Joan Aiken’s Wolves chronicles are set in a Dickensianesque, England, in which the Stuarts had repelled a Hanoverian takeover of the monarchy.
The series started with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and continued in Black Hearts in Battersea. The second of those books introduced Dido Twite who becomes the main character in the series until this book.
Dido’s younger sister Isabette, commonly known as Is, was introduced in Dido and Pa. She now gets a story of her own. in which she shows the same kind of resourcefulness previously demonstrated by her older sister Dido.
The inventive language of Aiken’s characters is a joy to read. The Twite girls’ unique vocabulary is a highlight of the books and adds the authenticity of a world not quite our own, stemming from an alternate history.
After promising her dying uncle that she’ll go to London to find her missing cousin, Is becomes aware that throughout the city, children have been disappearing, and she takes on the task of finding out what is happening to them, hoping to find her cousin in the process.
One thing struck her at once, and this was how very few children there were to be seen, in comparison with the days when she had lived in London. She recalled then, that on her household errands through the streets, children had been everywhere, swarming like ants: ragged sharp-eyed brats, the active ones earning pennies by holding horses, or sweeping the mud from street crossings, running messages, picking pockets, shouting their small shabby wares, bundles of matches or bunches of cress; and sick, shrunken, starved ones sitting listlessly on doorsteps or curled under bridges, waiting for death to come and solve their problems.
But now all these seemed to have vanished altogether. In London there were hardly any children visible; the hurrying crowds in the streets were all adults, going about their adult affairs.
Croopus, where have all the kinchins got to? Is asked herself. It sure is a mystery! Funny no one’s wondered about it sooner. Nobody cares above half, I reckon. Streets look tidier without kids all about. Some folks likes it better that way, I daresay.
Is finds herself uniquely placed to investigate the mystery of disappearing children by joining their ranks, accepting an invitation to board a monthly train to “Playland”, with over two hundred other children trying to escape the hardship and poverty of their lives in London.
The train takes them into the new northern kingdom of Humberland ruled over by Gold Kingy where play will be the last thing its young cargo will experience.
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