Cover art by Edward Gorey

This is the first of a 13 book series by Aiken known as the Wolves Chronicles. In some ways it differs from most of them in that the main characters are two upper class children who fall on hard times in a Dickensian way, while other books in the series generally features lower class children as the main characters.

Sylvia lives with her frail and elderly Aunt Jane in London, but that loving woman is finding it hard to manage for both of them, so when Sir Willoughby, Sylvia’s uncle, writes offering to take in the girl as a companion for his own daughter Bonnie in their country estate of Willoughby Chase, Aunt Jane and Sylvia accept the offer. Soon Sylvia is on a train heading north into wintery hills where wolf packs are a constant danger, and one even attacks the train. Arriving at the estate, Sylvia and Bonnie are soon fast friends, but their new governess Miss Slighcarp proves to be a cold-hearted, stern taskmaster that the girls hate. Unfortunately, Bonnie’s parents have been advised by Lady Green’s doctor to take a sea voyage to a warmer climate for her health, and Miss Slighcarp is to take charge of the estate while they’re gone.

Before long Sylvia and Bonnie realize that Miss Slighcarp has a wicked plan, helped by nasty friends, to take over the estate in her own name. The girls meet a boy, Simon, who lives in the estate woods raising geese, and he helps them when he can, but before long the girls are sent off to a horrible school in a nearby town, really more of a workhouse and prison, run by one of Miss Slighcarp’s friends. How can they ever recover what they’ve lost and set things right?

A fun read full of exciting events and appealing characters, set in early 1800s England, and full of interesting period social history (though perhaps some is alternate history) as well as down to earth adventure. Recommended.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

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