Monday 30 July 2012

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Reviewed by Caroline Hodges 
Pages - 256
Published by Vintage Children's Classics on 2nd August 2012
Can you go a little faster? Can you run?
Goodreads Summary
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 goose boy and his flock, they escape. But how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is set in an 18th century England different to our own, where wolves frequent the countryside, adding an immediate hint of danger and excitement to an already action-packed novel. The main story of the book revolves around Bonnie, the wealthy daughter of a Lord and the grand old house of Willoughby Chase which comes under threat from an ambitious and greedy relative. Despite her genteel upbringing, Bonnie is a heroine to win over any young reader; plucky and with a strong sense of moral fibre, she stands up to the wicked governess introduced to her home, protecting family and servants alike. To temper this fire-cracker, we have Sylvia, Bonnie’s kind-hearted and gentle cousin, and for young male readers, we have Simon, the boy who lives by himself raising geese, protecting our heroines from wolves and rescuing them from evil old women.

The governess Miss Slighcarp is the perfect villain and has us hooked from the start as she physically lashes out at a servant, much to Bonnie’s outrage. Our revulsion increases as she takes to wearing Bonnie’s sick mother’s beautiful gowns and sacking all of Willoughby Chase’s loyal and hardworking servants. All this before she really gets going personally on poor Bonnie and Sylvia! Miss Slighcarp and her evil sidekicks are so horrible, you actually, somewhat guiltily, start enjoying them; what vile thing will they come up with next?!

First published in 1962, the book is obviously somewhat dated in language and sentence structure; there is much happy crying and talk of petticoats and doll’s houses. But the storyline is so classic it will survive the ages – Children versus evil governess fight to preserve home and family –always a winner! The characters are also so out of the ordinary for their time that their personalities and actions will resonate with today’s children, Bonnie’s father for instance, has allowed her to break the social norms of embroidery and piano-playing and instead she is a whiz with a fowling piece (gun!).

The new edition by Vintage is highly engaging for young readers. The cover I think is edgy but neutral enough to appeal to both a male and female young audience and the ‘What Character Are You?’ quiz at the back takes me back to the days of similar quizzes in magazines which I know when I was younger I absolutely loved. The other facts and extras are absorbing and a really nice addition. I also really liked the little bookplate on the first page.

Even as an adult, I had trouble putting this fun and engaging novel down - The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is as fast-paced as the wolves within it. I wondered why the character Simon felt so familiar and realised I read the follow-up novel Black Heart’s in Battersea as a kid and adored it, so if you enjoy The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, as I’m sure you will, don’t forget to look this one up too!


  1. Better dust off my copy I think!

  2. I always love when the it's a historical paranormal :D They are somehow more interesting than the contemporary pnr

  3. Your enthusiasm for this "vintage" classic comes through! It does sound like an engaging book.

    1. I love these vintage reads. Caroline does write a gorgeous review too though.

  4. I'd never heard of this book before today. I saw it mentioned in an author interview (it inspired the author as a child)this morning so I'm glad to read your review!

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  6. Oh, now I want to reread this! (And also continue with the series, which I've been meaning to do for ages). Love the cover on this edition.

  7. This one sounds great, its definitely on my list to read!


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