Nightbirds on Nantucket: A Rich and Exciting Read

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Joan Aiken Nightbirds on Nantucket The Wolves ChroniclesNightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken

When we last saw Dido Twite at the end of Black Hearts in Battersea she was going down with the Dark Dew ship, swept away from her friends Simon and Justin in the middle of the ocean. Whilst the two boys were forced to go on without her (eventually preventing an assassination attempt on the Duke of Battersea), Dido’s fate remained a mystery, that Joan Aiken now resolves for expectant readers in the third book in her Wolves Saga.

After a ten month long sleep, Dido awakes on board a whaler in the middle of the Arctic sea, on a boat completely covered in icicles and frost. There she meets young Nate, a ship’s hand, who informs her of her surroundings, of how far she is from home. Also on board is the fox-like and slimy Mr Slighcarp and the moony Captain Casket, who is determined to chase and catch the magnificent pink whale. He informs Dido that his young daughter Dutiful Penitence Casket is also on board, but who has locked herself away in a cupboard in mortal terror of the sea. He requests that Dido attempt to coax her out, and then accompany her to her Aunt Tribulation on the island of Nantucket before she tries to head back to England. Dido, taking it into her responsibility to teach Penitence not to be so timid, agrees despite her homesickness.

But there are other mysteries about, such as the fierce stowaway that Dido finds hiding in the hold, and the suspicious actions of Mr Slighcarp that aren’t solved by the time Penitence and Dido reach the domineering and threatening Aunt Tribulation. The two girls eventually realised there’s a Hanoverian plot in the making that involves a giant gun being fired from Nantucket to London, which will not only succeed in destroying the palace, but with blowing Nantucket backwards into New York harbour! With pink whales, German inventors, hidden woods and a familiar villainess from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken once more dishes up excitement and intrigue set in her continually-growing parallel world, where history mingles with fiction, and characters engage in some rather incredible situations!

To a point, Nightbirds in Nantucket was not quite up to the standards of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea, as the duo of the strong-willed Dido and the meek little Penitence reminded me a little too much of Bonnie and Sylvia of Wolves, (especially in “Aunt Tribulation”‘s treatment of them), and the Hanoverian plot of conquering King James III was basically the same threat that was faced in Black Hearts. However, Joan Aiken’s imagination is amazing, whether she is creating the icy whaling ship sailing through the Arctic Sea, or the warm sunny moorlands of Nantucket with its white-washed cottages. Her melodramatic plot twists and devices are always humorous and adventuresome (despite their unlikeliness), and the story ends on a note of further adventure for the irrepressible Dido Twite.


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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