We were in the middle of getting hit with hurricane Arthur this past weekend, which turned out to be a fairly mild storm, just a lot of rain and wind. So no outdoor photo for this week’s post. It is also just starting to get completely dark at about 9:00pm now, so any outdoor photo by me would be pretty dim anyway since my outdoor photography skills at night are not very advanced. Mr. C was being put to bed by Ms. J by this time, he’s usually either asleep by 9:00pm, or just about asleep, so I’ll use this week’s post to review of the book I was reading at the time.
Something I’ve been doing lately is checking out books from our library that Mr. C might like when he’s a little bit older. I usually just read a few pages to see if they’re of interest, trying to remember the better ones for him to read on his own in a few years. However, ‘The Stolen Lake’ by Joan Aiken, has turned out to be one that I’m planning to finish reading.
I had not heard of Joan Aiken when I picked this up. She was the daughter of Conrad Aiken, and wrote novels for both children and adults, but seems to be more well known for her children’s books. This one is the fourth book in the ‘Wolves Chronicle’, first published in 1981. The first book in the series, ‘The Wolves of Wiloughby Chase’ apparently being the most well known. The books are not a continuous series, so it is not necessary to have read the first three to read this one. In fact, I only found out that it was part of a series after I had started it.
This is a rollicking alternate history fantasy adventure story featuring Dido Twite, heroine of the previous three books in the series. Dido seems to be about twelve years old, on her way back to London aboard the Naval steamer ‘Thrush’, when the ship’s Captain is summoned to the kingdom of New Cumbria. The ‘alternate history’ part of the story is immediately apparent as it is the year 1830 and New Cumbria is the country that was established by Britain in South America. The Romans had discovered the New World centuries before, and still rule what is mostly the United States. The ‘Thrush’ is in service to King James III, with James II never having been deposed, and the Hanoverians are always lurking about causing trouble for the current King. It’s interesting how much actual history can be conveyed in an alternate history story. This could easily also be shelved in the adult section of the library, but I guess back in 1981 books were either in the ‘children’s’ section or the ‘adult’ section, not in both.
Dido is taken along by the Captain to meet the Queen of New Cumbria, whose kingdom seems to have lost a lake. Which is where the ‘fantasy’ part of the description comes in. This book seemingly has it all, pirates, evil giant birds, kidnapping, man eating fish, sinister volcanoes, and that missing lake. There’s quite a bit of violence and death too, so I’m not sure which age group this might be best suited for, maybe preteens, 10 to 12 years old. Depends on the kid I suppose, and it is definitely worthwhile for an adult to read. Besides the story itself, the interactions between Dido and the crew of the Thrush are often quite funny. Dido is always curious and fearless, and ready with a quick and witty remark to whatever the gruff but kind hearted Captain can dish out.
I’m not finished with this one yet, so I can’t say if it’s entirely good, but so far it’s one of the better young adult books I’ve come across. You do have to be open to this kind of fantasy story, but Aiken does a good job with giving just enough exposition regarding the setting to make it enjoyable without getting too bogged down in her own detailed world. I’ll probably look for the other books in the series at some point, but unfortunately our library does not have any other books in the series!