by Joan Aiken
To the best of my knowledge, at the time I write this, Midwinter
is the latest (2003) in a varicolored series of adventures
called the Wolves Chronicles
, stretching back to 1962's classic The
Wolves of Willoughby Chase
. And perhaps surprisingly, for those of you
joining the program late, this is the first book in the series that
actually has a werewolf in it.
I knew Remus Lupin. Remus Lupin was a friend of mine. And Mr. Baron
Magnus Rudh, you're no Remus Lupin!
No, indeed. This werewolf is a very evil guy. And he isn't necessarily
the scariest villain in this story, which pits Dido Twite, resourceful
heroine of most of the series, against possibly the most chilling
conspiracy to overthrow the King of this alternate-world, mid-1800's
This time, it isn't a Hanoverian plot. It's a Burgundian plot. For in
the six or so years since the events of Dido and Pa, there have been
lots of changes in Ms. Aiken's intriguing world. The only thing that
hasn't changed is the blend of fantasy and history, with a flair for
macabre, melodrama, and camp.
Good King Dick is coming to the end of his life, sadly, and too soon.
But there are problems with the royal succession. Our dear friend Simon
Bakerloo, 6th Earl of Battersea, has come a long way from the goose-boy
who aspired to be a painter. But is he ready to take sole responsibility
for the kingdom? It's hard enough keeping the king's safehouse a secret
from the cabal of wicked villains who want to stick a (cough) royal
bastard on the throne. But the murdering swine have taken over a boys'
boarding school, kidnapped Dido (among others), hired Burgundian
mercenaries, and committed various other perfidies. And what with a
flood coming, and a hard winter on its heels, and the woods haunted by
Russian bears and levitating Saxon rebels, and an obnoxious girl who
wants to marry Simon, and a set of bad guys who will stop at nothing to
get revenge and power, what can a cockney girl and a gentle painter do?
Lots, evidently. So much, in fact, that the last couple of chapters are
apt to make your head spin. The final collision of all the forces set in
motion, though carefully prepared ahead of time, seems to happen so
suddenly and swiftly that it leaves you staggering. But there are many
shocks, most of them gruesome, in this modern gothic. Also a lot of
humor and wit (I love the way Dido thinks and speaks, epecially), and of
course, a bit of unheralded poetry. Let me quote one brief bit...
The duchess certainly looked evil. She had a fat pale face and eyes that
lacked any expression. They were like two pickled onions, Dido thought,
and her mouth was a thin slit, painted bright red, like a line under the
wrong answer to a sum.
...One final note. I thank many readers for telling me where I can
locate copies of Is Underground and Cold Shoulder Road online. When I
can afford the prices being asked, I will buy them & read them up for
you. Till then, let my assurance that this series is consistently
entertaining suffice to recommend them.
Recommended Age: 12+
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