© Joan Aiken, cover art © Edward Gorey.
I’ve read quite a few of Joan Aiken’s books for younger readers, and I particularly enjoy her series about Dido Twite, the feisty young heroine in a series of alternate history stories having a somewhat Victorian steam punk flavor. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to this one, but it’s every bit as good as the others.
Dido is supposed to be traveling back to her home in England aboard an British naval ship when they are diverted to South America by a call for help from the queen of New Cumbria, one of several countries that Aiken imagines were settled by emigrants from Celtic Britain when that land was invaded by the Saxons (one of the historical alternatives she posits in her series). Dido is always ready for an adventure, and this proves to be quite a dangerous and involved one. There are so many characters and plot twists that the story gets pretty complicated, but Aiken’s writing is strong enough to make it work, with interesting characters and a wealth of ideas throughout. So, we have South American flora and fauna, British Empire influences including a cog railway, Celtic influences including elements from the King Arthur legends, black magic, unusual steam-driven technology like a rotating castle, a ship captain who is also an inventor of flying machines, giant birds that sound more like Pterodactyls, ancient native cities, a tame leopard, deep mines and underground railways…I could go on, but let’s just say there’s plenty of cool stuff in this book. And the plot comes to a crashing resolution with earthquakes and volcanoes that is sure to provide exciting reading. I had a great time!