I read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken for this month’s Read to Know Bookclub, and I am so glad I did! I chose to not read this one aloud to my children because I thought it might be scary, but it turns out that think this is one that we would’ve all enjoyed as a read-aloud. Although this book has been on my radar for a while (after all, it was published in 1962!), it’s not one I’ve ever been inclined to pick up on my own. I steer a pretty wide path around anything that seems like it might be scary or have questionably evil undertones, and for some reason that’s the impression I’ve always had of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. While this story does contain a trio of dastardly villains (not to mention some pretty creepy wolves!), there’s nothing in here that I predict would cause my ten and eight year olds to have trouble going to sleep at night. What is does have is adventure aplenty, with a duo of spunky heroines and a helpful gooseboy who comes to their rescue. What I particularly love are the Dickens-esque characters and characterization and the delightfully descriptive writing:
“So I should hope! Am I right in supposing that you are Miss Green? I am Miss Slighcarp, your new governess. I am also your fourth cousin, once removed,” the lady added haughtily, as if she found the removal hardly sufficient.
I was pretty sure from the outset that having a governess named Miss Slighcarp couldn’t be good.
Cold in spite of their furs, the children were glad to be sat down before a glowing fire in the night nursery, while Pattern scolded and clucked, and brushed the tangles out of their hair, brought in with her own hands the big silver bathtub filled with steaming water, in which bunches of lemon mint had been steeped, giving a deliciously fragrant scent, and bathed them each in turn, afterward wrapping them in voluminous warm white flannel gowns.
Next she fetched little pipkins of hot, savory soup, sternly saw every mouthful swallowed, and finally hustled them both into Bonnie’s big, comfortable bed with the blue swans flying on its curtains.
Doesn’t that make you want to curl up in Bonnie’s cozy bed and take a nap?
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is described as an “alternate history” of England, though I didn’t really notice anything terribly amiss in this particular story. (Read more about this in Carrie’s post about the author, or on the author’s website.) It did make me think about the steampunk genre, something I admittedly know next to nothing about but have been intrigued by.
I loved this story of orphans and near-orphans, villainous governesses, courageous girls, and one heroic gooseboy. The only thing that seemed a bit off to me was the title; wolves enter the story only peripherally, so the title seems odd. I can overlook that, though, and it makes me more eager to read more of the series. I’d like to check out more of Aiken’s works, particularly her Jane Austen sequels. I give The Wolves of Willoughby Chase a Highly Recommended, and I offer an enthusiastic thank you to both Carrie and the bookclub hostess for the month of May, Tammy of Bluerose’s Heart.