Book review

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1962)

Two little girls, loyal and loving. One evil guardian, remorseless and cruel. Set in a different but recognizable old England, this is a fast-moving story about how two cousins, Bonnie and Sylvia, have their home stolen away from them by their greedy guardian.

Gentle and fair, Sylvia is an orphan, and has come to live in the great house Willoughby Chase in the loving care of her uncle, Sir Willoughby. He hopes she will be a calm companion for his rather boisterous daughter Bonnie while he is away with Lady Green in search of warmer climates for Lady Green's indifferent health. Sylvia and Bonnie only have to set eyes on each other to know they are going to be the best of friends, which is fortunate because as soon as they meet Miss Slighcarp, their guardian for the duration of Sir Willoughby's travels, the battle lines are drawn.

Miss Slighcarp wastes no time in carrying out her evil plans. Almost as soon as Sir Willoughby and Lady Green depart through the front door, Miss Slighcarp is dismissing all the old loyal servants out of the back door. Luckily for Bonnie and Sylvia two devoted servants contrive to stay on in the house so that they can continue to look after the girls. Despite the discovery of a secret passage which runs through the heart of the old house, and by which the girls can spy on their oppressor, things go from bad to worse. In the end it seems that it isn't sufficient for Miss Slighcarp to lock them away in a cupboard and keep them on bread and water. She sends the girls away to a school, which is little more than a workhouse for orphans.

Bonnie did not last long in the kitchen. The second time that the cook hit her with the frying-pan, Bonnie picked up a sauce-boat full of rancid gravy and dashed it in the cook's face.
There was a fierce struggle, but the cook, one Mrs Moleshin, at last thrust Bonnie into the broom cupboard and reported her to Mrs Brisket.
Mrs Moleskin was used to having a dozen terrified small slaves running hither and thither at her beck and call, and announced that she would not have Bonnie working under her. Accordingly, after a punishment which consisted of losing all her meals for two days, Bonnie was put on to doing the outside work, which was considered a terrible degradation.

I'm not sure how the indomitable Bonnie would have arranged their escape from the dreadful school if it hadn't been for her trustworthy friends, especially Simon the gypsy boy ...

Read on! It's a wild adventure with lots of drama and emotional ups and downs. There's a happy ending, of course, and all the baddies get what they deserve.

What can I read next?

If you enjoy this book, Joan Aiken has written plenty more in a loosely related series:

  • Black Hearts in Battersea
  • Night Birds on Nantucket
  • The Stolen Lake
  • The Cuckoo Tree
  • Dido and Pa
  • Is
  • Limbo Lodge

If you love melodrama and fantasy you might also enjoy some of the books by Stephen Elboz:

Also, Alan Temperley writes in a similar style:

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