October 10, 2006

The Aiken Wolves series

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a thoroughly dark and gothic tale, full of gorgeous descriptions and thoroughly evil henchmen, wild wolves and icy cold. Sylvia is a poor girl, coming to live with her wealthy cousin, Bonnie, where the contrast with her own life is wildly different - sumptuous and plentiful, where thinness and want has been her closest companion. But almost as soon as she arrives, in deep snow, with snarling wolves and gunmen escorting her into the safety of the gates -- her Aunt and Uncle are off to find a rest cure for her Aunt, and the sinister governess, Miss Slighcarp, has charge of them both. And horrors -- the Aunt and Uncle are reported wrecked at sea. Instantly, Miss Slighcarp begins firing servants, taking over the estate, and wearing Bonnie's mother's clothes. But Bonnie isn't about to take anything lying down. Though she and her cousin, Sylvia, are sent off to the poorhouse, they determine to escape, and set things right. An exciting story which has kept its wonderful sense of fun even though it was first published in 1962.

Blackhearts in Battersea introduces readers Simon, a boy who wants to be an artist, and is seeking his friend Dr. Field, who has promised him a position at his art school, only he's ...mysteriously disappeared! Simon moves in with Dr. Field's former landlords, the Twite family, and their irrepressibly spirited daughter, Dido, who is full of secrets and a bit lonely and ill-treated in her household. Simon meets the Duke of Battersea, who is somewhat mad, his nephew, who is sullen and snappish and wishes he didn't have to become a famous artiste like his grandfather, and reunites with his friend Sophie, the Duchess' maid, who keeps saving the Batterseas from being assassinated by political opponents. It's a wild adventure, full of random happenings all tying together in a complete whole that keeps readers guessing until the end.

Nightbirds on Nantucket is another story about Dido Twite, who wakes up from a ten month sleep and finds herself... onboard a whaling ship out to sea. She misses England immediately! The cabin boy, Nate, is very kind, but there's craziness aboard. For one thing, the Captain, a serious Quaker gentleman, is obsessed with finding a pink whale. He's sure he's seen it, and his terrified daughter, Dutiful Penitence, who has locked herself into his stateroom, is sure he's crazy, and that she, like her mother, is going to die onboard the whaler forever chasing the whale. Captain Casket urges Dido to help his daughter get more courage... and Dido really works on it. She helps 'Pen' get over her fear of her father, her fear of the ship, and her fear of her Terrible Aunt Tribulation, whom she knows her father is going to force her to live with, so he can get back to whaling. Then, just as Pen finally finds her courage, her father dumps the girls off with friends of his departed wife, the moment they touch land and he hears of another pink whale sighting. It's enough to tick Dido off for sure. She decides to head for the Captain's property, and never mind Aunt Trib -- who turns out to be a skinny and mean-spirited woman, one who Dido suspects immediately isn't whom she says she is. More political intrigue, a huge gun, several daring escapes, and the adventure ends safely and happily for all involved, including the pink whale, which actually exists.

Joan Aiken is a stupendous writer, aside from being amazingly prolific, her adventure tales really hold up over time. I truly enjoyed them, and can't wait to seek out more.

2 comments:

a. fortis said...

It's a series?? OMG. Wolves was one of my absolute favorites growing up--I read it over and over. Can't wait to get hold of the two other adventures.

tanita s. davis said...

Until I read them - sadly one out of order - I didn't realize that they were a series either. But there are some characters who continue through... and you wonder if Leticia Slighcart WILL EVER DIE!?!?! It's great! She is the Ultimate Villaness, she bounces. She's unkillable. Yay!