Having had enough of life on board the ship that saved her from a watery grave, Dido Twite wants nothing more than to sail home to England. Instead, Captain Casket's ship lands in Nantucket, where Dido and the captain's daughter, Dutiful Penitence, are left in the care of Dutiful's sinister Aunt Tribulation. In Tribulation's farmhouse, life is unbearable. When mysterious men lurk about in the evening fog, the resourceful Dido rallies against their shenanigans with help from Dutiful, a cabinboy named Nate, and a pink whale.
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.
Man, I love these books. The Wolves of Willoughby chase is really good, and deservedly a classic, but where's the love for Dido Twite? Most people I know don't realize that this was a series (the connection to 'Wolves' is a loose one). I love the little spitfire. Anyway, these were so much fun that I skipped a bunch of classes to read them. Good times. Not that I'm condoning truancy, I'm merely condoning reading these books (stay in school!). Not all of the Dido books are as good as this one, however. I've found the best rule of thumb to use is publication date. If it is from the '70s or '80s, avoid it. Fortunately the last book, The Witch of Clatteringshaws, was good again (Aiken's last. R.I.P). Nightbirds and Blackhearts in Battersea are my top two favorites. You can't go wrong with attemmpted assassinations and long-range canons.
We Americans struck gold in the cover art department. Edward Gorey's covers (he also did new versions before he died in 2000. R.I.P) are the best. I feel sorry for England (and they had to suffer those ugly Harry Potter covers, as well!). For some reason Aiken maintained that she liked the UK covers. As if, man, as if.
Dido gets a bag put over her head in pretty much every book. You'd think she would be ready for it at some point...
Did street urchins of the day (yeah, I know this is alternate-history-reality) really talk that way? "Flash cove" and "I twig your lay"? (I'm impressionable 'cause when I read all these books, my speech became a lot more colorful. I should have stayed in school.)
This series continues to be an absolute joy to read. The language is so playful. The stories are completely absurd and fantastical but that’s the magic of them. I love that we get some of America in this, including play on the Pilgrim/Puritan names like Aunt Tribulation, Jabez Casket, and Dutiful Penitence (called Pen or Penny). I love Pen’s maturing over the course of the story. She’s never going to be the fearless Dido Twite, but she has serious courage and her own skills and strengths. Dido is such a great character!! Her language is so colorful and hilarious. She’s like a strong mug o’ tea—she puts heart into a person!
Oh boy! This may be my favorite of all the Joan Aiken books. Dido Twite is simply one of the greatest characters I've ever read. I wonder if anyone writing today could handle the challenge of a story with an adult Dido as protagonist?
"At the beginning, Dido is an eccentric, somewhat snappy child, with little to endear her. It is not long, however, before Simon and the reader begin to see something attractive in the ‘‘brat’’ (p. 23). Initially it is her ‘‘forlorn, neglected air’’ but soon her quirky slang language becomes her hallmark. At first it is the odd word or phrase: ‘‘jellyboy’’ or ‘‘wotcher my cully.’’ But once she gets into her stride, Dido’s language increases in its use of original early nineteenth century slang, her variations upon it, and a totally made-up but authentic-sounding idiolect. Into the first category come words such as ‘‘havey-cavey,’’ ‘‘mint-sauce,’’ and ‘‘sapskull.’’ The second includes ‘‘betwaddled,’’ and ‘‘tipple-topped.’’ In the last come words for which I can find no dictionary meaning: ‘‘croopus!’’, ‘‘lobbed his groats’’ and ‘‘in the nitch.’’ Although Dido is not the sole user of dialect or slang, the originality of her speech is intrinsic to her character and helps endear her to the reader. Her language is evocative and does not necessitate a constant recourse to the dictionary: a meaning can always be derived from the context. What it evokes is the language of the time and it epitomises Dido Twite."
--Lathey, G. A havey-cavey business: language in historical fiction with particular reference to the novels of Joan Aiken and Leon Garfield in Historical Fiction for Children: Capturing the Past, F.M. Collins, and J. Graham, eds., London: David Fulton Publishers, 2001.
Dido Twite returns for her first full-length adventure in this third installment of Aiken's Wolves Chronicles. Rescued from the North Sea by the whaler Sarah Casket, Dido eventually finds herself on Nantucket, where she must cope with her whiny young companion, Dutiful Penitence, and a harsh task master named Aunt Tribulation. Uncowed and unimpressed, Dido is more than a match for her adversary. But as yet another nefarious plot to assassinate Good King Jamie begins to unfold around her, it will take all of her considerable resources to foil this latest Hanoverian outrage.
The fun continues as one of the most level-headed and common-sensical heroines in children's literature confronts some of the zaniest and most hilariously convoluted plot twists known to melodrama. With her penchant for whimsically appropriate names, the surprise appearance of a character from the beloved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a suitably improbable plot, and a humorous send-up of Melville's Moby-Dick in the form of Captain Casket's obsessive quest to find the "great pink whale," Nightbirds on Nantucket is sure to please.
Like the earlier Black Hearts in Battersea, this title was originally illustrated by Robin Jacques, and it is a shame that his drawings were not retained in 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:
--Is Underground (or Is) and Cold Shoulder Road both feature Is Twite, cousin to the main heroine, Dido. They occur alongside the other books, and their position in the series is not chronologically relevant.
--Although not technically part of the series, Aiken's Midnight Is a Place does occur in the same alternative timeline, and is set in Blastburn, the same imaginary city that features in the other books.
ENGLISH: This is the third book in Joan Aiken's series on alternate history, and the second time I've read it. 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.
The protagonist of this novel is Dido Twite, who was lost in a shipwreck in the English Channel near the end of the previous book in the series. After sleeping for ten months, she awakes in a whaler ship at the North Pacific. The ship is full of strange situations: a little girl is barricaded inside a cabin and refuses to get out; there is a mysterious lady who nobody knows is there; the first mate's behavior is peculiar and suspicious; and the captain is obsessed with finding a pink sperm whale, similar to Moby Dick.
In this case, the political conspirators have an extremely involved plan to overthrow the English monarchy of the Stuart, a plot that could have come from the mind of J.T. Matson, who appears in three of Jules Verne's most inventive novels. Fortunately the pink whale is there, to make the conspiracy fail. One of the conspirators happens to be a well-known character of the first book in the series.
As this series progresses, the adventures become more and more shocking, probably peaking in the next book in the series in internal chronological order ("The Stolen Lake"), which I have not read, nor do I intend to read. In that book, the alternative history exceeds all limits of credulity and becomes decidedly outrageous. However, I have already read and intend to reread the eighth book in the series ("Is underground") which I liked the first time I read it. Although it also puts to the test the reader's credulity, it's rather milder.
ESPAÑOL: Este es el tercer libro de la serie de Joan Aiken sobre historia alternativa, y la segunda vez que lo he leído. Se supone que el rey James II no fue depuesto, aunque la casa de Hannover/Windsor esté incordiando para ocupar el trono. James III es el rey del Reino Unido durante las primeras décadas del siglo XIX.
La protagonista de esta novela es Dido Twite, que se perdió en un naufragio en el Canal de la Mancha hacia el final del libro anterior de la serie. Después de dormir durante diez meses, se despierta en un barco ballenero en el Pacífico Norte. El barco está lleno de situaciones extrañas: una niña atrincherada dentro de un camarote, que se niega a salir; una dama misteriosa que nadie sabe que está allí; el peculiar y sospechoso comportamiento del primer oficial; y el capitán está obsesionado con encontrar un cachalote rosa, parecido a Moby Dick.
En este caso, los conspiradores políticos han urdido un plan extremadamente complicado para derrocar a la monarquía inglesa de los Estuardo, un plan que podría haber salido de la mente de J.T. Matson, que aparece en tres de las novelas más imaginativas de Julio Verne. Afortunadamente, el cachalote rosa ayuda para que la conspiración fracase. Uno de los conspiradores resulta ser un personaje del primer libro de la serie.
A medida que avanza esta serie, las aventuras son cada vez más absurdas, y al parecer llegan al máximo en el siguiente libro de la serie en el orden cronológico interno ("The stolen lake"), que no he leído ni pienso leer. En él, la historia alternativa atraviesa todos los límites de la credulidad y se hace decididamente escandaloso. Sin embargo, ya he leído y pienso volver a leer el octavo libro de la serie ("Is underground") que me gustó la primera vez que lo leí, y aunque también pone a prueba la credulidad del lector, es bastante más moderado.
What a jolly good read this is, well suited for YA audience I should think. Perhaps every British home has a stack of books by this author, Joan Aiken, but this was my first reading of her. It was a whale of a tale, pun intended. An old sea captain sails his whaler always on the lookout for the big pink whale he had saved off Nantucket when a younger man and eventually this same whale saves the day for Nantucket from a Hanoverian scheme to kill the English king. Aiken created lively and believable characters and generously painted the plot with good hearted humour. I am very glad I tried this author and have another from this series in my stack. Published: 1966
Library Loan (but also available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers)
Reading this to my nieces. I read this so many times as a child but it is obvious to me now that Aiken had read a lot of Georgette Heyer - Dido uses a lot of slang that I have encountered nowhere else. I think that I as a child figured out all these expressions by context and it is interesting to see that the younger niece does that automatically and the 7th grader wants instant explanations. It will be nice when we reach the Twite books I never read.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket comprise an amazing trilogy, and one I reread many times in elementary school. I guess the real reason that I didn't embrace her later books in the series with the same enthusiasm is that most of them came out after I was in high school and had moved on to other authors. I have now collected most, and hope that my nieces, just introduced to the first three, will continue enthusiastically although they do not seem to love historical fiction as I did. Note to self - must go to Nantucket some time!
I remember fondly the NY Betsy-Tacy group's visit to Books of Wonder to meet the now deceased Joan Aiken, and read sadly recently that her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge, passed away.
Okay, this is actually the third book in the series. The series goes as follows:
1. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase 2. Black Hearts in Battersea 3. Nightbirds on Nantucket 4. The Stolen Lake 5. The Cuckoo Tree 6. Dido and Pa 7. Is 8. Cold Shoulder Road
There are more, but these are the best.
You can read them in order, or not (I didn't, and I actually recommend reading Nightbirds on Nantucket first, reading the other two as prequels, and then continuing on in order), but you absolutely must read them, because they are adventurous and funny and scary and sad and feature the strongest, most capable, most realistic, and least obnoxious heroine that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting—the incomparable Dido Twite!
This is one of our favorite Aiken books, and it is no longer available in the library! We read the entire Wolves of Willoughby Chase series aloud about every four years, and these books never disappoint. Aiken writes atmospheric prose--almost a Dickens for young people. Her stories are richly textured with plot twists and unexpected connections between characters. Nightbirds on Nantucket is especially fun for those who enjoy a taste of whaling culture during the late nineteenth century.
By the way, our suggested order of reading the series is: Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Blackhearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket,The Whispering Mountain (This backtracks to give a "prequel" of Owen's story), The Stolen Lake, Dangerous Games, The Cuckoo Tree, Dido and Pa, Is Underground, Cold Shoulder Road, Midwinter Nightingale, and The Witch of Clatteringshaws.
Dido Twite! The Pink Whale! And many, many jokes about how Nantucket islanders feel about New Yorkers. Maybe this was my favorite Wolves book so far? Notwithstanding the barely tolerable funny-foreigner accent, which is par for the course for these books but somehow this instance seemed more mean-spirited than usual. Maybe we still don’t feel great about Germans in ‘66. I have however greatly warmed to the unpredictable violence in these books. Dido Twite is my 100% fave and I’m happy she’s going back to England, where the ravenous wolves are.
Writing a successful novel is sometimes a little like inventing a recipe for a special dish. Take a dash of Jules Verne, add essence of Charles Dickens, several pinches of Herman Melville and season with adventure. Would that it was as simple as that. What you need is the main ingredient, the protein in the dish, and in Night Birds in Nantucket that is provided by the indomitable figure of Dido Twite.
When we last saw Dido she'd been lost at sea somewhere off the northeast coast of England, presumed dead. That was December, 1833. It is now ten months later, and the poor lass has lain in a coma after having been picked up by the whaler Sarah Casket. Like an amalgamation of Snow White and Moby Dick's Ishmael she is found in a wooden straw-filled coffin-like box on the other side of the world, north of East Cape on the Russian side of the Bering Straits (the East Cape -- Cape Dezhnev since 1898 -- was then popular with whalers). She has been looked after by young Nate Pardon all the while, and when she finally awakens it is to find it could be months before she is in a position to head back to England. And while she waits she finds that those on board the Sarah Casket are a very strange bunch indeed.
First there is Jabez Casket, the Quaker captain from Nantucket, who addresses everyone as "thee" and has a singular mission on his mind. Then there is his daughter, Dutiful Penance, who has chosen to remain below unseen from grief at the loss of her mother. What about the rascally Ebenezer Slighcarp, the first mate -- what's his game? And who is the mysterious woman Dido finds below decks who threatens Dido if her presence is revealed? As the whaler makes its way back to the North Atlantic Dido discovers the Captain's obsession is with a pink whale, but it is not until they reach Nantucket seven months later (in April or May 1835) that Dido goes ashore to find that the story is not over yet.
It's hard to review the third of the Wolves Chronicles without revealing too much of the story, but by referring to the previously mentioned three authors I hope to indicate how intricately Joan Aiken plots what many might regard as 'only' a children's book. Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865), set at the end of the American Civil War, features a manned projectile being sent to the earth's satellite. One of the proposals involves building a giant cannon to the plans of J T Marston, and the contemporary book illustration I'm sure furnished the inspiration for one of the main narrative devices. Meanwhile, Dickens (or indeed any of his contemporaries) wrote several plots about orphans and suchlike being badly bullied and manipulated by adults who should have known better; this is certainly the case with Dutiful Penance and Dido, both of whom who have lost at least one parent.
Lastly, Melville's most famous novel Moby Dick is clearly a part model for Night Birds in Nantucket: a pink whale called Rosie Lee and the madly driven Captain Casket parallel the white whale Moby Dick and Captain Ahab, and a ship is indeed sunk by the action of the whale -- though not in the way one would guess, let alone expect.
Amazingly there is even an assassination attempt on the British monarch in this novel, much like the young Queen Victoria who nearly lost her life by a bullet at the end of May 1842. The more one reads, the more one's impressed by Aiken's rich and inventive imagination. But without the central figure of the resourceful, irreverent, brave and intensely likeable Dido, who affects virtually everyone she comes in contact with, it would matter not a jot how cleverly the story is plotted. By the end of Night Birds the reader will be agog to know what happens to the young heroine next.
This novel is the third in The Wolves Chronicles books by Joan Aiken that I've been steadily reading with my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads for our Kid-Lit challenge over the past few years. We absolutely adored the first novel in the series, The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase and quite enjoyed the follow-up, Black Hearts In Battersea so were both intrigued to see how the series was going to continue, particularly with the emergence of beloved character Dido Twite. Sadly, I'm not sure if the books in this series are getting weaker or if it's just when I read them as an adult, I seem to have lost some of that old childish magic/sparkle that would ordinarily keep me gripped within an adventure story just like this. There are of course some wonderful things that would appeal to a younger audience in this novel and at some points, it really feels like a classic piece of literature, giving me all the old Blyton "feels" that I used to experience every time I cracked open a Secret Seven, Famous Five or Faraway Tree book but unfortunately, I didn't feel the plot was as strong compared to Aiken's previous novels in the series.
In this third book in the series, we see the triumphant return of fan favourite, Dido Twite who was first introduced to us in Black Hearts In Battersea and for a short time, I felt incredibly irritated by until the story developed further and she became more endearing than annoying! In Nightbirds On Nantucket, after the dramatic (almost cliffhanger events) of the second novel, Dido finds herself on a strange ship bound for an isolated island. She is tasked with taking the Captain's anxious daughter, Dutiful Penitence under her wing, bringing her out of her shell and encouraging her that living part-time on the island of Nantucket with her Aunt Tribulation wouldn't be a bad thing. However, when the two girls reach Nantucket, they realise that things aren't all they seem to be. A plot to overthrow the King Of England, a mysterious pink whale and some very shady characters are just some of the things Dido and Pen must deal with if they are to convince the local community of the dangerous plans afoot.
This series has everything going for it, including fantastic characters, classic villains and real, "feel good" endings. I enjoyed the inclusion of the pink whale and the development of Pen as a character in particular. She went from a terrified little girl who was afraid of her own shadow to a determined and loyal young friend that found some admirable inner strength when people she loved were in trouble. I think Nate, the cabin boy that Dido and Pen meet had the potential to be a good character and an interesting side-kick for the girls but wasn't explored as much as he could have been. Plus, his eternal singing kind of got on my nerves a little bit! Nevertheless, I think Aiken choosing to focus on two female leads was a work of genius, especially considering how much bravery and fight they displayed when times got tough.
Joan Aiken has legions of fans across the world for this series and I can definitely see why - it's packed full of adventure and mystery with the addition of the lovable characters I mentioned earlier. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't connect with this book as much as I have done with the previous stories in the series, there was just something about the plot that I couldn't quite get on board with. However, I can one hundred percent understand why it continues to have such appeal and holds a special place in people's hearts.
Thoroughly charming, rollicking adventure yarn with an endlessly resourceful young female protagonist with a penchant for comedic slang. Throw in a pink whale in love with a whaling captain (you'll have to read the story) and a dastardly, conniving bunch of English political ne'er do wells planning an intercontinental regicide and you'll find yourself imbibing the Joan Aiken brand of alchemy. Delicious!
The first of the Wolves Chronicles that I ever read, and still my favourite. I have no idea how many times I've read this but at least ten or fifteen since I first ran across it in the elementary school library when I was about 8. I had no idea it was part of a series, as I remember only this and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase were in our library in those days. I read it again and again in school, and even borrowed it from a friend and never gave it back--sorry, Sarah. I still have it and it's in pristine condition, but I have no idea where you are these days, or even if you are. And I have read it repeatedly since I "grew up" (or at least stopped growing taller). With summer temperatures above 41ºC, this tired woman of a certain age has turned to Aiken's alternate England for entertainment.
What I love about these books is that they can be read as stand-alones (at least for the most part, I haven't read the whole series). Aiken gives you just enough backstory to understand and not so much that you fear you might be "missing something"--you aren't. If you can suspend disbelief on some minor details (like putting an 11 yr old child into a clock as punishment--yeah, right, like she'd fit), they're just crazy adventures, no more "unrealistic" than say Harry Potter. In fact I'd say they are much more realistic than that guff. The details didn't bother the child-me a bit.
The wicked Hanoverians are back, but this time on the other side of the pond. Dido is with us again, but no longer as the snotty little brat; eleven months in a coma seems to have done her a world of good. She is now self-reliant enough to take Dutiful Penitence Casket under her wing and teach her to face down Aunt Tribulation, who owes more than a little to Red Riding Hood's wolf.
I never read Moby-Dick; or, The Whale till I was in my mid-thirties, so it took that long to realise that this is not exactly a parody but perhaps what filmmakers would call an "homage" to that in spots, with references to The Adventures of Doctor Doolittle n passing as well. Aiken doesn't seem to know much about how whales actually swim, and she patently doesn't care. Neither will the reader.
After 42 years it's still a good read, and I'm sure I'll read it again some day.
A fun read, but not up to the standards of the rest of the giant heap of "should've read this ages ago" books I've been going through. The main threat is just silly (a giant gun that will shoot across the Atlantic to kill King James in London, the recoil from which will push Nantucket into New York Harbor). Silly in a good way, of course--I don't mean to be a wet blanket here--but, given the context in which I read it, not nearly as realistic as I'd expect. I mean, THE BOY JONES was real within itself in a way this wasn't, if that makes sense...
Dido Twite awakens on a Nantucket whaler, having slept for ten months after being rescued from a shipwreck in the arctic. Now, before she can make her way back to her beloved England, she must help Captain Casket's daughter Dutiful Penitence face her fear of everything other than Bible study and needlepoint. No easy task in the face of Pen's new guardian, the sinister Aunt Tribulation! But is Aunt Trib all she appears to be? This is a mystery, an adventure story, and a very, very funny book.
This is an old book with a fun little story that was engaging and quick to read. Essentially about a whaling family who spends time searching for a pink whale, rescues a girl from the ocean, and destroys and evil plot to another nation. I won't give more details but I just found it fun and delightful to read. That said, I wouldn't bother buying it out but if you get a chance to borrow it then go for it.
I recently acquired a copy of The Stolen Lake, which is the fourth book in Joan Aiken's "Wolves Chronicles", and it prompted me to check out this book, which is the third in the series, from the library. Nightbirds on Nantucket is totally bonkers, and totally excellent. It opens on a ship at sea in the Arctic; a girl is asleep on deck and we learn she's "been asleep for more than ten months". She wakes, and turns out to be Dido Twite from Blackhearts in Battersea: this ship, a whaling vessel out of Nantucket, picked her up from the water where she'd been clinging to the mast of a wrecked ship and she's been along for the ride with them ever since. The ship Dido's on belongs to Captain Casket, a Quaker whaler who is "funny in one way, awful peculiar": he says he's seen a pink whale, and, moreover, he "forever had this notion that one day he would see one—on account of summat as happened when he was a boy."
Dido just wants to go home to London, but that's not in the cards, at least not immediately: the boat isn't heading to port anytime soon, and when it does go ashore it'll be in America, not England. She has a project, at least: she learns that the captain's wife died on board, and his young daughter, Dutiful Penitence, has shut herself up in her cabin: the captain wonders whether Dido might be able to persuade her to come out. Meanwhile, the first mate seems to be up to something shady, and the ship is still in pursuit of that elusive pink whale.
Dido's approach to getting Dutiful Penitence (or Pen, as she comes to be known) to emerge from her self-imposed isolation is excellent, and I love the way Dido also tries to teach Pen to be more independent and resourceful and less of a scaredy-cat. (To wit: "By innumerable tales about her own life Dido was managing to suggest that all dogs do not bite, that occupations such as skating and swimming can be enjoyable, that people tend to be friendlier when you talk to them boldly and cheerfully than when you cower away as if you expect them to murder you.") But plotwise, there's a whole lot more going on: the world of this book is a world in which the House of Hanover has not taken the British monarchy, though Hanoverians are constantly scheming to overthrow the Stuart king James III. And some of those Hanoverians might have a plan that involves the island of Nantucket. When Dido and Pen are sent ashore to live with Pen's Aunt Tribulation (whom Pen remembers being terrified of as a a child) they find themselves with more to worry about than the endless list of farm chores and house chores they're told to do.
Dido is a whole lot of fun and it's great to watch Pen learn to do things on her own; the supporting characters are also excellent: among other's there's a Nantucket boy named Nate (who likes to sing songs of his own devising: "I allus used to make up verses at home, about sheep and funerals, you know, and pickled tamarinds and so forth," he explains), a bird that spouts pro-Stuart sayings, and a professor working on a project he thinks will produce a "magnifibang."
So far, each book in this series has been only tangentially connected to the previous one. You could start with any adventure. And I have to say: this might be the best place to start. Rereading it, I'm reminded how Dido Twite is, without a doubt, the star of the series. From this book onward, she's consistently the protagonist--and the version of her we see through Simon's eyes in Black Hearts in Battersea feels far more juvenile than this quick-witted, rebellious young'un.
After reading about this pink whale, Old Rosie, maybe I'll never need to attempt Moby-Dick or, The Whale. I feel well-versed in the workings of whalers, and the chase, and I wonder if Aiken read that classic as research. Once again, the Hanoverians feature in this plot, and as an American, I feel woefully under-educated in that historic conflict. Nonetheless, it's easy to make them the "bad guys" and go from there. Aiken writes a variety of characters from a variety of backgrounds with a wide breadth of accents and dialects, with Dido's British slang standing out as the least comprehensible. Or, perhaps, most fun to guess at? I'm glad so many reviewers agree with my stance that it's not necessary to know precisely what she's saying, half the time. It's worth remarking upon Aiken's amazing use of context, because I always knew what Dido meant, even if I couldn't re-phrase it into modern English.
Technically, I suppose, a work of historical fiction, this book meshes the farming island feel of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables with the seafaring adventurousness of Treasure Island and--oh, I dunno, Little Red Riding Hood? In Dido's adventures, the villains make sense (more or less) and Dido herself plays an active role in sneakily trying to figure out what's going on. She stands up to all sorts of adults, cleverly talking Dutiful Penitence out of her cabin and figuring her way out of multiple scrapes. She switches out her skirts and buttons for comfortable trousers, running around with Pen (who never gets up the courage to switch to trousers) after sheep and cows. The two girls experience a tale unlike any other, one that's enormous fun to read. Aiken's writing is some of the most beautiful I've ever read--lyrical, evocative, amusing, and just gorgeous--making this a book I'd happily recommend to anyone. Dido Twite can make everyone's day a little bit better.
Review: After reading Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken I have experience a profound feeling to regain the childhood I left behind me some years ago, it is an insane and enriching feeling that should enlighten any adult, child, male or female. The story begins when ten-year old Dido Twite, an English girl, awakens from a ten-month coma aboard an American whaling ship. When Dido recovers, Captain Casket asks her to befriend his skittish daughter, Dutiful Penitence, who refuses to leave her cabin because she is afraid of the sea. Dido teaches the serious Quaker girl to have fun and play games. Eventually, Dutiful, or Pen, as Dido calls her, musters her courage and leaves the cabin.
Captain Casket is on a mission to find a pink whale he rescued from a beach in his boyhood. He is so obsessed with finding “Rosie” the whale that he leaves Pen and Dido at his Nantucket home with Aunt Tribulation. Aunt Trib is like the stepmother in Cinderella – she forces the girls to do chores all day and to wait on her like servants. Dido teaches Pen to stand up against Trib, and the girl develops some backbone.
Nightbirds is an “off-shoot” of Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, but the story won’t confuse readers who are unfamiliar with the earlier books. Readers will like Dido because she is brave and heroic and a tad full of herself. It’s great fun to see her give Aunt Tribulation what-for. Aunt Tribulation (who isn’t who you think she is) is deliciously bad. Nate the cabin boy is Dido’s friend and ally. He owns a talking bird named Mr. Jenkins who offers plenty of laughs with his silly, aristocratic squawking. When Dido asks the bird where he’s been, he merely answers, “Your Grace’s wig needs a little more powder!”
From what I know about Aiken’s Wolves series, the books revolve around an alternate history, where King James II was never deposed. In her world, King James III rules, but he’s constantly harassed by The Hanoverian. This conspiring is critical to Nightbirds on Nantucket. Dido, Nate, and Pen thwart an assassination attempt on King James III in the story’s climax.
While the Wolves of Willoughby Chase books are set in England with English characters, Nightbirds has a distinctly American flavour. The plot thickens when the children discover a huge gun on Nantucket brought overseas by the evil Hanoverian. It is a 19th century intercontinental missile aimed at King James palace. The kick from this “cannon” would be so massive as to cause a tidal wave and knock Nantucket into New York harbour. It’s bad for England and bad for America. But overall children do not care about the political or social implication and accusations in this novel.
This was the third of The Wolves Chronicles and I read it directly on from the #2 in the series.
'Nightbirds' begins on board a whaling ship, traveling in the arctic in search of whales to kill. Historically, this was a very interesting time to live in and Nantucket was a major center of whaling. Emotionally, I find reading anything about whaling pretty disturbing, but in this book it does ok. The practice is described just enough for the story, and not too much to be terribly upsetting. Lets remember that when this story was originally published in 1966 whaling was a historical issue rather than a current one in Britain.
But I digress.
This story starts on board, where a girl lies asleep. The ship picked her out of the ocean near England, comatose or 'sleeping' as they would have it. They have carried her on board all the way to the arctic keeping her alive. The girl is of course, Dido Twite a secondary character in Black Hearts in Battersea who has returned as the main hero of this novel. Now, I have never loved Dido; I know she is an almost iconic character and is beloved by many as a childhood hero but I am not wild about her. She is better in 'Nightbirds' than in 'Black Hearts' but that is about the best I can say for her.
Her adventure however is pretty cool. On the ship, Quaker Captain Casket has insisted on careing for Dido all these months in the hope that Dido can help him with his daughter, Dutiful Penitence Casket. After his wife died his daughter, terrified of the sea has been locking herself away. Dido befriends the girl (whom she calls Pen, for pretty obvious reasons) and ends up trapped with her back at Nantucket when Captain Casket sails away on an obsessive quest.
Here the baddies from #1 mysteriously reappear once again with their nefarious plots to depose the English King James III and put the Hanoverian king on the throne. Dido of course overcomes all plots and saves the day.
This is a complex and well planned story, when it came out it would have been unique and adventurous, taking English children to places they had never read about before. It still is really unique in it's complexity of plot, use of a wide range of characters and exciting because there is never a dull moment. Again, as with all these books, the adults are funny and strange rather than strong characters, the children are the center of the story and their experiences are fun, with a lot of light hearted magic realism thrown in.
At the start of this follow-up to Black Hearts in Battersea, itself a sequel of sorts to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Dido Twite has been comatose for four months, fed by one of the crew on the whaling ship Sarah Casket, which rescued her from drowning.
On her awakening she is asked by Captain Casket to befriend his now motherless daughter Dutiful Penitence (Pen) who is too scared to come on deck and hides away in her cabin. Dido soon finds another member of the crew, Mr Slighcarp (a surname readers of the series know well,) acting suspiciously and keeping secret the presence on ship of a mystery woman.
After following a pink whale (the captain’s obsession) from the Arctic down past the Galapagos and round into the Atlantic, Dido and Pen, now firm friends, are dropped off at the ship’s home port in Nantucket, where it has been arranged for the captain’s sister Tribulation to look after Pen for a while. Readers familiar with the series know where this domestic situation is going by now but perhaps its target younger audience might not. Excitement ensues though, when our two young friends come across a Hanoverian plot to kill King James III.
This is wholesome fare, as befits its intended YA audience but also eminently readable for older booklovers. Dido and Pen are agreeably portrayed - though some of the adults’ characterisations are a little over the top.
The book is decorated at intervals with illustrations (one of which is unfortunately placed one page too early.)
It centres around 10 year old Dido, she wakes up from a ten month coma aboard a whaling ship. When Dido feels better, she is asked by Captain Casket to make friends with his daughter who refuses to leave her cabin. Dido teaches the daughter, Pen, to let go and have fun. Eventually, Pen becomes confident to leave the cabin and have some adventures with Dido. Captain Casket is on a mission to find a pink whale. He leaves Dido and Pen with Aunt Tribulation whilst he searches for the pink whale. Aunt Tribulation is pretty awful forcing the girls to do chores and wait on her. Dido teaches Pen to stand up for herself against Aunt Tribulation!
This series has some fabulous characters and there’s a lot of characters to explore. I think young children will enjoy the main character, Dido. She’s brave and forward. She’s a little bit cocky, but in a loveable way.
I wasn’t a massive fan of this book although I can definitely appreciate that most children will enjoy the adventure. I just wasn’t sold on the moments on the ship. It didn’t capture my attention as much as the previous books have. I felt like it was very over the top and whilst I recognise that this series is a little over the top, I didn’t connect with the story as much as I have in the other two books. That being said, Nightbirds on Nantucket is an adventurous, quick read. I don’t think you necessarily need to have read the previous two books to read this one. You can step into the story and enjoy.
Dido Twite, who was mistakenly believed to have died back in England, is alive and under the feet of the crew on a Nantucket whaling ship. She goes back to Nantucket to live with one of her new friends' daughter, Dutiful Penitence, and a grim older woman who claims to be Pen's Aunt Tribulation, but is actually Miss Slighcarp, the villain from volume one of the Wolves Chronicles (this is volume three). Slighcarp was also involved in the failed attack on King James III that apparently killed Dido, so she has reasons to stay out of England. She's working with a science geek who's designed a long-range cannon which he thinks will be used to blow up King George of Hanover and restore James III to the throne. Dido and Pen have to convince the kindly Professor that "the sort of king he preferred was already on the throne" and prevent the cannon being aimed at anybody.
The Wolves Chronicles are sheer fantasy, and who knows whether the impossibilities in them--the pink whale who's the captain's lifelong friend, the long-distance cannon, or anything else--are supposed to be possibilities in the alternate world where they take place. If you like wacky fantasy you must read them all.
AT the end of Black Hearts in Battersea, Dido Twite is missing at sea presumed dead. We, the readers, of course are confident that there will be more to come for her and Joan Aiken, this great children's author, agrees with us. So we find her at the beginning of this book, in a coma on board a whaling ship.
I've loved Joan Aiken's work since I was a child - she uses words beautifully, she tells hard facts (like the killing and butchering of a whale) in a matter-of-fact way, no simpering to soften it, but no shock factor. Other writers might have skipped over such items, but Aiken takes us fully into the world she creates and I totally respect that.
This is excellent historical fiction (in a slightly alternative history) and great adventure with terrific characters. I loved it as much on this reading as I did when I was a child.
Joan Aiken’s alternative history series that began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase takes a transatlantic turn in this third volume. The irrepressible Dido Twite who we first met in volume two and missing presumed drowned at the end of that book has been plucked from the water by a whaling ship under the mercurial captainship of the profusely bearded Captain Casket. As is Joan Aiken’s way, events follow events at a rapid pace: there’s a mysterious (but strangely familiar) lady hiding in the blubber room, the captain’s daughter who is afraid of the sea, a false aunt up to no good, a wicked plot featuring a (very) long range gun hidden in the Nantucket woods designed to assassinate good king James III in London and a pink whale that saves the day - and much more besides. All good rollicking fun, beautifully written and audaciously plotted - all this, plus one of the most practical, likeable heroines in all children’s literature.