The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

March 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm (Adventure, Alternate History, Children's lit, Historical fiction, Juvanalia) (, , , , )

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
originally published 1962
Delacourte, 1st edition, 2000
181 pages
Genre: Children’s classic, historical fiction, COVENS

Book Report: Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their lovely, once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and, dressed in rags, Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like school for orphans. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease.

With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But where will they go? And how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?

OH SHIT YEAH. I used to have a copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and I read it ALL THE TIME. (What the hell happened to that book?) I set so many stories in Aiken’s world, and even had a long-running series of dreams in which I was in a summer camp overrun by giant wolves a la TWoWC (there were tunnels from cabin to cabin, and sometimes we traveled by rooftop). I still want to doze off in a cart full of geese and play with a giant stuffed pony with crystal eyes. Who wouldn’t? So it’s obvious that I was delighted to read Laura Lippman’s treatment of TWoWC in Shelf Discovery and find that I was not alone in my love for spunky orphans. Read the rest of this entry »


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The Morland Dynasty: The Victory & The Emperor

March 9, 2010 at 8:10 pm (Historical fiction, Romance) (, , , , , )

The Morland Dynasty: The Emperor by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Morland Dynasty: The Emperor
originally published 1988
Warner Books, 2000
512 pages

The Morland Dynasty: The Victory by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Morland Dynasty: The Victory
originally published 1989
Warner Books, 2000
447 pages
Historical fiction, romance, family saga

Book Report: 1795 – The shadow of Bonaparte has fallen across Europe and touches each member of the far-flung Morland family.

As the century draws to a close, Jemima Morland wearily acknowledges that her life is also nearing its end, but she has scant peace as her unpredictable children behave ever more incomprehensibly: James’ marriage to Mary Ann is close to falling apart; Lucy’s marriage de convenance to Chetwyn is in the balance—her affair with Lieutenant Weston an open scandal; Mary bears a daughter on board her husband’s ship during the battle of the Nile; and William supports a mistress whose marriage cannot be dissolved.

Jemima’s death appears to unite the family but, as ever with the Morlands, the future holds more peril than hope.

The jacket copy for these books is getting ever cheesier, in direct proportion to the ratio of history to romance included in the books, modified by the length of time each book covers. The first book, The Founding, spanned what? Sixty, eighty years? The Emperor spans eight. It’s a pity. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Captive

December 1, 2009 at 1:01 am (Historical fiction, Romance, Suspense) (, , )

The Captive by Victoria Holt

The Captive by Victoria Holt
Doubleday, 1st edition, 1989
357 pages
Genre: Gothic romance, historical romance, romantic suspense

Synopsis & Review: Rosetta Cranleigh is of a genteel background; her parents are both respected scholars of the ancient world, her father working for the British Museum, and their research and studies are the mainstay of their existence. In fact, they hardly see to notice they have a child, despite naming her for one of the century’s most important archeological discoveries. (Quick aside: I was so enchanted by the phrase “Rosetta Stone” when I was little that I invented several characters with that name, and would draw them endlessly, making up stories of their adventures to go along with the drawings. NERD ALERT) Rosetta spends most of her time belowstairs with the servants and her nurse, until a governess is hired for her education. Fortunately, Miss Felicity Wills is young and sympathetic, and remains Rosetta’s dearest friend even after she eventually marries and Rosetta goes off to school.

When Rosetta is eighteen, her parents take her on an extended trip, to South Africa and then to America, for a lecture tour, affording her an unusual opportunity to see the world. On board, she befriends two young men, the dashing Lucas Lorimer and a deckhand, John Player. A terrible storm strikes, forcing the passengers to evacuate the ship, and Rosetta is separated from her parents. Fortunately, John Player finds a lifeboat, and the two rescue the injured Lucas Lorimer from a capsized lifeboat. After a few days at sea, the three wash up on a tiny, deserted atoll on the North African coast. Because of their desperate situation, John confesses to Rosetta that he is not who he seems to be: he is actually a fugitive named Simon Perrivale, a bastard from a gentry background, fleeing accusations of his eldest brother’s murder. He claims his innocence, and Rosetta believes him. A ship spots the stranded travelers, and pirates rescue them from certain death. Lucas ransoms himself, but the blonde, blue-eyed Rosetta and strong Simon are too valuable, and are sold into captivity. The ship soon makes Constantinople, where Rosetta enters the pasha’s seraglio and Simon labors as a gardener.

Safe from sexual debasement until she has recovered from her ordeal, Rosetta befriends the French Nicole, mother to the pasha’s eldest son, Samir. This draws her into the harem’s intrigues, and when Rosetta foils a threat to Samir, Nicole takes pity on the English girl. With the help of the chief eunuch, Rosetta and Simon both escape into the city, where she goes to the British embassy, and John disappears, planning to make his way to Australia.

Rosetta discovers that her father is still alive and eager to see her in London, though her mother was lost at sea. Her capable aunt takes over the household, leaving Rosetta at loose ends, until she stays with Felicity, who reunites her with Lucas, now crippled and a shadow of his former self. Upon learning that Lucas hails from the same area of Cornwall as Simon, Rosetta goes there to investigate, hoping to uncover the truth of the Perrivale murders. She takes a position as governess in the Perrivale house, and though Lucas warns her of danger, Rosetta cannot rest until she clears Simon’s name.

Funny how the captivity narrative is one of the most enduring topos in Western popular fiction. In America, the Indian captivity tale—from Mary Rowlandson to The Searchers—has endured, changing thematically to reflect social concerns. In Colonial America, there was often an emphasis on religion, and the captivity functioned as punishment for sin. Only the strong who remained true to their faith could survive to pass the tale on to a receptive audience. Similarly popular is the Barbary captivity narrative, that of white Christians in bondage in North Africa, or even farther East in the Ottoman world. When tales of Barbary captivities took hold of the popular imagination, North America was in the early stages of colonization, and images of North African “barbarian” and North American Indian “savages” were exchanged; description of either Other were interchangeable or comparative. It might be said that the captivity narrative forms an integral part of North American identity in literature, and the understanding of the Other as represented by the indigenous peoples of North America. Worth exploration is also how the descriptions of white captivity in Africa and the Near East might reflect anxieties about black slavery in North America. But that’s a topic for someone’s history paper, not for me and Victoria Holt. Read the rest of this entry »

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