Joan Aiken,
The Felix Brooke Trilogy #3: The Teeth of the Gale
(HarperCollins, 1988; Harcourt, 2007)

Set in the "Ominous Decade" of Spain in 1823, The Teeth of the Gale finds Felix Brooke a little older, considerably taller and, in keeping with the younger Felix of Go Saddle the Sea and Bridle the Wind, up to his neck in adventure.

Eighteen-year-old Felix is summoned home from Salamanca by a most unexpected request for help from his old friend Juana Esparza, now the novice Sister Felicity. Her cousin's three children have been kidnapped by their father Manuel de la Trava, a political enemy of the royalist state and -- if his estranged wife Conchita is to be believed -- a dangerous lunatic. Overjoyed at the possibility of seeing Juana again, Felix embraces the task of restoring the children to their mother.

At first, the primary difficulty seems to be dealing with the quantity of luggage the beautiful and spoiled Dona Conchita insists upon bringing. But Felix soon overhears a plot to kill Don Manuel that makes him wonder whether this rescue mission is as straightforward as it seemed. The plot thickens when the rescue party at last finds Don Manuel in a ruined castle in the mountains -- with only two of the children. Where is the last child? What is Dona Conchita concealing? Who is the mysterious fat man following them? And will Felix ever get a moment alone with Juana?

Alas, not really. Political intrigue there may be in plenty, but when it comes to romantic intrigue, Aiken falters most disappointingly. Kept on their toes by bears, poison, spoiled children and sour-tempered abbesses, Felix and Juana manage to hold about five brief conversations throughout the entire book. Even readers who are not eager romantics may lament that Aiken neglects the relationship that made Bridle the Wind so interesting.

However, this third and final book of Felix's adventures, while not a good place to meet Felix and Juana, has plenty going for it. If Go Saddle the Sea was a picaresque, quixotic journey across Spain and Bridle the Wind was a full-blown gothic adventure, The Teeth of the Gale is a historically grounded novel of political intrigue with high stakes and higher body counts. A greater sense of realism is pervasive; rather than contending with unholy spirits, Felix must deal with human treachery, ambition and greed -- and his own conflicted loyalties and desires.

The pacing is a bit uneven, beginning leisurely and leaving most of its plot twists for the final third, but the older Felix is an observant and witty narrator whose tongue-in-cheek comments are a delight. Readers who have been following Felix's genre-crossing series will be rewarded by a conclusion to the lost treasure subplot that spans all three books, and a satisfying if slightly rushed conclusion to Felix's own story. As usual, Aiken's research is impeccable. A thoughtful afterword provides a full historical context for young history buffs.

Originally published between 1977 and 1988, Aiken's Felix Brooke adventures, while not flawless, are imaginative and compelling reads that bridge the gap between children's and young adult fiction. It's great to have them back in print.

review by
Jennifer Mo

27 October 2007

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