The Whispering Mountain
by Joan Aiken
Owen Hughes is the son of the same Captain Hughes who accompanied Dido
Twite on her adventures in The Cuckoo Tree
and The Stolen Lake
just now, his father is missing, last seen doing his duty in the midst
of an uprising in China. So Owen has found his way to his grandfather's
home in the Welsh town of Pennygaff, where the old man (a retired naval
captain himself) runs a museum of antiquities. Unfortunately, the elder
Mr. Hughes does not altogether accept Owen as his grandson, so he is
inclined to believe, when an ancient harp of gold goes missing from his
collection, that Owen has taken it.
On the contrary, Owen is doing his best to save the harp from the real
thieves, a couple of cockney bunglers named Bilk and Prigman, who set
the whole misunderstanding in motion by kidnapping him and threatening
his life. The thieves, in turn, work for a ghastly, yellow-eyed villain
named the Marquess of Malyn, who is obsessed with gold, and fills his
castle atop the "whispering mountain" with equal numbers of gold
articles and instruments of torture. The Marquess believes the harp
belongs to him. But he has more than the incompetence (and crookedness)
of his hired agents to contend with. He is up against the clever and
courageous Owen and his growing circle of admiring friends, the gypsy
poet Tom Dando and his resourceful daughter Arabis, a wiry little monk
named Brother Ianto, a hotblooded, Scottish-accented Prince of Wales,
and an ancient tribe of little, hairy people who live under the mountain
and work in gold.
Not to mention the prophecy:
"When the Whispering Mountain shall scream aloud
And the castle of Malyn ride on a cloud,
Then Malyn's lord shall have and hold
The lost that is found, the harp of gold.
Then Fig-hat Ben shall wear a shroud,
Then shall the despoiler, that was so proud,
Plunge headlong down from the Devil's Leap;
Then shall the Children from darkness creep,
And the men of the glen avoid disaster,
And the Harp of Teirtu find her master."
The story is everything you should expect from a Wolves Chronicle-an
adventure crawling with memorable characters who speak in a variety of
interesting dialects; the tale of a mild-mannered, bookish boy finding
the valiant hero and leader within; a tale in which the evil get their
just deserts while the good sometimes suffer terrible loss; a tale of
comedy, horror, and a subtle tinge of magic, which can also be rather
It's hard to say whether this book is intended to be part of the
"Wolves" series, which mainly deals with the exploits of Dido Twite, or
is just another freestanding novel set in the same
historical-England-with-a-fantasy-twist (in which James III is King
when, in our world, Victoria was Queen). The edition published by
Starscape does nothing to clarify the matter, since instead of listing
the works of Joan Aiken, it just lists books published by Starscape.
While I'm griping about it, I might as well also mention that the
typesetting of this book is atrocious, at one point even disastrous. I
hope another edition is coming!
Recommended Age: 12+
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