Dido's sister, Is, travels north to try and find her lost cousin. But instead of the promised Playland, she discovers an underground kingdom where children work as slaves in the worst conditions imaginable - under the rule of the sinister Gold Kingy. . .
Joan Aiken was a much loved English writer who received the MBE for services to Children's Literature. She was known as a writer of wild fantasy, Gothic novels and short stories.
She was born in Rye, East Sussex, into a family of writers, including her father, Conrad Aiken (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry), and her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge. She worked for the United Nations Information Office during the second world war, and then as an editor and freelance on Argosy magazine before she started writing full time, mainly children's books and thrillers. For her books she received the Guardian Award (1969) and the Edgar Allan Poe Award (1972).
Her most popular series, the "Wolves Chronicles" which began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, was set in an elaborate alternate period of history in a Britain in which James II was never deposed in the Glorious Revolution,and so supporters of the House of Hanover continually plot to overthrow the Stuart Kings. These books also feature cockney urchin heroine Dido Twite and her adventures and travels all over the world.
Another series of children's books about Arabel and her raven Mortimer are illustrated by Quentin Blake, and have been shown on the BBC as Jackanory and drama series. Others including the much loved Necklace of Raindrops and award winning Kingdom Under the Sea are illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski.
Her many novels for adults include several that continue or complement novels by Jane Austen. These include Mansfield Revisited and Jane Fairfax.
Aiken was a lifelong fan of ghost stories. She set her adult supernatural novel The Haunting of Lamb House at Lamb House in Rye (now a National Trust property). This ghost story recounts in fictional form an alleged haunting experienced by two former residents of the house, Henry James and E. F. Benson, both of whom also wrote ghost stories. Aiken's father, Conrad Aiken, also authored a small number of notable ghost stories.
I love the Edward Gorey cover. Aiken and Gorey go together perfectly well. Aiken and Gorey sounds like the name of some sort of weird and gothic medical drama, sort of like House, if House investigated talking warts and haemogoblins and phantom limbs where you have an extra pair of hands doing unimaginable things you can feel but not see.
Is, half-sister of Dido, embarks on an adventure all her own, a particularly dark one as the children of London have been lured to the new kingdom set up in the north of England where they are enslaved and forced to work in mines and foundries, dying, as the book makes clear, at an appalling rate. True to form, the arch-villain turns out to be another Twite, Is' uncle, Roy, who has set himself up as king of an industrial underground nation, busily building up his army so he he can march south and gain more.
A lot of this seems oddly archaic nowadays. The heroine is small of stature, barely educated, but smart, indomitable and fundamentally decent - so she doesn't go around kung fu-ing bad guys and dispensing rough justice. There are also quite a few coincidences in the book forwarding the plot, which wouldn't be tolerated in a modern, tightly plotted, everything-must-have-a-reason novel. Aiken is less concerned in the versimilitude of her plot mechanics than in just getting on with the story, and who is to say she's wrong? I noted the coincidences and then moved on because I cared more about the story than the plot, too.
I really enjoyed Is, and I know there's another Is book before getting back to Dido and Simon, and I'm very much looking forward to it.
Aiken and Gorey. For when your medical problems got problems. Peculiar problems.
This eighth entry in Aiken's Wolves Chronicles (excluding Midnight Is a Place), is the first of two adventures featuring Dido Twite's younger half-sister, Is. When long-lost cousin Arun goes missing, Is's quest to find him leads her to the northlands, to the breakaway kingdom of Humberland, and the oddly child-free city of Holdernesse (the renamed Blastburn, of earlier titles). Here Is discovers another set of long-lost relatives, and with the help of her newfound psychic abilities, sets out to free the enslaved children who labor away in the nearby mines.
Aiken's concern for the child, always vulnerable in an adult world, runs like a thread throughout much of her work, and is readily apparent here. So too is her preoccupation with the notion of a balkanized Britain, something that can also be seen in another of her titles, The Cockatrice Boys. But despite the many clever and original plot developments, despite the intricate ways in which Aiken ties this to her larger body of work, and to the entire Wolves Chronicles, I found Is Underground and its sequel, Cold Shoulder Road, somehow unsatisfying.
This is owing, I'm afraid, to the heroine, who simply cannot fill her sister's shoes. Is Twite would be an engaging heroine, if the reader weren't already acquainted with the incomparable Dido, of whom Is seems like an agreeable, but not entirely convincing copy. She almost satisfies... but not quite. Her depiction seems an odd choice in an author known for her seemingly inexhaustible supply of original characters and plot developments.
Addendum: Because the reading order of this series is somewhat complicated, I have included this handy guide, which is organized by publication date, and which I recommend to prospective readers of the series, rather than the one offered here on Goodreads:
--Is Underground (or Is) and Cold Shoulder Road both feature Is Twite, cousin to the main heroine, Dido. They occur alongside the other books, and their position in the series is not chronologically relevant.
--Although not technically part of the series, Aiken's Midnight Is a Place does occur in the same alternative timeline, and is set in Blastburn, the same imaginary city that features in the other books.
A stand-alone continuation of the Wolves Chronicles, this excellent adventure features Dido Twite's younger half-sister, Is. Since the events of Dido & Pa, Is has settled happily with her older sister Penny. Their tranquil existence is interrupted, however, by a chance encouter with an uncle they never knew they had -- an uncle who, as his dying wish, charges Is to find her missing cousing Arun. Like Dido, Is is tough, resourceful, and honors her promises, so she heads off into the north country of England, which has seceded and cut off all communication with the outside world. Once there, Is discovers a dastardly scheme that is luring the children of England to the North and to their doom. As usual, this tale is a perfect blend of wit, danger, and magic.
Young Is Twite promises a dying uncle that she will investigate what had happened to her cousin Arun after he had run away to London. In tracing his route to what he thought was Playland she instead finds a totalitarian regime in which the London children induced to escape to a land of plenty are instead forced to work in iron foundries, potteries or coal mines. Will these innocents manage to escape from their slavery before an impending natural disaster overtakes them?
Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles, her saga of an alternative world and 19th-century history, became as dark as it got when she wrote Is (published as Is Underground in North America). She had always been fierce in her opposition to child labour, which she had already explored in previous Chronicles, but now she had researched working conditions in Yorkshire mines and her indignation will have blazed anew.
But Is isn't all doom and gloom: the story is peppered with rhymes and riddles and peopled with quirky but sympathetic characters; this being essentially a fantasy, we are also entertained with the notion that individuals, and especially children, may have the ability to communicate without the need for speech.
As well as presenting a inventive storyline this novel draws from a rich literary tradition and borrows freely from legends and from history. Motifs and factual details adorn every page: Arthurian tropes and Breton legends of the sunken land of Ys -- Parliamentary acts outlawing child labour -- myths about the Land of Cockaigne -- the 1991 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Hekla -- the Holderness peninsula to the east of Hull -- the opening of Euston railway terminus in 1837 -- folklore about witchcraft -- they all jostle for attention. It makes for a complex narrative which will either delight the reader or thoroughly confuse; indeed there are some for whom the Chronicles, and especially this instalment, are just too diffuse and overwhelming. For me the complexity is part of what makes it a marvellous read.
But make no mistake, the storytelling's the thing and Is Twite is the maze-treader to lead us through the labyrinthine twists and turns of the plot. In the guise of Gold Thingy (a figure inspired by an early poem written by Joan's older sister) our heroine's wicked uncle Roy Twite is as unscrupulous and cruel a villain as you'd ever hope not to meet, and his threats of violence are in some ways more graphic than has been the case with previous antagonists we've encountered. But it's reassuring to know that if Is follows the expected pattern not only will there be a cast list of intriguing individuals to be introduced to but also we're alwlmost guaranteed the archvillain will be due a spectacular downfall, figurative and maybe actual.
Be prepared for heartache: there are deaths here, some of them thoroughly undeserved, one in particular which will affect the progress of subsequent instalments in the series. For all the synchronicities and near-impossible coincidences this fantasy does reflect reality in this respect -- the good may die young even if the bad live a longer life than they ought to by rights.
I love this 8th book in the Willoughby Chase series! Dido's little sister, Is, vows to find her long-lost cousin, and ends up looking for a missing prince too. All the children in London are being snatched up and sent to "Playland", where they are promised treats and games and fun. But the horrible reality is a dark mine where they are forced to work as slaves, and Is has to go underground to continue her search. Is gets unexpected help from some unique and interesting characters, but it is only her fierce determination and street-smarts that will save her cousin and the other children from the horrors of the mines.
I love IS! She is so plucky and fierce and kind. I love her practical common sense, her "no foolishness" approach to every problem, and her unfailing generosity. She somehow manages to be a realist, with no nonsense about her, but she also is open to believing new ideas, even if they seem impossible and wild. She accepts the reality that is placed before her, and deals with it accordingly. I really admire that about her, because I'm a person who is always caught up in fantasy and wishing, without focusing on what is really real, so I waste a lot of time and energy trying to cope/accept the real situation. Is can be so deliciously REAL, and you see that in her relationships with the other characters.
I love how quickly the plot moves along. I love the creepy scenery of the underground mines. I love the weird and strange characters that IS meets along the way! I love it all!
The writing, as with all Joan Aiken's books, really pulls you into the story, describes the scene in a few well-chosen words, and puts you right into the characters' shoes, creating a strong emotional connection to the characters. Excellent and imaginative writing!
Blastburn is back, and it's badder, blacker, and child-abusinger than ever.
Unfortunately, Is is no Dido Twite. She's probably a better person in some ways, but she's not as entertaining as her wild and mouthy sister. That combined with the grimness of the situation for all the children made this kind of a dark read.
In this book our heroine is Dido's sister (though she feels and acts much like Dido) and the setting is an immense mine where children are forced into labor. Completely immersing and surprisingly complex.
A late entry (#8) in Aiken's fabulous alt-Anglo history Wolves of Willoughby Chase series.
Croopus! The spirit of Jack Wild lives on in Joan Aiken's plucky Cockney waif heroines.
Is (short for Isabella), Dido Twite's younger half-sister, takes over as the plucky Jack Wild-ish Cockney heroine of the series, presumably because Dido's aged out of the role. This novel has far fewer of the endearing historical details that distinguished the first four novels--no charcoal-burning hermits, choristers' macaroons, nor whalers' philosophical insights here. Instead, this is a comparatively bare bones story where the plot's creaky joints show right through. You will grow tired of the expediency of telepathy as a go-to plot device. But the dialogue crackles along as always.
There are also several Easter egg references to the action of the earlier novels in the series. Is lives with Penelope, Dido's older sister, who has evolved from self-centered fashion plate to reliable, plain-spoken mentor. The action takes place in Blastburn, the miserable Scottish industrial city of the superior stand-alone Midnight Is a Place. Dido is away visiting friends in Nantucket.
Wolves #8. Takes up where "Dido and Pa" left off. Is goes off on her own adventure. I'm noticing that these books are all alike. Plucky youngster gets mixed up in some mischief being done by wealthy, powerful people and puts a stop to it. Pretty well written, but...
Originally titled Is, this book took its present title when it was re-published in the U.S. By naming it after its main character Is Twite, younger sister of the illustrious Dido, Joan Aiken ensured the ninth(?) installment in the Wolves Chronicles (after The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket, The Whispering Mountain, The Stolen Lake, Limbo Lodge a.k.a. Dangerous Games, The Cuckoo Tree and Dido and Pa) would be practically impossible to locate in an internet search, with or without the added word "Underground." The trick, in case you ever want to try it, is to include the words "Joan Aiken Wolves Willoughby Chase series" in your search. Good luck.
I actually own both versions of this book - Is and Is Underground - the one published in the U.K., bound in a single volume with Cold Shoulder Road; the other a U.S. edition with cover art by the great Edward Gorey. Besides the title, there are other interesting differences, such as the word "football" being replaced with "soccer" - which came as a bit of surprise in the middle of a book otherwise written in a strong British dialect. It made me exclaim, "Croopus! There's some havey-cavey editing going on here." It'll be days, maybe weeks, before I stop saying things like that. The earthy, distinctive lingo spoken by Dido and Is Twite is that infectious.
Both versions of Is have been on my books-to-read shelf for a long time - almost, perhaps, since their author (1924-2004) was alive. I had enjoyed all the previous books, plus a subsequent one (Midwinter Nightingale) that I read out of sequence. Nothing in particular stopped me from reading it, except one can only really read one book at a time, and I've had plenty of other stuff to read. I must give Aiken credit, though; as soon as I picked it up, I fell right back under the spell of her unique period of alternate-history Britain, when instead of all those Hanoverian Georges and Williams in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Stuart line with its Scots brogue retained the throne of a land infested with wolves and villains with flamboyantly fiendish designs. It was as if I never left, slipping comfortably into the familiar surroundings of Croopuses and Havey-Caveys and relentlessly strange imagery, and dastardly deeds so ludicrously over-the-top that you would be mad at Aiken for imposing on your willingness to suspend disbelief, if only they didn't bear a chilling similarity to certain evil deeds being done in our time.
Is, short for Isabett, is content to live in the remote woods of Blackheath Edge with her sourpuss older sister Penny, making dolls and hunting mushrooms and entertaining a mostly feral cat in the barn they call home. But then their Uncle Hosiah appears, pursued by wolves, and dies after extracting a promise from Is to look for his runaway son Arun. Feeling honor-bound to see the matter through, Is hikes to London, where she learns more than half the city's children have disappeared, including Arun and the king's own son, Prince Davie. Her only clue is a mysterious whisper of a place called Playland, to which children both highborn and low are enticed by the promise of a life of leisure. Only Is seems to have the sense to ask, "But how does it pay?" She finds her way on board the Playland express, a monthly night train from London that takes as many as 200 kiddies north to the separatist kingdom of Humberland and its ruinous, industrial hell of a capital, Blastburn. There, instead of the promised stay at the Hotel Joyous Gard, they are worked like slaves in coal mines extending under the sea, and a dangerous iron foundry, and other manufacturing plants, and where nearly everyone is forced to live underground, out of sight of the sun.
In Blastburn, domain of the so-called Gold Kingy, children from 5 to 20 years old are taken from their parents and worked to death in miserable, hazardous conditions. And since this policy has already pretty much wiped out the younger generation of the local population, the economy depends on nobbling little 'uns from the south. Meantime, Gold Kingy is trying to recruit soldiers for an invasion of the south, hoping to take over the whole country before the country comes after him. The result is a nightmarish idea of the worst that greed can do to a society, a self-defeating nastiness so brutal that it seems absurd - until you pause to think about some of the variations of self-defeating nastiness to which the populations of whole countries have meekly submitted within the last 100 years. Then it becomes not so much a silly attempt to top nine previous books' worth of bizarre villainy, as a reduction to the bare essentials of certain horrors in our world's recent past, present, and possible near future. It kind of comes down to this, Aiken seems to be saying, whether you happen to think of child soldiers in East Africa or child suicide bombers in the Middle East, whole populations starved or worked to death by communist dictatorships, or families pulled apart by the policies of fascist states. If it seems stupid, that's because it is. If you think it couldn't happen, behold - it has happened, is happening and will happen again.
What isn't likely to happen is the streak of luck that allows Is to lead the people of Blastburn to freedom. It just so happens, for starters, that Gold Kingy is another uncle of hers - Roy Twite by name - and he has some funny superstitions. He thinks his grandfather, Is's 102-year-old great-grandpa, has a secret formula for longevity. He suspects his aunt, Is's weather-sensing great-aunt Ishie, of being a witch. He even fears Is a little bit, both because she knows something about Good King Dick down south, and because of a little prophetic dream she tells him about. Then there's the stroke of luck that enables Is to communicate by thought-waves with other children trapped in the coal mines. Another is her discovery that the local cat-boy - a kid who sincerely believes he is a cat, and lives accordingly - is really her cousin Arun. And finally, there's... well, that would be saying too much.
Let's just say, all these strokes of luck strike none too soon to save the people who deserve saving. Luckiest of all is the appearance of Is herself, at just the right moment, displaying precisely the nerve and activity and take-no-nonsense attitude that the situation requires. With the help of a little magic, a little madness of just the right kind, and a lot of luck, she gives a network of oppressed child-slaves the cue they've been waiting for to rise up and set themselves free. It makes you realize how hard it must be to manage a similar uprising where there isn't anyone with the magic, luck, or leadership Is has.
Aside from that, it's just an over-the-top silly kids' thriller, full of gruesome thrills - like how many ways people can come to a sticky end in a place like Blastburn - and notes of grief, and quirky characters, and whimsical notions, from a night train for runaways denuding London of its youth to a monster whose cruel methods of execution include shutting a woman up inside a grid of rolling, floor-to-ceiling library stacks. Besides tantalizing us with the names of songs and stories we will never hear, it teases us with riddles - most of which we have to figure out on our own. It indulges in flights of black humor, such as the image of a cat crushed by a steam-hammer being picked up and leaned against the side of a house, like a board. And it challenges us to decipher journal entries scribbled by a main character whose spelling is as sketchy as her surroundings. Why can't these Twite girls ever find themselves in a normal situation? Answer: It would be less fun for us.
The remaining books in this series, in order, are Cold Shoulder Road, Midwinter Nightingale, and The Witch of Clatteringshaws. The two I haven't already read are at the top of my short-term to-read pile. Aiken's numerous, imagination-rich books include the three "Felix" novels (Go, Saddle the Sea, etc.), a dozen or so "Arabel and Mortimer" stories, three books featuring a boy sleuth named Ned (In Thunder's Pocket, etc.), a half-dozen romances based on the works of Jane Austen (Mansfield Revisited, etc.), Midnight Is a Place, The Cockatrice Boys, Mice and Mendelson, and many other titles ranging from period romances to sci-fi/fantasy tales and modern mystery-thrillers. I have a deep affection for her style, which some (I think) have tried but failed to imitate. But with so many of her works yet to be read, I don't feel cheated.
Wow, what a contrast to the last book I read! This one was brilliantly paced, with a fascinating plot and great characters. But the highlight of any Joan Aiken book is the language, and this one has it in spades. English regional dialects leap off the page. And she appears to make up words (or at least unexpected derivations of real words) that add to the charm. All in all, Is is highly recommended.
I found the story very interesting, and couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. Also, Gold Kingy was such a jerk :P The only problem is that it took a while for things to happen (which was a good thing, because the suspense was well built), but I found it ended a bit too abruptly. I give it a 4.5 stars :)
if I could give this book more than five stars I would. this was my all time favourite book, and I wanted to be best friends with Is and Arun (although not in the mines because I am claustrophobic and also a smol chronically ill person and that would not turn out well). but this book was so delightfully weird and intriguing and mysterious and I still love it so so so much.
More chronicles of the fantastic Twite girls. Is brave and fearless, journeys to the North to find her cousin. Imagination abounds as does Joan Aiken’s fabulous language. I love all the books in this alternative history set in the late eighteenth century. It has elements of realism and I think it is a wonderful portrayal of strong female characters. Is and Dido are such great role models.
I very much enjoy the way this series moves from one character to another so we don't have multiple adventures facing just one child - after all, most of us may possibly have one or two great adventures in our lives (if at all), but to have adventure after adventure . . . well, it ends up a bit like the Midsomer Murder stories which are ever so much fun but one does wonder why anyone would continue living in a village where one's life is so very much at risk. Aiken manages Dido having a lot of adventures by having her sailing the seven seas (as it were), but then passes on the baton (yes, another 'as it were'). Connections are there, however, not just to Dido but to Simon and to Sylvia as well.
Is (yes, that's her name) was rescued by Dido in Dido and Pa, and now finds herself on a train north in search of a VIP lost boy. Great adventure. Great comment on child labour, which we know is still prevalent in many countries today. Aiken doesn't pull any punches (far too many idioms in this review, I know) and delivers another great novel for children.
This one has taken us ages to get through, partly due to two Covid infections leaving me not feeling much up to reading, partly through my son getting temporarily distracted by other books. However his Aiken devotion remains strong and he loved the ending of this one. The villain of the piece here made him so angry. He hated Gold Kingy with a passion and some of his crimes elicited genuine squawks of horror. He really liked some of the new characters, Doctor Lemman, Aunt Ishie and Grandpa Twite we're particular favourites. Is herself grew on him although he did miss the presence of the other Ms Twite and I think he's looking forward to finally catching up with her again. There were some mysteries here that didn't get an answer but overall, like most of Aiken's work, this was fairly tightly plotted and there are some lovely seemingly small details scattered throughout that turn out to be quite important. There are definitely some issues around time scale between this and the last book - trying to work out how old Davie must be and how much time has actually passed between this and the last book is quite confusing and I think it's best just to enjoy the ride and not think too hard about continuity. Another very enjoyable instalment in one of my favourite book series of all time.
The 8th book in the series, it begins with an author's note that although it has characters from the previous books, it is a stand-alone tale. Perhaps that is true, but I doubt I would have been as invested in the adventures of the main character, Is (half sister to the indomitable Dido Twite), had I not been first introduced to her in Dido and Pa. Nor would the news at the end about the identity of the new king have any impact without knowing the characters from the earlier books. For those who've enjoyed the earlier books, however, this is an engaging continuation of the series.
As with many of Aiken's books, the story has greedy adults taking advantage of vulnerable children, with a plucky young heroine determined to set things right. Hundreds of children -- many of them homeless or runaways -- are tricked into trains taking them from London to the far north, only to be forced into dangerous work as slaves in the coal mines and foundries. Amid the dangers are a cast of intriguing characters, including a despicably evil "king" who aspires to take over all of England, as well as just enough good-hearted adults to give Is help and hope.
At the request of her dying uncle, Isabella "Is" Twite, little sister to Penelope and Dido, confronts her other uncle--the wicked one--and rescues her lost cousin. The fantastic plot here is admittedly based on Joan Aiken's and Jane Aiken Hodge's own childhood imaginings. Abednego Desmond Twite was an unsatisfactory father; his brother Roy is the complete evil capitalist who takes over the whole town of Blastburn, forces all the children to work in mines, and declares himself king of Northern England.
Should children absorb this stereotype? By all means...because in the real world nobody like Roy Twite ever existed, or ever will. That's what makes him such a delightful super-villain, such a fitting proof that Is's super-girl powers are equal to if not greater than Dido's. It also shows, in the unlikely event that children think about the political overtones of comic adventure stories, how improbable the whole Marxist economic paradigm always was.
To be fair i didn't realise this was part of a series when I started it. You don't have to be familiar with the previous books but it might bring a bit more colour into the world. My problem with it was the pacing. We start off super strong and then somehow get bogged down in a lot of filler that could have been used to pull the plot but doesn't which makes the climax fall flat. The other problem I had was with emotional moments or lack there of. Theres a part (not a spoiler) where a small child sees a dead body and its just all shrugged off by everyone. It felt very alien at times.
This is one of my favorite books in the series. I love Is, her pluckiness that is somehow different from Dido, her resourcefulness, and her loyalty. The supporting characters are varied and rich, and the plot is satisfyingly fantastic while somehow also having a realistic (sad) twist. As usual, the good guys triumph over the bad, but not without paying a cost.
Always liked Aiken's world, of a not-so fictitious London peopled by vividly coloured characters. First time meeting Is, having always dealt with the elder sibling Dido, but the family traits carry. The story is captivating, though the ending is a bit rushed