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The Wolves Chronicles #1

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

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Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie's parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like orphan school. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease.

With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?

181 pages, Hardcover

First published August 6, 1962

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About the author

Joan Aiken

381 books552 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 - 30 of 1,516 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,355 followers
December 3, 2017
When Bonnie’s parents leave for a voyage across the sea, she’s left in the care of a strident governess: Miss Slighcarp. Soon joined by her cousin Sylvia, the girls suffer cruel treatment at the hands of their governess and watch as every joyful element of their lives is dismantled. Meanwhile, menacing wolves circle and a strange man joins in Miss Slighcarp’s machinations. If Bonnie & Sylvia are to be free and happy once more, they must turn to an odd boy and his flock of geese for help.

Aiken evokes a marvelous sense of atmosphere, a sensation that’s heightened by the contrast between the outside world and the inside of Bonnie’s home: Willoughby Chase. A cold and haunting mood pervades the outside with its “somber sighing of the wind and the hideous howling of the wolves.” The hills are pleated with snow, icicles hang from the trees, and “snow lay piled on the dark roads.”

Willoughby Chase is “an inviting home – a warm and welcoming stronghold.” Bonnie sleeps in a soft, warm bed, and she and Sylvia spend their afternoons in the nursery, which is “gay with the sunshine that sparkled on crystal and silver and found golden light in the honey and quince preserves.

Despite its alluring opening pages, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase unravels once its cookie-cutter characters step into the limelight. Intrigue vanishes as each character assumes a stereotypical role in the narrative. The only exception is, perhaps, Mr. Grimshaw who unexpectedly fires a “long, heavy, glinting blue gun” out of the train carriage he shares with young Sylvia, shooting at rabbits and ravens with a reckless air of perverse enjoyment. Mr. Grimshaw takes snuff and has no qualms about seizing a shard of glass and stabbing a wolf to death.

Strangely, after a strong presence early in the narrative, the wolves fade into the background, eventually becoming a distant threat. However, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first in a series of thirteen books, so perhaps their presence grows more prevalent over time.

With such standard characters, the story inevitably arrives at a predictable conclusion.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a quick, enjoyable little read, but it’s nothing to write home about.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,500 followers
June 15, 2017
Those of us who grew up with an affinity for Victorian books, it might have started here, in Joan Aiken's 1962 classic Gothic / Dickensian love note, with its pitch perfect wicked governesses and wretched orphanages and aptronyms and moors and girls who are described as "hoydens," and secret passages, and real dungeons, and all these wolves. When we hit our teens and started reading stuff like Dickens and Wuthering Heights, it felt familiar to us; we'd already been indoctrinated into the rules of Victoria.

It's set in an alternate history of England, where wolves are rampant and something about a King James III, who cares, how am I supposed to know whether a given King James is fictional or not, you can tell it's not the real world because this is a place where geese can be trusted. Geese cannot be trusted irl. They are wicked and they mean you harm.

Here's a great piece on Wolves from the School Library Journal's Top 100 Children's Book List, which is a terrific resource. Its popularity spawned a series, but I don't remember how good the rest are.

I read this a ton of times as a kid, and re-reading it now, scenes absolutely exploded in my memory as I got to them. Aunt Julia's pathetic poverty, Simon's hidden cave, Mrs. Brisket's nasty daughter finding and breaking an egg in Bonnie's pocket...This is one of the first books in which I felt real danger. When Bonnie and Sylvia are in jeopardy, they're really in jeopardy.

I wasn't wrong when I was young; this is legitimately wonderful. Now that I fully recognize all the tropes Aiken is playing with, it might be even better. It has brave heroines and narrow escapes, and it's about as perfect as children's literature has ever been.
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,072 followers
December 5, 2010
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is best read when young, or by those with the ability to tap into their inner girl.

I enjoyed the evil impostors who gleefully inflict child abuse. 'Wolves' is best read by kids who love to feel a bit of self-pity and delicious horror.
Bonnie is a bit of a simpering thing and there are lots of mentions of dresses and lace. I didn't care about that. My eyes tend to glaze over fripperies in real life too. (It feels like I'm the only person alive who doesn't notice if someone mismatches their socks.) Sylvia had more spunk, if she was spoiled. I liked her a lot when she was knocked down some pegs.

Wait, I don't know what my inner girl is. I liked the baddies! I rooted for the baddies as a kid. I wanted Ursula to win (don't get me started on my hatred of being called "Ariel" or, even worse, "The Little Mermaid". The 'm' is not silent, little me would rage.) I liked pretty much all the Disney baddies up until the creepy bearded dude from Aladdin. The baddies in 'Wolves' are great. They eat all of the good food for themselves. They send the girls off to an evil boarding school/slave house (Mr. Brocklehurst would die of envy). They sleep in and are bad in a way that Lemony Snickett wouldn't dream of. (Phillip Pullman too ripped off Aiken's series.)

There are also cool wolves. Aiken writes atmospheric creepy wolf stuff very well. It's like a dark side of girly books like Avonlea or something. I'm weird or something because I actually found this more cozy than that.

The Dido Twite books in the series are pure awesomeness and way, way better than 'Wolves'. I did not know about those until my adulthood, though. I skipped college classes to blow through all of them. Maybe I would have done that anyway. Anyway, they are super. Simon, the boy who lives in a cave, is the hero of Blackhearts in Battersea and Dido Twite appears. The rest of the books are hers because she owns.

If you dig long range cannons, plots to overthrow kings, grinding bones to make your bread, kidnapping and pink whales: read those books.

There was a film version made that has very little to do with this book. I saw it on tv when I was in middle school, and remember that I was much confused by the shared title. Where did they get the turning kids into soap stuff from? Sigh.

P.s. Edward Gorey did the usa covers. Suck on that, England.
Profile Image for Hilary .
2,265 reviews406 followers
February 2, 2018
Set in 1832, in an imaginary period of history, where wolves roamed during the snow covered days of winter, Sir Willoughby is preparing to take his wife on a cruise as she is delicate and in need of a rest (raise eyebrows) and their daughter Bonnie is awaiting the arrival of her cousin Sylvia who is to come and live with them. Bonnie's life couldn't be happier with rooms full of toys, a dolls house you can walk inside and devoted servants....until Miss Slighcarp arrives.

Miss Slighcarp is a real boo-hiss villain and instantly shows that she is not someone you would leave your child with for one second but Lady Willoughby does need that cruise, so they leave and will not be available for contact until they reach port in several months time (handy).

Miss Slighcarp wastes no time in she really is award winning meanie material.

The rest of the story is very exciting,

A hugely satisfying ending to a really exciting story.
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,438 reviews4,064 followers
August 27, 2021
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“IT WAS DUSK – winter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills, and icicles hung from the forest trees. Snow lay piled on the dark road across Willoughby Wold, but from dawn men had been clearing it with brooms and shovels. There were hundreds of them at work, wrapped in sacking because of the bitter cold, and keeping together in groups for fear of the wolves, grown savage and reckless from hunger.”

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was one of my favourite books as a child. We have a winter-y and atmospheric setting, an evil governess who alongside some other knavish characters is up to no good, intrepid children—possibly an orphan or two—who outsmart wicked adults, and, last but not least, wild and ferocious wolves.

The fairy-tale elements and imagery contribute to the novel's simultaneously cozy and spine-tingling atmosphere that really brought to mind Jane Eyre (the first part of the novel, when Jane is a child).
Set in an alternative history of early-19th century England, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase follows the adventurous of two cousins as they try to escape from the evil clutches of their new governess and her cronies. We have bold Bonnie, daughter of Sir Willoughby, and her more timid cousin Sylvia who is an orphan and was raised by her frail aunt. When Sir Willoughby takes his wife onto a voyage for her health, he leaves Bonnie and Sylvia at Willoughby Chase. The two girls soon realise that their new governess Miss Slighcarp is up to no good. What follows is an engrossing adventure starring two brave children, train rides across dark forests, wicked governesses and teachers, a horrid boarding 'school', and many dangerous treks across forests teeming with wolves.

Aiken's deceptively simple language ingeniously conjures Bonnie and Sylvia's adventures in a way that reflects their 'young' point of view. The adults have a certain Dickensian quality to them that is apparent through their names and appearances.

There is so much to love in these pages. We have snow, sumptuous meals, hidden passageways, shipwrecks, and daring escapes. In spite of the many injustices Bonnie and Sylvia are made to experience, there is always an undercurrent of hope in this narrative.
Perhaps I love this novel so much because it speaks of my childhood, perhaps I simply recognise for what it is (a truly lovely and entertaining tale).

Profile Image for Stacey.
550 reviews1,551 followers
January 9, 2016
This post is part of the 2015 Classics Challenge.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I actually don't think I had heard of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase until I discovered the Vintage Children's Classics, my favourite series of children's classics – I just love the design and the selection of well-known and lesser-known classics! I bought I Capture the Castle in 2012 followed by The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Dark is Rising, Fly Away Home and Charlotte Sometimes in 2013.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was freezing in February and I was looking for a wintry classic to read as part of the challenge. It had been sitting on my TBR for a while and I hadn't picked up a Vintage Children's Classic for a while, even though I own quite a few now. It's also meant to be adapted as a BBC drama this Christmas, but I have not heard any more about it since it was first announced in 2013. I really hope it goes ahead!

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It's a classic children's adventure story, full of beautiful descriptions of the landscape, treacherous characters and a thrilling mystery to solve. It has a bunch of characters – from Bonnie and Sylvia themselves to the adult servants that aid their mission – that you'll be rooting for all the way. A debate arises now and again about how dark children's and young adult literature has become, but you only have to meet Miss Slighcarp and her allies to realise it has always been that way – they're truly ghastly! Although The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is over 50 years old, its themes of friendship, class, gender, and the tendency of adults to underestimate children still resonate today.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I adored it instantly! I was fascinated by the idea of an alternative Britain where wolves may attack at any time. I expected the story to be more about the wolves, but it's actually about how the wolves aren't the real enemy here. It's wonderfully written and I loved the vivid descriptions of Willoughby Chase, from the stark white landscape to Bonnie's delightful toy room. It has secret passages, charming characters (like Simon the gooseboy) and a story that doesn't patronise children. It has everything you could want. I'm looking forward to reading Black Hearts at Battersea , the next book.

WILL It Stay A Classic
I think so! It still feels fresh and exciting. I hope the forthcoming BBC drama does the book justice and encourages more people to read this wonderful story. And once you've done that, there's 11 more books in the series for you to read.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love children's books and want to delve into the world of classics. People who love children's adventure and mystery stories, like the Laura Marlin mysteries. People who love how atmospheric Gothic literature can be, like Jane Eyre.

I also reviewed this book over on Pretty Books.
Profile Image for Margaret.
79 reviews58 followers
July 31, 2008
"It was dusk -- winter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills, and icicles hung from the forest trees. Snow lay piled on the dark road across Willoughby Wold, but from dawn men had been clearing it with brooms and shovels. There were hundreds of them at work, wrapped in sacking because of the bitter cold, and keeping together in groups for fear of the wolves, made savage and reckless from hunger..."
I dare you not to go on reading after that.
I read this book over and over as a kid, but it's equally entertaining for adults - it's the book Dickens might have written if he wrote for young people, an atmospheric semi-Gothic that follows the adventures of two young girls, spunky intrepid Bonnie and her fragile cousin Sylvia, when Bonnie's parents go abroad and leave them with the malign governess Miss Slighcarp, who is definitely up to no good. Joan Aiken is the daughter of poet Conrad Aiken, and her heritage shows in her vivid use of language, but it's really the great characters that make this one so memorable: dauntless heroines, some truly repugnant villains, and in Simon the clever goose-boy and Pattern the faithful housemaid the kind of loyal and fearless friends we all hope to find, and sometimes are lucky enough to.
Profile Image for W.B..
Author 4 books113 followers
July 18, 2008
This is terrible but wonderful.

It's really a book that was published for young adults or kids, but published in 1962 so the idea of what constitutes entertaining literature for youngsters is really rather dated.

I think the author was more influenced by Edward Gorey and his odd, brilliant little books than she was by some of the other palpable influences, like Dickens and other masters of "waif literature."

It's the story of a rich little "waif" (so not a true waif, but she fits the archetypal mold) who is left under the guardianship of a questionable governess, Miss Slighcarp, who arrives at the familial estate (Willoughby Chase)under questionable circumstances to begin her reign of terror over children.

So very Gorey.

Even the cover art (and many of the illustrations throughout) are a total Gorey rip-off.

I researched it to make sure it wasn't one of Gorey's many pseudonyms, but this seems to just be a case of an epigonus.

Most likely, the author or someone responsible for the book design urged the illustrator in that direction.

The book is ridiculous but fun.

The author has such a strange lexicon, and writes in purple prose, which is actually what makes the book fun.

It's a bon-bon. Nothing more.

But bon-bons can be fun. Let your mind get fat.
Profile Image for Willow .
236 reviews102 followers
January 22, 2016
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a lovely little children’s book with secret passages, an evil governess and a goose boy. I definitely recommend it to little girls who have a mind for adventure. I myself had a little trouble at first getting into it, simply because I’m just not the audience for this. But eventually the adventure took over and I wanted to find out what happens.

There’s a weird wackiness in the beginning, which made me chuckle. Wolves jump up and attack the windows on a train. Bonnie’s parents have no problem leaving their home and their bank accounts to a distant relative who has a very unpleasant disposition. A boy lives in a cave with his geese, even in the winter. And the evil plot---I won’t even go into it. Let’s just say, I seriously have my doubts. It was fun though. :)

This is an old story (from 1962) so it has kind of has an old-world charm. There’s not a patronizing message (which most children's stories have today) just a melodrama, and the villains are so obvious, I almost felt like I should boo and hiss when they popped up in the story. Aiken has a lovely way with words and description that made me feel like I had slipped into a fairytale.

I give four stars! Thank you Jeanette and Diane Lynn for the fun quick buddy read. :D
Profile Image for Sophie Crane.
3,923 reviews122 followers
January 27, 2023
Great exciting adventure story, written in a quaint old-fashioned way, I reckon it'd suit ages 10+ due to locking naughty kids in dungeons/ parents going missing etc. Gripping and fun, no wonder it's a classic.
Profile Image for Mathew.
1,525 reviews173 followers
November 15, 2015
I'm still in two minds about this book. I enjoyed it very much, this was the first Aiken I have read and realise that I should have read far more since she's such an established and well-received children's author. The first half of the novel, set in Willoughby Hall is wonderful. The story is set in an alternate Victorian England. This is an England hoarded with wolves that have migrated through mainland Europe from Russia through a pre-Eurotunnel undersea excavation.
The story reads like a Dickensian classic filled with wonderful characters, as good or as evil as you can get. The story is gripping and, rarely for me, there were points where I wasn't sure what would happen to the protagonists. The antagonists themselves may seem Dahl-esque in their appearance but they're far better in their craft and more like Dickens' work.
Yet, I wanted more wolves. They are there, always, as a dark and unsettling threat for the first half of the story and then, when we move to London, they are missing. For me, it was this dark and constantly looming danger that set this story apart and I wished Aiken had stayed with it more. Nevertheless, this is a great read indeed for any KS2 class. The language is rich and stylistically very unique: a pleasure to read once you're comfortable with it.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,035 reviews332 followers
January 18, 2019
Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles are wildly inventive fantasies, set in an alternate England where the Stuarts remained on the throne, making the Hanoverians the rebels and conspirators, and where wolves still roam even in London. There are eleven of them in all (and won't be any more, since Aiken sadly died in January 2004), and I think of them in sets of two or three.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea introduce many of the main characters in the series, chiefly Simon, an orphan, and Dido Twite, a London guttersnipe, as well as Dido's family, inveterate Hanoverian plotters, especially her Pa, a musical but amoral genius. Nightbirds on Nantucket and The Stolen Lake chronicle Dido's adventures outside England (as does Dangerous Games, though it was written after Dido and Pa), and The Cuckoo Tree and Dido and Pa tell what happens when she returns. Is Underground and Cold Shoulder Road tell of Dido's sister Is, and Midwinter Nightingale and The Witch of Clatteringshaws return to Dido and Simon's stories.

Most people seem to think that the first three books are the best, and I'd agree with that; they have more focused plots than some of the later books. I do have an odd fondness for The Stolen Lake, which has Dido encountering ancient Britons in South America and an interesting Arthurian plot, but by Dido and Pa, I am generally happy to get back to England and Aiken's exploration of Dido's relationship with her family. Although the two Is books are very good, though significantly bleaker than the rest of the series (and Aiken is never afraid to be bleak or frightening), I was disappointed with the last two books, which are weaker of plot than the earlier ones. However, all of them are worth reading, and the first three are generally considered classics of children's fantasy; once you've read those, you'll want to read all eleven of them.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,681 reviews2,668 followers
February 18, 2021
Aiken’s books were not part of my childhood, but I was vaguely aware of this first book in a long series, so when I spied the Vintage Classics paperback on a neighbor’s giveaway pile I rushed to read it. The snowy scene on the cover drew me in and the story, a Victorian-set fantasy with notes of Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre, soon did, too. In this alternative version of the 1830s, Britain already had an extensive railway network and wolves regularly used the Channel Tunnel (not actually opened until 1994) to escape the Continent’s brutal winters for somewhat milder climes.

In the winter of 1832, the orphaned Sylvia travels by train from London to the north of England to live with her cousin Bonnie and her parents, Sir Willoughby and Lady Green. But dodgy things are afoot at Willoughby Chase: Miss Slighcarp, a distant cousin, has been hired as the girls’ governess but, just as soon as Bonnie’s parents leave on a long trip, sets about taking over the house. Bonnie and Sylvia, exiled to a workhouse, rely on a secret network of friends and servants to keep them safe and get them home via an intrepid journey.

Miss Slighcarp is just one of the novel’s Dickensian villains – balanced out by some equally Dickensian urchins and helpful adults, all of them with hearts of gold. There’s something perversely cozy about the plight of an orphan in children’s books: the characters call to the lonely child in all of us, and we rejoice to see how ingenuity and luck come together to defeat wickedness. There are charming passages here in which familiar smells and favorite foods offer comfort. I especially loved their friend Simon’s cave and his little rituals. This would make a perfect stepping stone from Roald Dahl to one of the actual Victorian classics.

(My only quibble with the book overall would be that the wolves seem unnecessary: they only truly appear once, and the rest of the time are just a background menace. From fairy tales onwards, wolves have gotten a bad rap, and we don’t need to perpetuate myths about how dangerous they are to humans.)
Profile Image for Amy.
2,636 reviews417 followers
December 17, 2022
2022 Review
One of those quintessential childhood classics that held up better than I expected. It brought to mind all the times my siblings and I played "escape from the orphanage" with our American Girl dolls. I also have to say it was a nice touch having Joan Aiken's daughter read the audiobook.
Profile Image for Danielle.
68 reviews7 followers
April 16, 2008
I read this book thinking, "I wish this had been around when I was younger..." Well, this is a foolish thought because the books were around when I was a child, and have been around for awhile.
Any books for children that feature a mixture of Georgian/Victorian society, a dash of wolves, loads of adventure, and little girls learning to stand on their own two solid feet has my love. I love that Bonnie is not only a plucky young girl, but also handy with a rifle (good against wolves!).
This story is one of daring, bravery, friendship, sisterhood and that very best ingredient in children's stories -- growing up with grace away from parents and adults.

I do wish I'd read this book as a young girl because I could have learned and gained a great deal from Bonnie even if I was more like shy, sensitive Sylvia at first. This book is recommended to young girls (and boys) and any adult that still enjoys that bit of whimsy and wonder in their reading. I would think this would be a great read-aloud and share book.

ps. See the Strange Horizons review of more of Joan Aiken's book for a more clear picture of this Wolves series. Find the review here.
Profile Image for Leslie.
105 reviews20 followers
April 27, 2016
In this tome, cousins Sylvia (poor meek city mouse) and Bonnie (rich haughty country mouse) reunite and band together against wolves and vile spinster governesses (or as one servant says: HARRIDANS!)while their guardians are on sea voyage.

This is a decent book, but my overwhelming feeling (and this is a rare one!) is that it ought to have been at least 100 pages longer. There are several ends that Aiken leaves untied. The most criminal loose end is the "wolf pack without" with all of their supernatural potential; they fade out midway through without so much as a shape-shift or a green eye aglow. Why is the manor hounded by perilous wolves? Beats me! Similarly, I was so on board when the girls arrive at the corrupt orphanage. There they relinquish their names for numerals (98 and 99 respectively) and exchange the trimmings/finery of Victorian girlhood (petticoats! plaits! pelisses!) for cropped haircuts and coveralls. I only wish they'd lingered there longer; I like to roll about and laze in my depravity, thank you!

One very interesting aspect, as this is a book for children, is the meditation on class/gender. The girls come from distinct class backgrounds, each with their own codes for what it means to be a noble little lady-to-be. The servants are dutiful on the whole, timidly risking their jobs to help the girls as they can. Perhaps the most intriguing character is Simon, a foundling goose-boy who once suffered at the hand of a cruel master. He steals away to live off the land, raising fowl and dining on chestnuts to get by. His quarters are described favorably as "snug" and "clean." When the girls escape the orphanage, it is through Simon's wile; under his wing they grow robust and hearty. When Bonnie's parents return from sea, her mother comments that she suffered "shocks and privations" under the care of the "savages" who rescued her, but that to her surprise her health improved. When Bonnie has the opportunity to trade her suit for a gown, she remarks that she's "grown accustomed to boy's clothes." Each character comes away less moored to convention.

This reminded me a lot of Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, a decidedly darker, more racy contemporary take on Victorian girlhood and what it means to be an orphan.

Let's watch the movie!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,773 reviews208 followers
November 16, 2018
3.5 stars. The story takes place in a 1832 that didn’t exist, when a Channel Tunnel connecting Dover to Calais entices many wolves to move into Britain.
A poor, young girl, Sylvia, is brought to live with her rich relatives, and immediately things go wrong. The governess hired to teach Bonnie and Sylvia decides to take advantage of her employers’ absence, and takes over the place, sacks the servants and generally is a totally horrid woman. The story concerns how the girls manage to deal with the situation while learning a bunch of valuable skills and making friends with others. The characterization lacks nuance (the names tend to give you a sense of the personalities), but the story is light, and a pleasant diversion.
Profile Image for lethe.
565 reviews102 followers
December 23, 2017
After a promising (but strangely familiar) start, this turned into a caricature, with over-the-top evil villains and a saccharine happy ending in which everything was tied up neatly in a bow.

I read in the "Backstory" that Aiken had originally written it as a one-off spoof of the Victorian gothic adventure stories she had read as a child. As far as I'm concerned, it didn't work. The parody will fly over children's heads and the story is way too simplistic and sugary sweet for adults.

In my opinion, the best part of the book is the cover illustration, by Rohan Eason.
Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,553 reviews81 followers
October 10, 2020
Reminiscent of A Little Princess, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase concerns two young girls who are preyed upon by a cruel woman masquerading as a governess. At the beginning, we are treated to scenes of warmth and delight, involving a child-size dollhouse with play clothes and a real thatched roof, but our heroines are forced to leave their circle of light and are sent to a boarding school with only slight anti-communist overtones. (This was published in the 1960s.)

Don't be put off by the Edward Gorey cover--unless that's what's attracting you--because this really isn't about the wolves. It's about two Victorian girls, a salt-of-the-earth goose boy, and adults helpful and unhelpful. Very atmospheric, ideal reading for snowy evenings, and sure to get the stomach rumbling for rich, wholesome fare.
Profile Image for First Second Books.
560 reviews559 followers
January 28, 2013
This book has it all – kidnapping, secret passages, shipwrecks, orphans, violent death, fraud, a stolen inheritance, and best of all – wolves!
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,174 reviews187 followers
October 31, 2018
Cousins Bonnie and Sylvia Green find themselves in danger when Bonnie's parents must leave the country, entrusting the girls to the care of their wicked governess, Miss Slighcarp. But whether they are confronting the eponymous wolves of Willoughby Chase or enduring the drudgery of a charity school, our two young heroines never lose sight of their goal: to expose the machinations of their enemy, and regain their home...

The first in what is sometimes called the Wolves Chronicles, a loosely-connected series of children's books, mainly considered fantasy because they occur in an alternate nineteenth-century England. In this alternative time-line, the Hanoverian line never comes to power in England, and the country has remained largely undeveloped, despite the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

This tongue-in-cheek Victorian melodrama, packed with non-stop action and adventure, set the standard for many children's books to follow, not the least of which is A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. An exciting and entertaining read on its own, it also introduces the character of Simon the goose-boy, who will play such a large part in the books to come...

While the cover illustrations by Edward Gorey are justly beloved, this book would not be the same without Pat Marriott's interior illustrations.

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 Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books53 followers
May 17, 2018
I approached this book with a little apprehension as I have had past experience of re-reading old childhood favourites and feeling letdown, but there was no problem with this novel, set in an alternative 1832 where the monarch is James III (implying that the House of Hanover never came to the throne) and wolves have entered England during a bad winter by crossing the Channel Tunnel (not opened in our reality until 1994).

Unlike the children's books of today - this was first published in the early 1960s - the whole thing proceeds at a riproaring pace with very little build-up. We plunge straight into the situation: the wealthy parents of Bonnie are about to embark on a trip abroad for the mother's health, and a governess, Miss Slighcarp, who is also a distant relation, has been hired to run the estate and teach Bonnie and her cousin, Sylvia. Meanwhile, Sylvia, raised by the impoverished sister of Bonnie's father, who is too proud to admit her situation, is put aboard a train to travel to the country estate. A seemingly jovial man travels in the same compartment and makes himself useful when the train is attacked by wolves, but soon after arrival, both he and the governess show their true colours and the adventure is underway, incorporating boys who live in the woods, geese, a Dickensian orphange and a shipwreck, among other elements.

The story is told in bold strokes with melodrama, larger than life villains, faithful retainers who are indispensible to the children's safety, and parents or guardians who are conveniently got out of the way by various mechanisms. The only slight detraction is that the wolves of the title fade away by the time the weather warms, and the book does not feature Dido Twite, who I recall as being the streetwise heroine of Aiken's alternative 19th century tales, but who is not introduced until Black Hearts in Battersea. But otherwise an engaging and speedy read which earns 4 stars from me.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
1,016 reviews68 followers
November 5, 2021
I’m so glad my friend Wendy recommended this book to me. I loved it. I read someone else’s GR review about how this book is playing with the setting, themes, and feel of books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and I totally agree. I like the setting in an alternate England because it gives the book a kind of timelessness. It could be Victorian, though the journey to London reminded me of a more medieval setting.

This book is full of great characters, wicked villains, adventure, outwitting aforementioned villains, friendship, and some lovable leading ladies, one spunky and fierce and the other quiet and gentle. I will definitely be re-reading this in the future.

The version I had from the library had an lovely introduction from Joan Aitken’s daughter that gave some context to who her mother was and how this book came to be.
Profile Image for Charles Dee Mitchell.
853 reviews59 followers
August 19, 2016
I am not one to read juvenile novels and have never understood the current enthusiasm for them among adult readers. But I read a book of Aiken's short stories and was curious about this classic series.

Her writing is impeccable, but the strangeness of the opening section gives way to a story best enjoyed by ten-year-old girls.
Profile Image for Manuel Alfonseca.
Author 73 books161 followers
January 17, 2022
ENGLISH: This is the first book in Joan Aiken's series on alternate history. King James II is supposed never to have been deposed, although the house of Hannover/Windsor is trying to win the kingdom. James III is the king of the United Kingdom during the first decades of the 19th century.

In this book, however, the alternative history almost never appears, except because there is an invasion of wolves in England through the newly built channel tunnel (!!).

Apart from the wolves, who play a much smaller role than implicated in the title, this novel offers a tremendously evil trio of characters: two women and a man, where the women are much worse than the man. This would make this novel unacceptable, according to the current stupid standard of political correctness, which does not allow a woman or a homosexual to be evil in a novel. Fortunately Aiken wrote this book before that standard became a stifling rule, therefore we can enjoy this book until someone decides to forbid it.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable adventure novel about a plot to take advantage of a pending tragedy to dispossess a young girl of her belongings, her rights, and her peace.

ESPAÑOL: Este es el primer libro de la serie de Joan Aiken sobre historia alternativa. Se supone que el rey James II no fue depuesto, aunque la casa de Hannover/Windsor esté incordiando para ocupar su puesto. James III es rey del Reino Unido durante las primeras décadas del siglo XIX.

En este libro, sin embargo, la historia alternativa casi no aparece, excepto porque hay una invasión de lobos en Inglaterra a través del recién construido túnel del canal de la Mancha (!!).

Aparte de los lobos, que desempeñan un papel mucho menor que l0 que da a entender el título, esta novela ofrece un trío de personajes tremendamente malvados: dos mujeres y un hombre. Las mujeres son mucho peores que el hombre. Esto haría esta novela inaceptable para el estúpido estándar actual de la corrección política, que no permite que una mujer o un homosexual sean los malos de una novela. Afortunadamente, Aiken escribió este libro antes de que ese estándar se convirtiera en una regla asfixiante, por lo que podemos disfrutar de este libro hasta que a alguien se le ocurra censurarlo.

En definitiva, se trata de una novela de aventuras muy amena sobre un complot para aprovechar una tragedia inminente para despojar a una chica de sus pertenencias, sus derechos y su paz.
Profile Image for Jenna Marie ~Scheming Scribbler~.
113 reviews14 followers
January 2, 2022
This book was such a fun, easy read! When shy Sylvia goes to live with her cousin, the daughter of the rich owners of Willoughby Chase, Bonnie, the girls are set for adventure. Bonnie's parents soon leave for a sea trip, leaving the girls under the guidance of a distant relative, cruel Miss Slighcarp. Nearly instantly, the girls realize something is wrong. First, Miss Slighcarp locks Bonnie in a cabinet for being rude, and then she fires all but a untrustworthy few of the household servants! Things only get worse from there. Miss Slighcarp orders all of Bonnie's toys to be packed up and sold, along with nearly all of the family's possessions. Then, she decides even the girls must leave.

Bonnie and Sylvia are brought to a boarding school owned by one of Miss Slighcarp's friends, and soon realize the school is more of a prison. The girls spend their days working hard on nearly no food, forced to obey for fear of their fellow students turning them in. They must escape and save Willoughby Chase, before it is too late!

This book is a wonderful piece of middle grade fiction! Intriguing, adventurous, with witty characters, it was a fantastic quick read! I highly recommend for children around the ages 8-12, and it is even entertaining for ages above that!
Profile Image for Susan in NC.
913 reviews
March 14, 2019
What a grand adventure! I never read this as a kid, but it sounded fun, so I jumped at the chance to read it (and listen to the audiobook, beautifully narrated by the author’s daughter, Lizza Aiken) with the Retro Reads group.

A lovely, grand, old-fashioned adventure with brave and resilient orphans, evil governesses, a big country house with secret passages, wolves hunting through the snowy night - what fun! My son just graduated from college, but when he was young he read several Lemony Snicket books - this is kind of the grandmother of those types of stories, good vs. evil, good finally winning out in the end, after months of trials and tribulations.

Cousins Bonnie and Sylvia Green have to outwit a trio of evil adults - an evil governess and her male sidekick, and a horrible headmistress at a prison-like school for orphans - but luckily they have the help of loyal servants and friends to save themselves and Willoughby Chase. What fun!
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