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February 14, 2018

The Cat, The Crow, and The Grimoire by Marilyn Rucker

by Alison DeLuca

cover for The Cat, the Crow, and the Grimoire showing a book and a feather pen

The Cat, The Crow, and The Grimoire is another Marilyn Rucker novel. Like Sax and the Suburb, this wonderful writer serves up an action-packed plot with incredible writing.
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Rucker's prose is deceptively cozy with claws hidden under a furry coat. When I first read The Cat, The Crow, and The Grimoire, she blew me away from the first page with historical adventure. The story of a witch in Arkansas who has to escape a murder charge:
Stopgap, Arkansas in 1875 doesn’t have a lot of amenities, other than mud. One non-mud good thing is reliable witch/midwife, Gwendolyn Higgins. Unfortunately, not everyone in town is happy that Gwendolyn even exists. When she loses one patient too many, she’s blamed for murder. She has to run, just like she always has, due to a painful and violent past. It’s a good thing she has supernatural help in the form of a smart alec cat, a zombified crow, and an opinionated book of magic.

Here's an excerpt so you can enjoy Rucker's amazing writing:

Lucas Pickman might brand me as a kidnapper as well as a murdering witch. That is if he cared enough to look for his kids. I guess they couldn’t hang me twice, though. Besides, Pickman didn’t necessarily know his children had survived the fire he seemed to have set.

“Do you think we’ll find Pa today?” said Obie, somehow picking up that I was thinking about his father.

I looked back at him, Ruthie wasn’t looking at me. She didn’t want to find her Pa.

“I don’t know if we want to be looking for him, Obie.” I said. “It sounds like he doesn’t want to be found.” At least not by me or his kids.

“He didn’t mean anything!” he yelled. “He was sad cause of Ma!”

“Pa killed Ma, Obie,’ said Ruthie, so abruptly I almost fell off my seat. “He hit her, right in the stomach, and she went down on the floor screaming. She died trying to have the baby.” Having spat this out, she looked horrified and relieved. She was tired of keeping the secret from her brother.

“You shut up, Ruthie!” said Obie. “Papa wouldn’t do that!”

picture of pumpkins, candles, and a woman's hands
image courtesy of freestock

Obie grabbed the nearest thing he could, which turned out to be Ra, and tried to bash his sister over the head with the cat. Ra wouldn’t allow this, and scratched him to pieces before he let her go. She ran into the back of the wagon. He succumbed to sulky silence, as did Ruthie. 

There wasn’t anything I could say after that. I didn’t have any ointment to put on the scratches. I’d have to rustle up some jewelweed and make some. I usually kept an eye out for useful plants when I traveled.  I hadn’t seen jewelweed or burdock, which were my favorites for skin abrasions and ailments. The honey would work well, especially when mixed with some cobwebs and creek mud. But Obie might have to be sedated to let me put the mixture on him at this point. I put the notion in the back of my mind for the time being.

We rode along in unhappy silence for the rest of the day, only stopping once to answer the call of nature. After several hours of watching Damascus’s rump as he trudged through the red mud, I looked up to see Jasper flying down. He landed on my shoulder. I stroked his head and asked him under my breath what he’d seen. I forebore to take his eyes out in front of the children.  I had done so enough times in the past that I could sometimes pick up his sight and feelings anyway. He closed his eyes. I could tell by the peaceful feeling he sent me that no one was near us. This didn’t preclude the possibility that he hadn’t been paying attention. I decided to trust his perception.

close-up of tabby cat
image courtesy of pixabay

“Let’s stop for a while and rest,” I said. “Maybe we’ll camp here.”

The children were goggle eyed that a crow came and landed on my shoulder and apparently talked to me.

“But I don’t want to stop now,” said Obie. “There’s nothing here but grass and snakes and trees.”

“There is so much here that you don’t see, child,” I said. “So much food and medicine. I want to gather a few things for our journey, and you can eat supper.”

I had spotted some jewelweed by then, and got out my poke bag. There were plants all through the meadows we were passing by that we could live off of.  I would need to extend my supplies if I were adding two hungry children to my retinue.

“Are you going to kill us now?” said Obie, out of nowhere. “Is that why we’re stopping?’

“Why would we have to stop for me to do that?” I said, genuinely confused at the question. Did they think I couldn’t kill them while still driving the horse? They both looked terrified, which made me sigh. 

“I won’t kill either of you till after supper,” I said, staring them down. “I wouldn’t want you to die on empty stomachs.”

Obie backed away, seeming to believe my threats. I sighed.  My own son had died before he’d turned two. I hadn’t enjoyed being around children since, and had avoided them for the most part. That didn’t give me much experience with taking care of them.  I supposed I didn’t have the natural patience to do it right.  I guessed I was going to do it all wrong till someone rescued me from them, which looked unlikely. 

“Are you going to burn all that salt pork or let us eat it?” said Ruthie, as she fed another bundle of sticks onto the cook fire. 

picture of crow in a landscape
picture courtesy of pixabay

“After I burn it, you can have some,” I said. But I pulled it off the fire and put it on a little tin plate that we all ate off of. I had some dried apples to eat with the salt pork. We added fresh dandelion greens, which were deliciously sharp and bitter. I couldn’t persuade the children to eat much of them. They did eat the clover pan bread I made with the abundant clover flowers and some cornmeal. It was a little dry, but sweet and sustaining. They seemed to like it, especially with even more honey on top.

I figured I could charm some bees and get more honey soon.  I had no idea when I’d get the chance to prepare it with the loyalty enchantment. It needed some specific herbs, and had to be mixed in the light of a full moon, which had now just passed. The enchantment would have to wait a few weeks.

Also, like The Grimoire had said, one had to be in a self-trusting, state of mind to cast reliable spells. I didn’t think I could manage the required trusting frame of mind anytime soon. I had a little honey left for the next few days. I would just have to hope I had enough. I needed them to trust me, and to follow me quickly if there was need, as I suspected there might be.

After this sumptuous meal, I found a deserted weaver’s web in the woods. I mixed this up with some mud and smeared it on Obie’s cat scratches with the juice of the jewelweed plants. He didn’t like this much, but getting fed enough for a change had quieted him down into a sulky pout. I figured if I moved carefully around him, he’d endure the doctoring. He did, and by the way his shoulders relaxed when I was done, I could tell it helped.

“Never grab a cat against her will,” I said. “Actually, never grab anything against its will, unless it’s trying to kill you or you mean to kill it yourself.”

Buy The Cat, The Crow, and The Grimoire at Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

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