Black Cat is the darkest of the three books in Jenny Maxwell's stunning Blacksmith trilogy. It tells the tale of Glory (Gloriana) who is the sister of Anne the blacksmith. It is not quite right to say it is the second book in the trilogy because the events run concurrent with the first book. They are all 'stand alone' novels but the tales are interwoven with incredible skill.
Glory is aptly named because she is stunningly beautiful, dainty and feminine. She is the polar opposite of her sister Anne who lives a semi reclusive life as a blacksmith. Glory is a very talented stage designer and as her career advances she is taken on by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Anne and Glory's mother is a spoilt, vain creature who undermines Anne seriously and her egotism gets in the way of her appropriate support of Glory when needed.
A series of events in her childhood bring Glory to a place where certain sexual stresses causes her to become 'split off' psychologically. I don't want to be more specific in order not to introduce 'spoilers' into this review. Sufficient to say, Glory becomes gory!
Both the women in the novel are very strong but in completely different ways. It is a tribute to the writing skill of Jenny Maxwell that she makes these two central characters so compelling. Glory's internal logic and rationale are faultlessly described and it is difficult not to engage with her even at her most irrational and dangerous. The effects of various kinds of abuse, some subtle, some blatant, are threaded through the novel. Cause and effect consistently underpins the action. It could be argued that the novel is a polemic against the use of people as sexual objects, both male and female. Then again, you could just devour it as an incredibly gripping tale! It works on a lot of levels.
Throughout the development of her career with various stage companies, Glory makes little paper cut out cats for her fellow workers and actors. She is considered to be lucky by the many superstitious actors that she is surrounded by. Paradoxically she doesn't seem to attract any luck to herself and instead considers herself as something of a 'plague dog' deserving of the bad things that happen to her. I found it quite thought provoking to consider what, if anything, was deserved and what was definitely not. I'd love to hear others opinions on this! It certainly made me think about justice!
Glory's job as a set designer sends her occasionally to her sister to have very difficult pieces of set or costume made. Anne 'rescues' her sister in a number of ways but at the chilling finale, Glory's attempt to rescue her sister Anne ends in a near fatal debacle. I won't tell you for whom! You will have to read it if you want to find out. (it won't be a hardship to you!)
The novel contains all the elements that will keep you reading way past your bedtime. It has The Stage, prostitution, murder, blackmail, retribution, religious sects, white magic, love, hatred, perversion, fashion, loyalty, heroism and lots more. You would think it would be straining credulity to get all of these themes within the 600 pages but it is seamlessly done. It would make a fantastic television series. (I hope it hasn't already been done and I missed it!)
It is clear that Jenny Maxwell has done her research meticulously and lots of background information, particularly about how theatres work, enrich the story.
Because it is mainly the story of Glory, it has a different pace and feel to the other two books 'The Blacksmith' and 'Iron Snakes', which are mostly about Anne the eponymous blacksmith. I think it is the strongest of the three books. Even though any one of them can be read on it's own due to Jenny Maxwell's skill, I do think that you should read them all in order. I only say this because the information from The Blacksmith enriches the text of the following books.
Black Cat is available for £6.99 new from good bookshops or from £2.50 used, on Amazon or eBay.
Jenny Maxwell was born in Scotland, educated in England and for a while lived in Germany. She now lives on a narrow boat moored near Stourbridge in the UK. She has written other thrillers but I haven't read them yet. So watch this space because I will soon!
Publisher: Time Warner Paperbacks