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The Wolves Chronicles #0

The Whispering Mountain

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Winner of the Guardian Prize for Fiction

In the small town of Pennygaff, where Owen has been sent to live after his mother’s death, a legendary golden harp has been found. Knowing of the prophesy of the Harp of Teirtu, Owen must prevent the magic harp from falling into the evil clutches of its reputed owner, the sinister and diabolical Lord Mayln. But it won’t be easy. Owen and his friend Arabis are plunged into a hair-raising adventure of intrigue, kidnapping, exotic underground worlds, savage beasts...even murder.

For only too late will Owen learn that Lord Mayln will stop at nothing to have the golden harp.

276 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1968

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About the author

Joan Aiken

381 books551 followers
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.

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5 stars
320 (32%)
4 stars
356 (36%)
3 stars
236 (24%)
2 stars
49 (5%)
1 star
12 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 79 reviews
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,174 reviews187 followers
October 31, 2018
The Whispering Mountain, which John Clute calls an "associate title" in his encyclopedia of supernatural fiction writers, seems at first glance to be unrelated to the previous three in Aiken's Wolves Chronicles, except for the fact that it is set in the same alternative Britain. Much like Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark Is Rising however, it introduces characters that enter the mainstream of the storyline in later titles, though in a much less vital capacity than seen in Cooper's sequence.

When young Owen Hughes comes to stay with his stern, unbending grandfather in the small Welsh village of Pennygaff, he finds himself falsely accused of stealing the Telyn Teirtu, a golden harp with a storied history stretching back to the days of King Arthur and before... Setting out to find the lost treasure, Owen must contend with the arrogant Marques of Malyn, a mysterious foreign gentleman calling himself the Seljuk of Rum, and the Tylwyth Teg, the legendary "Fair People" who live inside the Whispering Mountain... A rich and entertaining fantasy, so steeped in the folklore and culture of Wales, that a Welsh glossary is included at the back.

I am fortunate enough to own a first (American) edition of this wonderful title, which includes the black & white illustrations by Frank Bozzo - sadly missing from later editions.

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:

Reading Order for the Series:

1) The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

2) Black Hearts in Battersea

3) Nightbirds on Nantucket

4) The Whispering Mountain

5) The Cuckoo Tree

6) The Stolen Lake

7) Dido and Pa

8) Is Underground

9) Cold Shoulder Road

10) Dangerous Games

11) Midwinter Nightingale

12) The Witch of Clatteringshaws

A few notes:

-- Is Underground is the American name for the British original, Is . Similarly, Dangerous Games was originally published in Britain as Limbo Lodge .

-- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase features two characters that recur, but the two young heroines do not.

-- The Stolen Lake is the point at which the chronology becomes somewhat complicated, as it is the sixth book, but chronicles events that occur in between Night Birds on Nantucket (#3) and The Cuckoo Tree (#5).

-- 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.

-- Dangerous Games ( Limbo Lodge ) is another title that backtracks in the chronology...

--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.
Profile Image for Chris.
765 reviews100 followers
August 4, 2013
Not strictly a prequel to the Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence (our young hero Owen Hughes re-appears around the time of the plot to slide St Paul’s Cathedral into the Thames at a coronation, in The Cuckoo Tree), The Whispering Mountain can nevertheless be enjoyed as a standalone novel. It also adds to our knowledge and understanding of Joan Aiken’s alternative history of the world in the early 19th century, sometimes called the James III sequence or, as I prefer to call it, the Dido Twite series (from the most endearing character featured in most of the books).

Set in and around the western coast of Wales, the tale features elements of Welsh mythology, Dark Age history and traditions of Nonconformism and mining, along with several other typical Aiken themes – such as Arthurian legend (revisited in The Stolen Lake), slavery underground (as in Is), mistaken identities (as in The Cuckoo Tree) and dastardly villains (as in all the titles of the sequence). Although convoluted, the plot draws you along to the inevitable conclusion, and as always Aiken doesn’t shy away from death even when writing for a youngish audience.

Of especial interest is the Welsh setting and use of language and traditions away from Aiken’s usual specialities such as the southeast of England. Living in West Wales, I was particularly intrigued to see aspects of different real localities transmogrified to suit the story and the conceit of an alternative geography of Britain (Malyn Castle is like Harlech Castle transferred to the region of Aberystwyth); and the use of Welsh phrases and idioms (there is a glossary at the end) when characters speak English struck chords even for someone like me with only a passing acquaintance with the language. I also loved the puns, such as the placename Pennygaff which, although it has a Welsh look to it (real placenames include Pen-y-Fan and Pen-y-Bont, literally ‘Mountain Top’ and ‘Bridgend’ respectively), is actually taken from the name for a type of popular but seedy early Victorian theatrical show. Malyn Castle (and its Marquess of Malyn) is a wonderful composite of malign (a good description of the marquess), melyn (Welsh for ‘yellow’, perhaps a reference to the marquess’ love of gold) and Malin Head (the most northerly point in Ireland, famous from the BBC Shipping Forecast, with its 1805 Martello tower looking very castle-like).

And the story? This is the tale of Owen Hughes, son of Captain Hughes of the Thrush and the grandson of another Owen Hughes, keeper of the Pennygaff museum. Bullied at school, young Owen falls in with heroes, villains and bystanders: who to trust with the ancient harp kept in the museum? The villains are often the most memorable, ruffians like Toby Bilk (slang for ‘cheat’) and Elijah Prigman (‘thief’), and blackguards like the Marquess himself. To right the balance there are kind monks, a future king, a travelling poet and his daughter by a Maltese beauty, Arabis Camilleri. The daughter, also called Arabis (a kind of rockcress; also Welsh arabus means ‘witty’) is the same age as Owen. And we mustn’t forget a mysterious Eastern potentate and the equally mysterious cave-dwelling troglodytes under the eponymous Whispering Mountain. Which does more than whisper in the denouement, in an underground version of the famous Devil’s Bridge inland from Aberystwyth.

As I hope this account suggests, this a book worth reading for its spirited liveliness and sheer inventiveness even if you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool Aiken fan. Maybe after sampling The Whispering Mountain you may be tempted to try the other alternate histories in the series. There’s even a chance you might not be disappointed. To add to the delight there’s a map but, sadly, only a handful of illustrations by the inestimable Pat Marriott in the original hardback and the Puffin paperbacks. Later issues, such as the Red Fox edition, include neither map nor illustrations, a miscalculation especially with books aimed at a young adult market but no less a mistake with readers of all ages.

Profile Image for Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all).
2,021 reviews186 followers
July 22, 2016
I had to take a couple of runs at this book to get through it over the years. The only connection to the Wolves sequence is a very passing mention that Owen grew up on the good ship Thrush. Other than that, nada.

I remember my mom checking this book out of the library when it came out back in 1968 (or probably 1970 for it to get to our tiny rural library). I also vaguely remember it was returned unfinished, and over the years I wondered why. Now I know. Not content with cod-Welsh (happy we are, is it, bachgen look you) and cod-Scotch (neither of which must have made Aiken any friends over the borders, if indeed anyone there read it) Aiken gives so much space to her personally invented fake thieves' cant that between the three of them the book is almost unreadable.

Owen goes from victim to Gary Stu at lightning speed; the moment he gets away from his grandfather's village of Pennygaff, his innate talents shine. Wish fulfillment for adolescents, anyone?

It could have been a good adventure story if she hadn't so obviously been writing for herself. I got the feeling there were a lot of private jokes involved. Certainly not Aiken's best work, which is a shame because it could have been so much better with just a little less self-indulgence. I found myself skimming the nonsense-slang and weird "dialect speech". She lards Welsh words hither and yon, without having the skill to give the child reader (her supposed audience) enough context to understand the meaning. Few kids would like a book where they constantly have to refer to a glossary, even in the late sixties, look you. I know she can write better than this, even within the silly parameters of the series; she has done.

Two and a half stars because it is set in Wales.
Profile Image for Rosemary Atwell.
386 reviews24 followers
July 11, 2022
First published in 1968, this romantic and slightly whimsical novel with has all the hallmarks of a children's classic. The extensive use of the Welsh language and its mythology adds a distinctive touch and the characters, especially Arabis, are a delight. The perfect introduction to Joan Aiken's world.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
43 reviews2 followers
January 30, 2011
I love the language in this book -- a spectacular display of gorgeous phrases, lost words, and perfectly-pitched dialect, from Welsh idioms to 17th-century scientific jargon to London thieves' cant.
Profile Image for theduckthief.
108 reviews7 followers
January 30, 2010
"Although the harp was dirty and broken, Owen thought it one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen, and he could not forbear passing his hand round the graceful, flowing lines of the frame, and then plucking with the tip of his finger at the last remaining string. The sound it gave out was low but piercingly clear; it seemed to fill the whole room with echoes."

Owen Hughes has a tough life. His crochety grandfather who runs the Pennygaff museum takes him for granted and constantly finds fault with his work. One night the Telyn Teirtu, the golden harp of legend is stolen from the museum and Owen is accused of the crime. He must recover it before his grandfather or the town of Pennygaff will forgive him. Fortunately he has a few allies to help him along the way. His good friend Arabis, her father and pet bird accompany him on a quest through a dangerous forest, into an underground system of caverns and into Castle Malyn. Unfortunately the castle is owned by the Marquess of Malyk who is obsessed with gold and his guest, the Seljuk of Rum has his own reasons for wanting the harp. Owen must outwit each in turn to reclaim the harp and return it to its rightful place.

My favourite character was Arabis. She's a bit off the wall, talks to her bird a lot but she's original. Owen on the other hand felt somewhat cliche. He's an orphan, the other children in the village bully him and he maybe kinda likes Arabis a little bit.

Aiken has a very lyrical style of writing that made for a very fluid read. I also liked the mythology incorporated into the book. Not only did the story incorporate several different creatures and stories from Welsh legend but they were seamlessly integrated into the story.

My main problem with the book was caring about the main characters. I didn't feel invested with them, despite enjoying Arabis' character. I was really looking forward to this book because it took place in Wales and I thought I'd be safe because this book won a Guardian Award in the 60s. I know other people who have enjoyed this book but it just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Michele.
626 reviews168 followers
May 20, 2015
This is one of the first books I actually remember being given and reading as a child (the other two are Bambi and Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three). I think it might have been what spawned my lifelong love of Things Welsh. Owen's adventures with the Harp of Teirtu and the quest of the Seljuk of Rum to find his missing people are exciting, endearing, and great fun. There's music, poetry, kidnapping, spelunking, a pretty girl with a tame crow, and royalty-in-disguise ("Jamie Neddie Stuart", if I recall correctly!). Pretty much something for everyone.

As a side note, coming back to the book as an adult I found my curiosity drawn to Owen's father. I wondered about his backstory, what made him the dour man he is. Another one of those gaps that makes one want to fill it with story!
Profile Image for Emmaj.
623 reviews7 followers
July 26, 2010
I love this book. Another one I've read over and over.
Aiken is a genius.

Owen is an outcast in his town. Grudgingly taken care of by his grandfather, picked on by the bigger boys, Owen is nonetheless trying to make the best of things.
Then a chance encounter with an old friend turns into a bigger adventure with a search for a stolen harp, the discovery of a lost race of people, and the search for the truth about his own, and his friend's past.
Aiken writes a complex and compelling story, deftly weaving multiple threads into one revealing whole.
Profile Image for Christina Baehr.
Author 1 book70 followers
June 26, 2021
Fun but confusing in places. There are some lovely features in this book, like Arabis’s practical skills as a healer and the use of Welsh words and idioms. There were also two other significant dialects in the books, Scots and some kind of bizarre Cockney-spoonerism-criminal speech, which probably makes this book a bit too perplexing for its target audience. Owen was a nice protagonist, he reminded me of Reynie from THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY. I wanted to see more of Arabis’s hawk!
34 reviews
August 4, 2022
The books seems to aim at a very young audience which is fluent in a variety of british dialects. In the second half of the book, there is an awful lot of back and forth between two places, which I found a little tiring. However, the story itself is quite entertaining and I will probably try the next book in the "Wolves Chronicles" soon.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,818 reviews418 followers
Shelved as 'xx-dnf-skim-reference'
August 13, 2023
dnf Jan 2021.

I probably would have loved it when I was a kids and read Wolves of Willoughby Chase over & over. But that didn't hold up to my reread recently, and this is not for me at all.

I am glad though for the Starscapes imprint, for bringing back older, forgotten works of speculative fiction for young teens. I will continue to look for more from them.

And I will still look for more of Aiken's short story collections, as I believe that's where she really shines. (I just finished my third read of The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories, August 2023)
334 reviews15 followers
September 4, 2019
The mountain "whispers" because its deep caves are inhabited by a tribe of goldsmiths whose ancestors came from the cities of Sair and Taidon to work for the feudal lord of Malyn, generations ago, and who never figured out the way back home. This is alternative history.

Bespectacled Owen Hughes' mother has died, his father has been injured at sea, his grumpy grandfather has just made himself unpopular in the little town of Pennygaff, and he's also the smallest boy in the school. Naturally he is being bullied. He might sit down and feel sorry for himself if he weren't so busy having a preposterous adventure, trying to find the golden harp the wicked Marquess of Malyn has hired thieves to steal from the town museum. Other people who have some claim to the harp meet one another, and the adventure goes on and on and gets wackier and wackier. In the end Owen has earned the respect of the seven bigger boys, and also of King James III.

Nothing about this story even claims to be believable but it holds together well, it's funny, and it's part of the Wolves Chronicles. If you like alternative history you'll love this book.
Profile Image for Infamous Sphere.
211 reviews12 followers
November 17, 2020
This book took me far longer to read than it should have, because I got distracted by reading fanfic halfway through. Unfortunately this meant I lost the thread of the plot a bit, and found it difficult to get back into it. Now that's on me, for ruining my own reading experience, but with that said I don't think that this is Aiken's best, consisting mostly of people running around in caves and into tunnels and up mountains and into more tunnels and into more caves and through dungeons and up rock faces and in more tunnels. It's meandering and confusing. I quite liked the inclusion of all the Welsh. I didn't realise there was a glossary at the end but the context provides a lot of clues as to the words, and I know a tiny bit about Welsh, enough to know what a crwth was, how the letter w is pronounced and so on. I'm not sure how well a child could follow this book but I imagine a certain kind of child could be very absorbed and fascinated. However, it could have just been my reading experience and pandemic brain, but I don't think this book holds a candle to the other Wolves Chronicles books I devoured as a child.
Profile Image for Elian.
68 reviews35 followers
February 28, 2018
Loved it! I see why the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series stuck in my head for so long, and I kept wanting to find the rest of the series. The range of accents portrayed was amazing! I loved the characters and think this would be a great story to read to kids, with the exception that the end resolved things by killing off the bad guys. Growing up this was my main idea for solving theoretical issues, and I think it's great when I find clever solutions in stories that protect people, and also don't require mortal harm. I'd want to share as many stories like that with my kids as possible, and after a rip-roaring ride from "bullied kid" to "let's bring down a tyrant even though it could be said I'm just a gypsy medic, you're an orphan, and people used to think this tribe was a race of fantastical people", I'd hoped the author had some non-kill-off the evil guys way of resolving the situation to satisfaction. But I did love reading this, and loved learning about these characters who were portrayed so deeply with just a few words here and there. :)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mathew.
1,525 reviews173 followers
March 25, 2017
It is our world and yet it is decidedly Aiken's world too described by her as ‘‘alternate-history fantasies’’ set within the early nineteenth century, this is a wonderful story whose plot, characters and language are as richly woven as the world.
A story about a wicked Marquess' desperate attempt to capture an ancient, golden harp and the town's museum ownership and his grandson's attempts to stop him, as with many of the Wolves Chronicles, we have here a story which respects the past and owes much to it. With the tale set deep in the heart of Wales, an amalgam of characters collide to either work against or together to unearth the harp of Teirtu and it is, in the end, up to the children to save the past from greed and nurture it.
Aiken states that whenever you create a world then, as a writer, you must ‘‘immerse yourself in its atmosphere and topography’’ and in this book she does so with great aplomb. For some readers, the language and rich writing may be a challenge but the rewards are many.
Profile Image for Kathleen Dixon.
3,774 reviews60 followers
February 21, 2019
I still have the copy from my childhood of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and the next two in the series, but I never knew there had been this prequel. Now I know!

This is a great children's series, with history and legend mixed together. The setting is Wales with its mountains and wild boar and travelling tinkers and a legend of little people living in the mountain. There is also the excessively rich and nasty Lord with his castle and his greed for gold, and a wealthy foreign visitor.

Aiken does the accents and speech characteristics brilliantly so you can hear the different ways they all have of speaking, and the adventure is gripping. I'm now going to re-read my childhood books.
Profile Image for Ashley Lambert-Maberly.
1,360 reviews9 followers
May 13, 2019
I wanted to like this a little more than I did (doesn't everyone, while they're reading?) but there were too many characters, too many disparate plot elements, too many locations—it read like one of those Justice League comics where each hero runs off to do their own thing rather than staying together and battling epically as a unit.

If you like her, you won't hate it, it's her voice and her tone, but it's not her best. I think it's over-reaching—it's delightful when two or three separate pieces come together, aha!—but it's somewhat annoying when seven or eight do.

(Note: 5 stars = amazing, wonderful, 4 = very good book, 3 = decent read, 2 = disappointing, 1 = awful, just awful. I'm fairly good at picking for myself so end up with a lot of 4s). I feel a lot of readers automatically render any book they enjoy 5, but I grade on a curve!
506 reviews
August 31, 2017
This book isn't actually a sequel to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, or either of the two following novels in that series - but it is set in the same world. There are no crossover characters from any of the previous books, but the new characters are fascinating and memorable, and the story is every bit as engaging and enjoyable as any of the others. That would be because Joan Aiken is such a stellar writer. And if this is your first introduction to 18th/19th century British thieves cant, you'll be enjoying this fascinating dialect as well.
403 reviews22 followers
April 4, 2019
The Whispering Mountain is listed as prequel, but it's really not. The action takes place just before or during the same time as the action in The Stolen Lake and Dangerous Games when Dido Twite is traveling the seas abroad the Thrush with Captain Hughes, Owen's father. Besides the first three books of the series- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds on Nantucket, this is the best book! Aiken can really write. She introduces many plot elements and, then masterfully, pulls them all together for a grand climax.
227 reviews
May 5, 2018
2 stars is probably a bit harsh as it's not the book's fault that I'm not a child any more. But reading this as an adult was a slog. Story was a bit erratic and I found the slang/Welsh/Scottish dialect from some of the characters difficult (and sometimes annoying!) to read.

I'll give the next book in the series a go but if I don't enjoy it then maybe it's better to leave this series in my past.
Profile Image for Crow.
24 reviews
July 25, 2017
Eh, since it's written with a lot of Welsh vocabulary and speech it's kinda hard to zip through this book. I often had to look up how to pronounce things properly which I'm super anal about. haha

Overall though, it was a nice little adventure type book with mystery and humor thrown in. Not sure I will continue reading the series.. it was a little dry for me.
May 10, 2019
Lots of welsh words which livened up the amazing plot. Great descriptions of the characters especially Bilk and Prigman who felt real and I could imagine them standing in front if me. Although if I did meet them for real I doubt I would like them because they are selfish and all they are interested in is money.
Profile Image for Jed Mayer.
522 reviews14 followers
December 30, 2019
Another delightful chapter in the Wolves Chronicles, this volume brings a host of engaging new characters into the narrative, and helps fill in some of the historical background to the later chronology: like all the volumes this can be happily read on its own, and is a cracking adventure told with verve and copious imagination.
Profile Image for D. Wild.
Author 4 books7 followers
January 31, 2022
A complicated tale

This didn’t work as a children’s book for me, it is over long with many adult characters, and the languages although rich are wearing. There’s only one female character. I didn’t align with the two protagonists. The plot was complex.
Nevertheless, it is a brilliant example of the highest writing skills.
Profile Image for Paul.
124 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2023
A prequel to the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. A good tale set in a slightly mythical Wales in the alternate historical universe of the Wolves series. A good story and great characters. However it is too long and the mix of Welsh language and some very weird dialects is too distracting from the narrative. Hence only 3 stars.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
145 reviews4 followers
August 9, 2018
This is my favorite Joan Aiken book, not least because the nerdy hero Owen constantly reads from a book with all the 's'es written as 'f's which makes me mentally lisp as I read. For some reason, this delights me. And it's a fun book with a absurdly convoluted plot.
Profile Image for SilverNediya.
306 reviews
January 21, 2019
فقط یک‌سوم آخر کتاب به‌نظرم حوادث کمی سریع و با توضیح کمتری پیش می‌رفت
مرگ انتهای کتاب هم برای من دلخراش بود :/ درمورد آن دو نفر بدطینت (بیلک و دوستش) هم با اینکه حقشان بود، ولی خشونت داستان را یکدفعه‌ زیاد کرد
Author 8 books17 followers
October 13, 2019
This book just wasn't my thing. The writing was good, just not interested in the story line.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 79 reviews

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