by Joan Aiken
Full of adventure and a little magic, this story keeps moving with a quick plot, weird and interesting characters, and of course, the excellent writing that I find in all Joan Aiken’s books.
I love love love Dido! She really holds up well as a main character in so many of the Wolves books. I never get tired of her adventures! She’s gutsy and thoughtful and wildly wonderful. I love how sensible she is, looking for practical solutions in each crazy situation. When everyone else is wasting time wailing over their misfortune, Dido rolls up her sleeves and gets to work fixing it. Her common sense is invaluable in every story!
There is some woodland “witchcraft” in this one, although it feels more like elemental magic. The forest women can meditate on the weather and cause it to change. They can look into the future too! I liked how innocent and clean the magic feels in this story, like a part of nature that the forest people can tap into just by listening.
They do have some weird beliefs though, like that ghosts will steal away a baby’s soul if you don’t christen it right away; and that if the population of the island gets too big, the ancestors will instruct about a hundred people to commit mass suicide to make room for the others. ??? Gah! That was creepy! But I liked that it gives this eerie backdrop for the story, and adds to the mystery of the island.
There are snakes in almost every chapter, which freaked me out! I hate snakes! But mostly people just throw rocks at them, or hit them with a stick, and they’re dead. Only one guy gets bit, and has to take medicine for the snake poison. Ugh! So gross, and creepy, and yuck!
I just adore all the supporting characters! Lord Herodsfoot is especially important to the story, because we see his proper British self reacting to all the mysteries and enigmas of the island and its people. And he’s rather dramatic and emotional as a counterpoint to Dido’s “no-nonsense” attitude.
I loved the forest people that Dido meets! They are sweet and kind, but also full of secrecy and strange ways and customs. The structure of their forest society is so imaginative, from the way they eat and drink and build their homes, to their odd pets and mode of travel.
The story is wonderfully entertaining, and an excellent addition to this exciting series!