Night Birds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken

Night Birds on Nantucket cover

I’m making my way through this Joan Aiken series featuring Dido Twite. This was the first of the series that I picked up at a secondhand bookshop, an original Puffin book which cost all of 25p when it was published in 1966, but as it comes third in the series I had to find and read the first two before getting around to this one.

I was attracted to the book because of the back cover blurb:

Here is a new adventure for Dido Twite (the enchanting heroine of Black Hearts in Battersea), waking from a long sleep to foil Miss Slighcarp, the wicked governess, in her plan to assassinate King James III by long-distance gun – and her greatest ally is a pink whale called Rosie.

Who could resist that craziness?!

Dido has been rescued from the sea by a whaling ship and slept for ten months, being fed on whale oil and molasses while she slept. When she wakes up the sailors have just caught a whale and are dealing with it (not a pleasant description) and Dido is sorry to hear that they can’t take her back to England immediately, they’re going in the opposite direction. The ship’s captain has a daughter on the ship, Dutiful Penitence is about the same age as Dido but is pining away after the death of her mother on board. Dido succeeds in making Pen take an interest in life again and together they get mixed up in another Hanoverian plot to kill King James III.

The long distance gun is so powerful it will blow Nantucket back as far as Atlantic City – a horrific thought apparently!

It’s a daft but fun read.

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken is the second book in this series and was first published in 1965.

This book features some of the characters from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Simon travels to London with his donkey, he’s determined to become an artist and has a letter of introduction.

This is an alternative history, the setting is London in the 1830s, and King James III is on the throne which means that the Stuart dynasty is still on the throne which of course didn’t happen. But the Hanoverians are plotting against them and planning to grab power. There’s a group of Londoners willing to help and they’re stock-piling guns and ammunition.

But people are disappearing, including Simon’s friend Dr Field. Will Simon be able to track him down?

I enjoyed this one but I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in this series Nightbirds on Nantucket, which is the first one I bought, purely because the blurb sounded absolutely crazy.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase cover

Every now and again I like to read a children’s book that I missed out on when I was a child and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken fits that bill. It was first published by Puffin in 1962 but my copy is a Vintage reprint.

I suppose that there have been plans to build a tunnel between Britain and France for donkey’s years, but it still seems strange to have the Channel Tunnel mentioned in a book that was published 50 or so years before it existed. The setting though is even earlier than 1962, the year is 1832 and young Bonnie has led a charmed life, the much doted on daughter of Sir Willoughby and Lady Green. But there are changes ahead for them all as Lady Green has been ill for some time and her husband is taking her on a voyage hoping to find a cure for her condition.

This means that a governess is required to look after Bonnie and the family estate, and a fourth cousin of Sir Willoughby is chosen for the job – Miss Slighcarp. None of them have ever met her before but are relying on the fact that she’s a relative of sorts and so they assume she’ll be trustworthy. It turns out though that she’s anything but trustworthy and so begins a nightmare for the whole household, including Sylvia who is a young cousin sent to Willoughby Chase, she’s a good companion for Bonnie.

The tunnel has enabled wolves from frozen mainland Europe to reach Britain and it makes life extremely dangerous. But it turns out that Miss Slighcarp is even more of a threat to the young girls than the wolves are.

This is quite a tense read, considering it’s aimed at children aged 9+. There are quite a few books in the series and I’ll work my way through them all eventually. Did you read these books when you were a child – or older?

Joan Aiken is the younger sister of the author Jane Aiken Hodge.