The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
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Cannonball Read V: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

By Mei-Lu | Book Reviews | October 16, 2013 | Comments ()


I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately to complement the two selections we’re reading in twitter book club #1book140 (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow). Jane Aiken has been mentioned as an influence in a lot of author interviews that I’ve read lately so I picked this book up from my library.

I have to say, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is not at all what I was expecting it to be. Because of the title, and the ominousness of the wolves in the first chapter, I was expecting book to be some form of supernatural story. In fact, it’s really a classic Gothic storyline, the sort which implies the supernatural but ultimately has a reasonable explanation for everything. That makes it sound as if I didn’t enjoy this book, but I really did. Just because it’s a genre book, and thus adheres to certain generic traditions, doesn’t mean that it isn’t well-written or fun to read.

This book is almost like a cross between Jane Eyre and the Little Princess. Cousins Bonnie and Sylvia are living in sprawling mansion Willoughby Chase under the charge of their governess, the villainous Miss Slighcarp. Bonnie’s mother is very ill and her father has taken her to tropical climes in hopes of finding a cure for her illness. As soon as the children (and the estate) are completely in Miss Slighcarp’s charge, misfortune reigns down on these two plucky heroines as Miss Slighcarp and her conspirators seek to take over the wealthy estate and dispossess the two girls.

One of the pleasures of this book was that I genuinely didn’t know how it was going to turn out (though I felt that the two main characters would triumph in the end, I really did not know exactly what their happy ending would look like). Aiken’s descriptions are so evocative that I was completely sucked into the brooding yet innocent world of her story. While the characters have some of the oversimplification that one particularly sees in vintage YA literature (a la Little Princess), in the context of this fairy tale-ish world, the lack of complexity didn’t really bother me. Particularly given that the plot was much more suspenseful than is usual for vintage YA. Good stuff.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it , and find more of Mei-Lu reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the affiliate links
in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Lucy

    This book is part of a series. Following it is Black Hearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds on Nantucket, etc. Intrepid heroines, what could be more fun?

  • Miss Kate

    OOOO - I loved this book as a kid!

  • Miss Twiggley

    I loved Joan Aiken as a kid. If you like the supernatural side of things (and if you can find it!) her "Armitage, Armitage, Fly Away Home" is a wonderful combination of English cosy adventure and the slightly dark surreal.

  • miriam

    This was one of my favourite books as a kid. It's not supernatural at all, I don't quite understand why you would think that based on the title. You do realise that wolves are real animals?

  • mswas

    Mei-Lu also said she based her assumption on the "ominousness of the wolves in the first chapter."

  • miriam

    Hmmm, so even though the title includes the word 'wolves', the presence of them in the first chapter comes as a surprise and leads to an assumption of supernatural activity? Did she not even read the blurb? Not all young adult fiction, especially those written post WWII, features ghosts and ghoulies.

  • mswas

    not their presence, but their ominous depiction

  • tarqueeny

    When wouldn't wolves being present be ominous? I wouldn't want to be chased down by wolves. This book is set during a time that wolves were still natural inhabitants of England. They roamed wild. So, of course they would be scary and ominous.

    It's a very good book, although may be more suited to under-12s. I think I was about 9 when I first read it and it is quite a nice introduction to gothic literature and reads like a 19th century novel.

  • ERM

    I don't think it is unreasonable to assume any YA book these days is going to be supernatural. Such books are quite trendy right now.

  • tarqueeny

    It was published in the 60s actually. Hardly recent...

  • ERM

    Understood. I just felt the need to comment because I thought miriam's comment was really rude to the review's author.

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