interest in his gifts quickly arouses suspicion in the protective Jenet. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman has just moved into town, and sinister happenings start, well, happening.
This is middle-grade fiction, but with a Stephen King level body count, and a downright Lovecraftian worldview.
The town of Whitby is by far the best character in the book, and the setting and worldbuilding are handled meticulously. Unfortunately, the other characters mostly fall short, and the plot leans too heavily on overused tropes. Sometimes plot moves forward because characters don't take obvious chances to communicate with each other, while at other times the villain just goes and over-explains her devious plans at moments that make no sense at all.
The ending is a reasonably good idea, but it mashes too much together, removes most of the agency from the two main characters, and ends on a downright depressing note. While I can see the interpretation of this as a subversion of the genre, I didn't feel it was an effective one. Instead, it just made the whole thing a bit unsatisfying.
Perfectly ok kids story from the 90s, mixing in adventure, the old orphans going to a new home chestnut, folklore with mystery and witches and some classic goodies and baddies. I never read this as a child so I don't have any childhood nostalgia connecting me to it, so perhaps if you come to this for the first time as an adult you might not be blown away by it. But it's light entertainment. The main trouble I have with some of these kids books is that the goodies are all good and the baddies are ALL BAD. Including insane cackling, flapping of cloaks and gloating whilst rubbing hands together. Can feel a bit pantomime at times.
It's set in Whitby in the 90s, and I vaguely remember seeing it being displayed in shop windows then when I visited as a child. So it's a story set in North Yorkshire, I can't really not give it a go. Orphans Jennet and Ben are sent to Whitby to be adopted/fostered (legal issues throughout this book are not realistically portrayed, but whatever, it's for kids) by Miss Alice Boston, who turns out to be a very old but energetic woman who may or may not be a witch. She has a circle of old women friends she meets up with. Then a new creepy woman moves into town, the fabled black dog of death is running about and Ben starts seeing these wierd little people by the sea. The Aufwaders...
This book is set in the wonderful English seaside town of Whitby, however a slightly alternative universe where there is a certain amount of magic that is not common knowledge to most people. I liked this setting, though my own experience of English seaside towns is less ‘oh how charming’ and more ‘oh I’m sure this was nice a long time ago but now it just looks a little crusty’. The level of fantasy I felt was pretty standard for a novel for young teens/older children as it isn’t overly complicated. I imagine, if one were going to pitch this novel at an older audience there would be more explanations of how magic works but it just wasn’t necessary in this title.
As far as characters were concerned it was the classic older sister/younger brother orphans dynamic. I thought both children were suitably non-whiney and also both had a significant hand in the plot, rather than one of them dominating which was a pleasant change from a lot of sibling duos.
It was the old ladies who really captured my heart in this book. Aunt Alice is a likeable and also powerful character that you just know you would have a good time if you got to have tea and cake with her.
Our villain was a masterpiece of a children’s book villain. She caught my attention and she was just a horrible person. There’s a nice simplicity to that, something you don’t see often in literature aimed at the slightly older.
The plot is a good one. We meet mythical creatures, there’s a quest, a time limited pursuit for a magical artefact and everyone learns something by the end of the book.
I really enjoyed this foray into children’s literature. In many ways it was a simpler time back in 1991 and you don’t feel as though this book is following any trends or anything like that. It was refreshing and fun and while the book isn’t a barrel of sunshine and rainbows I think it would make a really good story for younger avid readers.
My rating: 4/5 (but I do think, if I were 8-12 I would have given it a 5/5 so keep that in mind)
By the way, I received a free digital Advanced Review Copy of this book from the publisher (Egmont Publishing) in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own! This edition publishes on June 1st so there’s time to order your own copy!
I really liked the way it was written and the main characters--the world building was great--that said, there was too much world! I think this book had too many components--I was looking forward to a book about witches but I got one about fantastical shore entities and mysterious lords of the deep--and hardly any witchy content. There were also plot lines that went nowhere-when Alice reads the diary, she is unable to figure out if there's anything inside that incriminates Rowena--I was waiting for the aha! moment. Also, all the old ladies that died for nothing--I would have expected us to be getting closer to the truth with each one; instead it's revealed that Rowena is a witch at the end, but not what she did in Africa! And finally the ending was so disappointing, with Hesper dying in that weird time slip (Why? Why did Hilda's staff mess with Time, particularly? That wasn't explained.) So we have a pretty huge death toll for a children's book, yet hardly any of the deaths seem justified. Plus the ending spells the death warrant for the aufwader tribe, which is depressing.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Actually gave this 3.5 stars, I ummed and ahhed about whether or not to give it 3 or 4 here on Goodreads... I enjoyed it, the darkness and spookiness is delicious, the characters are vibrant (Aunt Alice holds it all together perfectly), and some of the horror is unexpected. It also makes you want to go visit Whitby! I love Aunt Alice:
"Adolescent histrionics," Mrs. Joyster remarked dryly ... "Girls like that are only seeking attention."
"Well, I'll make sure she receives some then," Aunt Alice barked back at her. <3
But I did have a few issues. I found the more-or-less omniscient story-telling a bit confusing at times, with a fair amount of head-hopping - by the end of the book, I wasn't sure who the main protagonist(s) were supposed to be - Aunt Alice, or the kids? And I found the 'baddy' a bit one-dimensional and her motives a bit confusing. Also, I thought it was a shame Ben never got his moment, though I assume that's probably resolved in later books (that I haven't read yet). I found the final chapter/climax a bit over-long and OTT as well.