Rereading: BLACK HEARTS IN BATTERSEA by Joan Aiken

This is the second book of Aiken’s “Wolves Chronicles,” a sequel of sorts to “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.” It follows Simon, the boy from the first book who lives in the woods on his own. In “Wolves,” he brought the two girls in that story to London, and they met Dr. Field, a medical doctor but also a man studying to be a painter, and he saw talent for painting in Simon and encouraged him to come stay with him in London so he could take lessons at the same art academy. As this book opens, Simon and his donkey are in London looking for the rented flat of Dr. Field above the Twite family in London’s East End near the Thames. When he finds it, he discovers an empty top floor apartment, and the Twites know nothing about any Dr. Field, who had written to Simon that he was living there, but clues make Simon think there’s more to the story. He’s soon entangled with the young girl Dido Twite, who takes a liking to him and his donkey, and seems to know more than she’s telling about Dr. Field. Simon rents the apartment, and makes his way to the art academy, where the director, Dr. Furneaux, is also puzzled by the disappearance of Dr. Field, one of his prize pupils. He gives Simon a test, and soon admits him as a student. Simon also meets a blacksmith, Mr. Cobb, whose shop is near the school, and is soon working for him. Simon and the Cobb family become friends, and through them he meets Justin, who works in Battersea Castle, just across the river, and then discovers that his old friend from childhood, Sophie, is working as a ladies’ maid at the castle. Before long, Simon also befriends the Duke of Battersea, and he and Sophie and Dido are swept into a secret dangerous plot by people in the Duke’s employ to kill England’s King James III and replace him with a new ruler from Hanover, Germany. Sophie and Simon foil several attempts on the life of the Duke and Duchess of Battersea as well, and all kinds of adventures follow, from Simon being kidnapped and shipped off on a dangerous sea voyage, to Sophie foiling an attack by wolves on the Duke and Duchess, and then there’s the hot air balloon ride back to London pictured on the cover, to thwart another plot against the King.

Lots of exciting events in this book, everyone is connected somehow in a Dickensian way, and the characters are entertaining and believable, even if some of the plot turns are barely so. Dido Twite, introduced here, becomes a major viewpoint character in many later books of the series, and her Cockney street waif persona is a delight. Beautifully illustrated by Robin Jacques. Recommended.

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

One thought on “Rereading: BLACK HEARTS IN BATTERSEA by Joan Aiken

  1. Kurt Busiek

    I haven’t read the whole run — I think I stopped paying attention around IS UNDERGOUND — but I think BLACK HEARTS IN BATTERSEA is the best. What a terrific book.

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