Joan Aiken,
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
(Doubleday, 1962;
Delacorte, 2000)

Disclaimer: The wolves in Joan Aiken's modern classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase are portrayed in pure gothic mode, from when "gothic" meant big houses, mysterious governesses, plucky heroines and, of course, ravening wolves. Aiken's Wolves Chronicles rank with Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence for imaginative and timeless writing.

Bonnie Green, daughter of Sir Willoughby and Lady Sophy Green, is overjoyed at the prospect of her cousin Sylvia coming to stay with her for a while. Her excitement is tempered by the knowledge that her parents are about to depart on a sea voyage intended to restore Lady Green's failing health. Still, she eagerly anticipates Sylvia's arrival as well as that of Miss Slighcarp, a distant relative who will be a governess for Sylvia and Bonnie.

Miss Slighcarp arrives first, and to Bonnie's dismay, they don't seem to get along very well. This impression is borne out after Sylvia arrives along with an unexpected house guest, Mr. Grimshaw, injured on the train.

As soon as Bonnie's parents depart, Miss Slighcarp launches into action, taking over Willoughby Chase and sending Bonnie and Sylvia to a workhouse masquerading as a school. As in any good gothic, however, aid comes from a number of people, including Simon, a boy who lives in a cave on the grounds of Willoughby Chase.

Aiken evokes a sense of place in a way that few writers can match. From the opening scenes to the thrilling denouement, she gives the reader characters to love and hate and follow with a passion throughout the book. Aiken is liberal with the melodrama that adds to the fun of the book. As for whether there is a happy ending -- well, to be tell would be cheating.

This is a book to read on a snowy day while sitting on a comfortable couch with a cup of hot chocolate at hand as you run with Joan Aiken and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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