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The Wolves Chronicles #9

Cold Shoulder Road

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Having freed the children enslaved in the northern mines, Is Twite and her cousin Arun return to Folkestone to find Arun's mother. But she has disappeared without a trace. There's plenty of evidence of strange goings-on now that the Channel Tunnel is open, and smugglers called the Merry Gentry have the whole countryside terrified. Have they abducted Arun's mother? Is and Arun are up against the evil Dominic de la Twite and the sneaky Admiral Fishskin in this fast-paced, wickedly witty adventure.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1995

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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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Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,045 followers
December 30, 2015
"Every night, around nine o'clock in Cold Shoulder road, the screaming began. It came from the end house in the row. It was not very loud. The sound was like the cries of the gulls that flew and whirled along the shingle-bank on the seaward side of the road..."

Joan Aiken really knows how to write stuff that, while wholly appealing to young people, is also genuinely chilling. When I was a kid, my local library had 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' and its first two sequels. I was young enough when I read them that I wasn't quite certain which elements in this alternate-history England were fantasy and which were just British - it all seemed quite exotic to me! I read those three books several times each, but didn't later follow the series - and and no idea until picking this up that it had continued into the mid-90s!

The setting was familiar, but the characters here are ones I wasn't familiar with - although it's clearly not the first time they've been introduced. Is Twite and her cousin Arun are travelling in search of Arun's mum, whom he left to strike out on his own several years ago. Arun is devastated when he comes back to an empty house, with no clues as to where she might have gone. Arun's mother was a member of a strange cult called the Silent Sect, and the unsavory neighbors seem to think that odder-than-usual things have been going on within the group.

There's also a gang of vicious smugglers calling themselves the Merry Gentry, who are well on their way to keeping the local populace under their thumb with fear and threats.

Add in an antique buried treasure that everyone has plans for... and the plot is underway.

Several times, while reading this, I was reminded that this is the exact sort of story that Lemony Snicket's Unfortunate Events was inspired by.

However, while it's good, it's not Aiken's best. The telepathy isn't really intrinsic or necessary to the story, the villains are a bit lacking in back story, and events tend to happen rather too conveniently.

I'm still glad to have had the opportunity to read it. Many thanks to Open Road and NetGalley. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,174 reviews187 followers
October 31, 2018
In this ninth entry in Aiken's Wolves Chronicles, and the second featuring Is Twite as a heroine, Is and her cousin Arun go in search of Arun's mother in Folkstone. Here they must contend with a band of ruthless smugglers known as The Merry Gentlemen, and a strange religious cult called the Silent Sect. Aiken delivers her usual assortment of odd characters and unexpected plot developments, including more unknown Twite relations, a long-lost royal treasure, and a frigate stuck at the top of a tree.

I was surprised to discover, while reading Cold Shoulder Road, that I was becoming somewhat impatient with Aiken's series. As I mentioned in my review of Is Underground , the two titles featuring Is Twite do not rank among my favorites in the Wolves Chronicles, mostly because I consider Is Twite to be a shallow and unsatisfactory copy of her older sister, Dido. But this title, in particular, struck me as being the low point in Aiken's extended narrative about an alternative Britain. The author utilizes all of her regular tricks, and perhaps that is part of the problem. As paradoxical as it may be, her unconventionality almost seems routine by this point...

I might have stopped reading the series at this point, if I hadn't discovered that the next title, Dangerous Games , reverts back to Dido's adventures. As a side note, although I didn't really enjoy Cold Shoulder Road, I loved the cover artwork by Edward Gorey.

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 Alex.
149 reviews4 followers
March 8, 2008
This is pretty late in the series which was written over several decades. It seems that Aiken sort of lost track of what made these books work as she got further from the source.

Among the problems:

Yet another deus ex machina type ending. In previous stories, the hero actually played a role in the downfall of the villains.

Over-reliance on the supernatural. Okay, a little magic or whatever in a young adult novel seems right. This story hinges (yet again) on people communicating with each other in thought. Then there is the key villain suddenly dying because he wears a necklace full of powerful negative energy. These are just some examples.

Finally, when the hero of this story, Is, was introduced in Dido and Pa, she had been locked in a dungeon for her entire youth and was quite angry and untrusting. When she reappears in this story and in Is Underground, she has basically become a stand in for Dido who I guess aged out of the series.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Chris.
762 reviews100 followers
July 28, 2022
Mums and kids better stick together
Hang in there whatever the weather
Hold in a chain that none can break
Hold together for the future's sake . . .

The sequel to Is (US: Is Underground ) is another of Joan Aiken's unputdownable novels in her Wolves Chronicles. The villains are as villainish as ever, with few redeeming features, the young (and not-so-young) protagonists are regularly scrobbled, and much of the fairytale action which would normally be regarded as implausible acquires a degree of reality through Aiken's powerful storytelling.

Rich in details, the novel dovetails chronologically into the rest of the series but can be enjoyed---just about---as a standalone. Most of the action takes place in Kent, along the coast from Aiken's beloved Sussex, but in Aiken's usual timeframe where the 1830s and early 1840s are not quite as the history we are more familiar with.

Young Is Twite, fresh from saving child miners from drowning when a tsunami caused by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Hekla floods their undersea coal mine, comes south with her newfound cousin Arun to his hometown of Folkestone in Kent in a bid to reunite with his widowed mother Ruth. But, true to the ways of this alternative world, nothing is straightforward; and heartache, danger, villainy and death will be experienced before natural justice reassert itself.

In the timeline of this alternative Kent Is and Arun Twite will come across smugglers using the Channel Tunnel (which in reality only opened on 6th May 1994), havey-cavey coves called Admiral Percival Fishskin and Dominic de la Twite, child hostages, a religious sect who enjoin silence, an intimidated rural population, and a countryside recently devastated by a mighty gale and 'flood-wave' reminiscent of the Great Storm of 1703. Impossible as it is to summarise this rapid-fire narrative, suffice to say it begins with screaming and ends with singing.

Like many of the other instalments in the Wolves Chronicles Cold Shoulder Road is hard-hitting, steely in its depiction of sociopathic exploitation and, for all its fantasy, evocative of some of the historical realities of the period. Yet it also includes moments of tenderness and even humour, and is filled with song and music: "Speech is the queen, and music is the king," runs one refrain; and in the concept of 'thought talk' or telepathy there comes the sense that through it can also flow sympathy and empathy.

Other themes concern cavities -- not just the Chunnel but also Kentish dene holes, tunnels with lost treasure, and Frog's Hole, the alternative name of Cold Shoulder Road -- and ships variously named Dark Diamond, Victory, Merry Gentian and Throstle. And through it all shine bright images such as a naval frigate high and dry in a chestnut tree, a diamond necklace called the Living River, shiny coins from the reign of Charles II, colourful phrases such as famble-snickers and duke-irons, and striking similes such as a child concentrating on thought talk "like a cat collecting spit for washing."

One rhyme reminds us of the ambiguous nature of the extended Twite family, whose adventures many readers have been following for some time.
Twite smile, Twite smite
One's wrong, one's right
One'll help you with all his might
One'll Rob ye out of spite
One's dark, one's light
One's day, one's night
One's blessing, one's blight
Twite smile, and Twite smite.

In Cold Shoulder Road one has to quickly learn which Twite is which, when blood really is thicker than water, and when mums and kids need to stick together.
Profile Image for Robin.
826 reviews7 followers
May 3, 2016
Following Joan Aiken's "Wolves Chronicles," which I have also seen described as the "James III saga," is a bit challenging. A couple of the books have different titles in the U.S. than in the U.K. (Examples: Limbo Lodge=Dangerous Games; Is=Is Underground.) The fourth book in publication order, a prequel called The Whispering Mountain, is routinely left out of numbered lists of the canonincal series, which may lead to confusion about which book is the nth in the series. Midnight Is a Place is treated as a completely separate work, even though it shares the same alternate-history period-fantasy world as this series. And I've mentioned before that the title Is is a sovereign internet search killer. I had no luck finding a copy of it until I came across the omnibus edition of Is and this book: canonically the ninth, publicationally the tenth or eleventh book in what I believe is one of the great classic series of young-adult adventure novels.

Like Is, Cold Shoulder Road takes the point of view of Is (or Isabett) Twite, younger sister of Dido Twite, who left the home she shared with oldest sister Penny in Blackheath Edge, Kent, to honor a dying uncle's wish and find her vanished cousin Arun. Find him she did, in the form of a boy who thought he was a cat and lived accordingly. While recovering from the trauma that drove him into cathood, Arun has gradually reverted to boyhood. But when Is and Arun arrive in Cold Shoulder Road, where he last left his mother Ruth Twite and the strange, silent sect she belonged to, they find the whole street deserted. Is worries the shock might send Arun back to chasing mice and biting people's ankles. But the deeper the two cousins dig, the more serious the situation appears. For not only has the Sect upped stakes and moved to the next town up the coast, but Ruth has personally disappeared, and taken somebody else's child with her.

This is no ordinary kidnapping, though. Ruth seems to have run away with a child who was entrusted to the townsfolk in an exchange of hostages with a vicious gang of smugglers, known as the Merrie Gentry. Specializing in sneaking loads of mammoth tusks, used for making snuffboxes, through a railway tunnel under the English Channel, the Merrie Gentry make gruesome examples of anyone who crosses them. Before you can say, "Croopus!" Is and Arun are in the thick of things, with a sneaky retired admiral on one side, a mesmerizing cult leader on the other, and such oddities abroad as a frigate parked in the crotch of a chestnut tree, a kite-flying rider on a two-wheeled machine, a travelers' rest area under the shelter of standing stones, a garden hanging over the edge of a cliff, and a bunch of people who can communicate by thought waves. There is a buried treasure, a sinister string of jewels, a disagreeable child who proves worth the trouble, a trip to the dentist that proves nastier than expected, and a swarm of spiders the size of small dogs.

I don't think you will ever encounter a similar combination of villainy, magic, heroism, and weirdness if you read a thousand books a year for a thousand years. Save yourself the trouble and read this book, and all its companion books. They are funny, thrilling, heart-warming, spine-chilling, over-the-top fantastic by every definition of the word, and written by a prose master who sneaks her lyricism in under the cover of a quaint dialect and a curtly straightforward tone of voice. In almost any other author's hands, a character like Is (or Dido before her) would soon become tiresome. I look forward to my next outing with them.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
2,130 reviews90 followers
February 29, 2008
Sequel to Is Underground. In the previous book in the series, Is Twite travelled north to find her missing cousin, Arun. Now Arun has been found, and they are going back to his home town to reunite him with his mother. But when they get there, they discover that Aunt Ruth has disappeared. Arun's family was part of the Silent Sect, a strange group of true believers who believe that silence is holy and noise is sinful. But things have changed in the sect since Arun left -- there is a new, charismatic leader named Dominic de la Twite, and it seems that he may be Up To No Good. There is also a band of smugglers operating in the area, the Merry Gentry, who are a bunch of very dangerous ne'er-do-wells. Can Is and Arun get to the bottom of things and find his Aunt Ruth? As always, this was a delight; I think Joan Aiken is one of the most consistently clever and inventive authors one could read.
Profile Image for Shirley.
75 reviews
December 8, 2008
The first line - on a sort of prologue page - although it is not labeled as such - is a sort of back story - although you don't understand it until midway through the book:"Every night, around nine o' clock in Cold Shoulder Road, the screaming began." Gothic, tongue-in-cheek- adventure involving a Chunnel created before its time, smuggled ivory tusks, a necklace of death, and Aiken's usual really horrible villains - flavored just right with the Gorey cover illustration. I've long enjoyed Aiken's creation of a sort of patois - displayed the characters' use of words like "clung-headed", "mumchance","croopus", "clod-pole", "fambles". She respects her readers and knows they will get the meaning from context, unlike some wrong-headed editors of today who think readers need to have the vibrancy of words toned down into the dull and familiar.
Profile Image for Kathleen Dixon.
3,768 reviews61 followers
January 9, 2021
What a fabulous opening sentence to this book! Chilling. But Aiken doesn't write horror for kids, she writes adventure. Still, there are plenty of hard looks at man's inhumanity to man and the sinister dressed up in often clownish characters. We have missing children and missing mothers and ruthless smugglers and hidden treasure, and it's yet another fabulous walk into the world of the Wolves.
Profile Image for Kailey (Luminous Libro).
3,058 reviews452 followers
November 16, 2017
Is Twite and her cousin Arun go on a wild search for Arun's mother, Ruth Twite, while the Merry Gentry smugglers terrorize every village on the coast. Arun and Is turn to Admiral Fishkin for help and advice on how to find their missing relative, but the duplicitous Admiral is not as kind as he seems. Is and Arun search through the mysterious Silent Sect, explore a dark cave, find shelter in unlikely places, and ultimately find a way to restore peace to the coast and strip the Merry Gentry of their power.

I was a little disappointed in the "lucky" coincidences of the plot, especially since I have come to expect so much from Joan Aiken's writing. The plot felt really contrived as time after time the heroes are saved from disaster by some random happenstance. The main characters seem to float around from place to place, making a half-formed plan that doesn't really accomplish anything, and then they are miraculously saved! AGAIN! by some incredibly lucky accident. And the ending was especially contrived and unsatisfactory.

Other than that, the writing is great! Joan Aiken has such a beautiful writing style that pulls you into the story, creates emotional connections to the characters, and describes a vivid setting. Her writing and characters are imaginative and interesting and weird!

Still well worth the read, but not her best in this series.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Brush.
189 reviews
July 17, 2017
my dudes, few people can tell stories like Joan Aiken did. bless this woman for inspiring my love of the weird, the absurd, and the strong. oh to be able to go back and reread these books with a fresh mind as an adult.
Profile Image for Ruth Brumby.
769 reviews5 followers
February 23, 2022
Interesting references to the channel tunnel, 'future' possibilities for flight, the missing children a glimpse ahead to Pullman, the man with the kite an shade of Dickens; I love this world of stories and history that the children live in. The inventiveness was all there in the ship in the tree etc, the morals were all there in the need to be brave and stand up for all people, including outsiders and difficult children, but the plot and characters did not work quite so well.
Profile Image for Rachel Stansel.
1,056 reviews18 followers
December 28, 2015
Yeah, and no. This is just too slow and not making any sense. I gave it to about the halfway point before calling it. Perhaps if I had read the past books it would be better. The description seemed right up my alley, but the writing was just to stilted and dry for my taste. It has gotten great reviews from people who have read the series, but as someone who was not familiar with the series, the book just didn't go any where and when it did, it did so in a way that just didn't make much sense to me.

Full disclosure - I received a copy of this book from netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nigel.
Author 12 books61 followers
October 31, 2014
Is is back, travelling with Arun from the north to find his mother in the south. But the house on Cold Shoulder Road is empty and the people are unfriendly and there are smugglers and bandits abroad with a fierce grip on the land, with hostage children and terrible reprisals and mammoth-tusk ivory smuggled through the channel tunnel. Another Tale Of Twites, good and bad, dogged heroism versus diabolical mischief. Chases and kidnaps, traps and escapes, inventive hidey-holes and strange folk of one stripe or another. Classic Aiken.
Profile Image for Jenn Estepp.
2,027 reviews60 followers
February 10, 2016
enjoyable, especially for the compleatist in me, who is keen on reading the entire series. but far from the best of the series. while i can get past the heavy use of "thought language" i hated the ever-so-convenient ending. that being said, i really enjoyed most of the characterizations and supporting players whom is twite interacts with in the course of this adventure.
Profile Image for Liaken.
1,500 reviews
May 29, 2008
This was a very different read than I was expecting. I've read her short stories, but this was my first Aiken novel. It is a complex story dealing with smuggling between France and England and the children and others who are caught in the fear and danger created by greedy people.
Profile Image for Anthony Faber.
1,579 reviews4 followers
February 11, 2014
Wolves #9. Is brings her cousin Arum back to his mother, but she's not there, she's off foiling a plot by wealthy powerful men, and Is and Arum help her out. In addition to bad science, this one has a few anachronisms.
Profile Image for Jane.
2,681 reviews52 followers
March 4, 2015
I love these loosely-linked stories set in an alternate British empire. The heroines are clever, kind and strong, the villains are suitably horrid, and the language is a delightful mash-up of urban slang and country dialect.
Profile Image for Tyas.
Author 2 books75 followers
September 19, 2008
This was the first book in Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence that I read; and the impression it left me still makes me shudder sometimes.
Profile Image for Ayu Palar.
171 reviews
February 21, 2009
I read this book back then in high school when my English was still so-so. Yet I remember that I was impressed a lot by this book. It's dark but at the same time it offers the light.
Profile Image for jennifer.
452 reviews9 followers
March 16, 2013
only two more after this, forever. unless i start writing posthumous continuations of the series-world.
Profile Image for Squeaky.
961 reviews4 followers
May 6, 2015
I like these stories very much. Sometimes I'm confused about characters that pop up and I don't remember them. Is that editing or my failing memory?
Profile Image for Caleb Potts.
Author 18 books1 follower
November 18, 2016
Felt a bit more disjointed than previous Wolves books, but still a great addition to the Twite storyline!
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