Welcome back for another stop in the Jo Fletcher Skyscraper Throne Reread. This week I recap chapters 49-52 for you. As in the previous post I hosted there will be spoilers galore. If you haven’t read these books before and want to remain unspoiled, best beware, as the gentleman says: SPOILER ALERT!!
But first the story so far:
After having been betrayed by her best friend and expelled from school, Beth flees her unhappy home life with a dad who’s still lost to his grief over the death of Beth’s mum. On the streets she encounters Filius Viae, the Son of the Streets, child of Mater Viae, a goddess long-disappeared from her London turf. Filius must now battle Mater Viae’s ancient enemy, the Crane King Reach, all alone with only the help of his foster parent Gutterglas, a garbage spirit. Beth throws in her lot with Fil’s and together they set about gathering an army, which doesn’t go smoothly. To make Beth more capable of defending herself against Reach, Filius bargains with the Chemical Synod to change her to be more like him, a true Child of the Streets.
Meanwhile, Beth’s dad Paul and her best friend Pen have gone searching for Beth and Pen was taken as a host by The Wire Mistress, one of Reach’s most powerful minions. After Filius was seriously wounded in the first battle against Reach, Beth has decided to rescue Pen on her own, but she’s joined by the Old Russian Victor. Together they defeat the Wire Mistress and free Pan, but at the terrible cost of Victor’s life. Meanwhile, Paul has discovered the Pavement Priests and has joined them for the final battle against Reach.
‘I am Reach. I will be.’
After Pen’s rescue in the last chapter and her exhortation that Beth must stop Reach, in chapter 49 Beth moves on to the heart of his domain to confront him. Deafened by his voice and blinded by his lights, she is nevertheless urged on by the voices in her head. The light is created by the windows of the half-formed towers Reach has created, ‘Reach had surrounded himself with mirrors.’ This echoes back to earlier in the book when the mirrorstocracy refuse to help Filius and Beth in their fight and it foreshadows the setting of the next book.
Beth is opposed by three Scaffwolves, but they just corral her, they don’t attack which confuses Beth. Then follows a brilliant bit of misdirection ̶ Beth gets speared by a crane hook and she’s lifted up, which suggests that the wolves didn’t attack to distract her, instead it turns out the reason is completely different. Because once she’s lifted above the building site, she finally sees Reach. He’s a half-formed face emerging from the ground, slowly being revealed by his workers.
‘Christ and Thames. The idea came to Beth through a fug of pain. He’s a child. Beth didn’t want to believe it, but the conviction settled in her gut and wouldn’t shift. He’s a young child, too, not yet fully born. The diggers and drills were still birthing him from the rock.’
Suddenly Reach isn’t evil any more, his motivations can be grasped. His unrelenting desire to be is mindless, the destruction he’s caused unintentional. It also harkens back to the imagery we saw in last week’s chapters where Beth and Victor have to struggle through the tunnel, which is likened to a birth canal. While Beth is still reeling from the realisation of Reach’s true nature, Filius appears and after some nimble acrobatics retrieves his spear from Beth.
Filius’ appearance also means a shift back into his first-person point-of-view in chapter 50. And Filius too feels the lifelessness of the ground in Reach’s domain and he knows there will be no help for him there. Still, he is glad to finally be able to confront Reach and be the son his mother wanted or at least the son he believes she wanted. Despite injuring himself and being caught by the ankle by a Scaffwolf, Filius manages to ram his spear into Reach’s throat. And even in this dire moment he remains the flippant sod he’s been throughout the book—’I am quite a mouthful.’ But at this pinnacle of achievement, just when we think they’ve done it, Pollock pulls the rug out from under us: Filius is stabbed through the gut by one of Reach’s hooks.
Beth is still suspended high above and can do nothing but watch helplessly at the start of chapter 51. Strangely enough, the wolves leave the incapacitated Filius alone and Reach lets Beth go. She rushes over to Filius and gets him to safety in the labyrinth she followed to get to Reach. when they are safe she tries to figure out why Reach let them go. The reason she comes up with is that Reach is a baby with a baby’s attention span. This reminder of Reach’s apparent age also attunes the reader to the fact that Filius is only a child as well. And that all three of them – Reach, Filius, and Beth – are motherless.
‘Where’s my mum? The question caught in Beth’s chest. She remembered all the desolate months she’d asked the same question. Now she smothered the question instantly whenever it arose in her mind.’
No matter age or distance, the impulse to call for mum when hurt is instinctual. But the battle isn’t over and we’re drawn from the intimate scene between Beth and Filius back to the building site by a loud and tangible noise. It’s the Pavement Priests come to worship their Goddess in the only way left to them. They are impressive in their numbers and their devotion.
‘The Warrior Priests stepped forward as one, the thud of their feet the percussion to their chant. They were the guardians of the old faith, wearing skins in the shapes of London’s heroes from other times. They sang their eulogy for their fallen city.’
Their battle against the Scaffwolves is ferocious, but they also manage to attack Reach directly by digging him up. And even during all of this chaos, Beth manages to notice that there is one strange Priest among them and that his looks oddly familiar. The Priests can’t turn the tide, however, and Filius can only think of one solution: the Great Fire, which means Mater Viae. And suddenly everything comes together for Beth. She knows the price the Mater paid for Filius’ transformation. When she shares her conclusion with Filius, he tells her she needs to kill him. Beth freaks out and demands to know why. Filius tells her ‘… making bad deals with the Chemical Synod runs in the family.’ Beth finally learns the price he paid for her. Filius tells her it’s the only way. Killing him will bring the Synod and they can use the Fire to get Reach. But Beth can’t do it; she doesn’t want to lose Filius as well. Filius reminds her of Petris’ words ‘The outlines, the very definition of a life,’ and tells her it is his choice to make.
Left with no other alternative Beth accedes to Filius’ wishes and the life – and the chance of victory – he offers. In a way, Filius is like the sacral Year King of Celtic myth giving his life for the good of the land, sacrificing himself and leaving his position to a new king, or in this case queen, much like his mother did with him. And no, these aren’t tears in my eyes; there’s a lot of cement dust floating around here, or hadn’t you noticed?
‘Here’s your price!’
Chapter 52 launches Beth back onto the battlefield carrying Filius and dropping him in the midst of the horrified, few Pavement Priests left. As Filius predicted the Synod appear to collect what they are owed. To get to Filius they have to destroy Reach, something they do in short order. In fact, Reach’s eventual demise is somewhat anticlimactic after the charged scenes that went before: ‘The child-king of the cranes died not with a scream, but with a slow hiss of metal like an exhausted breath.’
The Synod carries Filius’ body off, leaving Beth to explain her actions to the Priests, who not only understand – all too well according to Petris – but reunite her with her dad as well. Together the two go to retrieve Pen, who has fought her own battle to regain her will. When Beth wants to take her to Gutterglas to get her healed, she tells Beth: ‘No further down the rabbit hole, B’ Pen said. ‘No more. If you want to take me somewhere, take me home.’ After Pen also tells her she’s missed her and could never let her go, Beth does just that.
And with that we’ve reached not only the end of the third part in the book, but also the end of this week’s post. Please check out next week’s post over at the Jo Fletcher Books blog for the final set of chapters in The City’s Son. I’ll see you again in six weeks when I host another post this time recapping chapters 17-20 of The Glass Republic. See you then!