Ink Black Heart: Alchemical Albedo

Rowling is a writer with the hermetic formula solve et coagula tattooed to her right wrist. It’s there as a reminder that her personal and professional aim is self-transformation and re-invention in her own life and to foster the same in the reader’s experience of her stories. She does this in large part through her deployment of alchemical sequences and symbolism, most notably the black-white-red stages of metallurgical alchemy. Strike’s agony in Troubled Blood was his dissolution or nigredo akin to Harry’s in Order of the Phoenix. The events of Ink Black Heart will be the ablutionary albedo or ‘white stage,’ in which he will be cleansed of delusion and prepared for the final chrysalis and revelations of the rubedo or ‘red stage.’

True or False? Has Strike 6 proven to be an alchemical brew filled with the albedo standards of “swans, albedo standards, silver, moonlight, water, rain, snow, and booze galore”? Something else hermetic — or not at all?


  1. I’ve only just finished my first read and haven’t had time to re-read – so apologies for the brevity of my observations!
    I noticed a number of references in connection with Madeline – her house is described as being decorated in silvery tones and she is certainly fond of a drink! We see that although Strike thinks that he willing to “give a proper relationship a go” with Madeline, he is deluding himself yet again. They are fundamentally incompatible in certain ways (Strike’s need for privacy vs Madeline’s love of the spotlight) and via the conversation between Isla and Robin at Bob Bob Ricard we learn how different Robin is to the other women in Strike’s life. She doesn’t want Strike to change his fundamental personality, although as we see later in the book, she is supportive and encouraging of his attempts to make changes that he has initiated (his desire to lose weight and eat more healthily).
    I felt that the events towards the end of the book put Strike and Robin on a more equal footing and disprove Strike’s suspicion that Robin only loves him because he is a mentor.
    Robin is the one able to provide a sanctuary to Strike when he needs to vacate his flat (compared to Strike paying for a hotel for Robin in Career of Evil) ; during the heated argument between Robin and Strike that takes place on their way to a dangerous confrontation, Robin explains to Strike that he is the vulnerable one and that she doesn’t want to see him injured or dead because she doesn’t want to lose him; and in the last confrontation with Charlotte when Strike realises that Charlotte is critically different to him on a fundamental level (and we know from earlier exchanges that Robin is not).

    The book ends with Strike hit with the realisation that he is in love with Robin and that it may well be too late to do anything about it. I’m very interested to see what the rubedo holds for the Strike-Robin relationship! I do think that we have seen the last of Charlotte’s hold over Strike and that he is now free to move on (but whether that is true for Robin is a different matter!)

  2. Louise Freeman says

    This is part of my 5-6 post but worth noting here: Since TB was a “wet nigredo” it stands to reason that there would be a much-harder-to-pull-off “dry albedo“ in IBH. I suggested we might see something bleached white by the sun. The Marine Hotel had a display of “corrugated white coral” in their dining room. Coral turns white as a result of “bleaching,” or loss of its symbiotic algae. The two most common reasons are 1) rising ocean water temperature and 2) excessive sunlight. Granted, coral is not quite as omnipresent in IBH as rain is in TB, but it’s there.
    We got some snow on Robin’s skiing trip. The only swans were the picture at the Ritz and on the pond near where the phone was found. The most watery scene was Strike mopping up Josh’s face and giving him water.
    A quick word count shows “white” appears on 212 pages of the text, but over half of those appear to be references to the Paperwhite name. “Black” appears on 255 pages.
    So, overall— albedo is a hard sell.

  3. There is the white hair of Jago Ross, silver maned maniac, Flavia’s name means blonde, and we’re doing some hard drinking in this book which alcoholic content exceeds all previous Strike novels, but, yes, the floods of ‘Troubled Blood’ and its signature boozy moments make it an easier sale as the series albedo.

    I wonder if, as originally conceived, the trip to the Ritz that ends Troubled Blood and begins Lethal White wasn’t combined rather than split for the original albedo conclusion and didn’t end in a kiss at the end of Strike6.

  4. Is the snogging Robin and Pez engage in for over an hour (she edited out an hour of it!) an albedo idea? Especially since we all relived it when Strike played it over again! Also the ponds near the cemetery into which a phone was pitched and the cemetery itself was white and silvery, especially by moonlight when the cartoon characters cavort among tombstones.
    I like Louise’s idea of mopping up Josh’s face but he isn’t the only one who sobs. Katya, Kea, Zoe are others

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