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Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken fantasy author(1924-2004)
Joan Aiken was the daughter of Pulitzer prize winning poet Conrad Aiken. She wrote over one hundred books for children and adults. In the UK she received an MBE from the Queen for her services to Children’s Literature. Visit The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken.


The Wolves of Willoughby Chase: The First of the Wolves Saga

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first book in the Wolves Saga by Joan Aiken, a series of books set in an alternative 18th century England in the reign of King James III. In this altered history a large number of wolves migrate from the bitter cold of Europe and Russia into Britain via the Channel Tunnel, and terrorize the inhabitants in their continuing hunting.

The story is set at Willoughby Chase, the grand home of Lord Willoughby and Lady Green and their daughter Bonnie. Due to Lady Green's wasting illness, Bonnie's parents are taking a holiday in warmer climates and leaving her in the care of the Lord's newly-arrived distant cousin Letitia Slighcarp. Also due to arrive is Bonnie's orphan cousin Sylvia who lived in London with Lord Willoughby's poorer sister Aunt Jane, co... Read More

Black Hearts in Battersea: Fantastic adventure

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

Black Hearts in Battersea is the second book in Joan Aiken's beloved Wolves saga, beginning with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and continuing in Nightbirds in Nantucket. Each book can be read separately and out of order (i.e., each is a separate story, not one big story broken into several parts), linked by re-appearing characters, plot lines and locations. Each is set in a cleverly devised "parallel universe" where historical figures and events are changed from what we would recognize in our own history books.

In this case, the action takes place in London, where Britain is ruled by good King James III and plagued by marauding wolves immigrating from Russia, with other little snippets of an alternative history slipped in to give the... Read More

Nightbirds on Nantucket: A rich and exciting read

Nightbirds 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 magni... Read More

The Cuckoo Tree: A deeper, more scary adventure than usual

The Cuckoo Tree by Joan Aiken

After her light-hearted adventures on the island of Nantucket in the previous installment in Joan Aiken's Wolves Saga, Dido Twite comes up against darker enemies once she reaches English soil once more. At the end of the last book, Dido left Nantucket with Captain Hughes, who since then has become rather ill. When the carriage they're riding in overtips thanks to a dodgy cabby-driver, Dido goes for help and soon finds herself in the company of more weird and wonderful acquaintances — so many in fact, that they add up to more than all of the previous books put together!

Finding shelter for Captain Hughes thanks to the Tegleaze Manor House and its inhabitants (the spoilt young heir Tobis, the matriarchal and domineering Lady Tegleaze and the strange, creepy Tante Sannie) Dido soon suspects the makings of another Hanoverian plot to usurp... Read More

A Necklace of Raindrops: Eight charming children’s bedtime stories

A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken’s sweet collection of eight short children’s bedtime stories, originally published in 1968, has just been released in audio format by Listening Library. The audiobook is just over 1.5 hours long and is excellently and lovingly narrated by the author’s daughter, Lizza Aiken. It contains these stories:

“A Necklace of Raindrops”  ̶  Every year on her birthday, the North Wind gives Laura Jones a new raindrop for her necklace. Each raindrop gives Laura a special power. When a jealous schoolmate steals the necklace, Laura has to find it. Fortunately, since she is such a nice girl, she has friends to help.

“The Cat Sat on the Mat”  ̶  Emma’s impoverished family lives on a broken-down bus. When a fairy gives Emma a cat that grants wishes, Emma has the chance to make th... Read More

A Touch of Chill: Characters teeter on the edge of reality

A Touch of Chill by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken is one of my favourite authors, best known among children as the writer of the alternative-history series The Wolves Chronicles. She is also a writer for adults, and the same sense of imagination, wit and mystery found in her earlier books are found in this collected anthology of creepy and twisted short stories. Although the title claims that these are stories of "horror, suspense and fantasy," this is a little misleading. It's not that these stories aren't any of these things, it's just that Aiken does not write typical short stories in this genre — these tales are seldom wrapped up in a neat little bow, and often Aiken is more interested in crafting an unsettling atmosphere than answering questions that her stories raise. As such, many of the stories do not seem particularly creepy , and those who are used to their hor... Read More

The 2012 Short Story Nominees for the Shirley Jackson Award

These horror stories are so good that they’ve been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. Read all about them, then try to find them for yourself and figure out which one will be the winner before the awards are handed out at Readercon, July 12-15, 2012.

The Shirley Jackson Awards are awarded “for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.” They are one of my favorite awards each year, along with the World Fantasy Awards. The Shirley Jackson Awards single out the Weird fiction that I en... Read More

More fantasy novels by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken fantasy book reviews The Kingdom and the Cave, The Cockatrice Boys, The Whispering Mountain, Midnight is a Place, A Touch of ChilThe Kingdom and the Cave — (1960) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Prince Michael is accompanied by the palace cat and a wise old mare on a long and dangerous search for the elusive Under People.

Joan Aiken fantasy book reviews The Kingdom and the Cave, The Cockatrice Boys, The Whispering Mountain, Midnight is a Place, A Touch of ChilThe Cockatrice Boys — (1966) Ages 9-12. Publisher: What does a cockatrice enjoy most for dinner? Anyone it can find. So the alarmed inhabitants of England discover when a plague of monsters-known as cockatrices-invade their country and begin gobbling them up. They must be stopped! A plucky band of survivors dubbed the Cockatrice Corps- including youngsters Dakin and Sauna-decide to fight back. But how? A rollicking adventure filled with breathtaking twists and turns, The Cockatrice Boys is Joan Aiken at her comic best.

Joan Aiken review The Wolves of Willoughby Chase 1. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase 2. Black Hearts in Battersea 3. Nightbirds on Nantucket 4. The Whispering Mountain 5. The Cuckoo TreeThe Whispering Mountain — (1968) Young adult. Publisher: Owen and Arabis as they try to prevent the evil Lord Mayln from stealing the town’s magical golden harp.

Joan Aiken The Wolves of Willoughby Chase review 6. Midnight Is a Place 7. The Stolen Lake 8. Dido and Pa 9. Is (Is Underground)Midnight is a Place — (1974) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Lucas Bell lives at Midnight Court with his ill-tempered guardian, Sir Randolph, and longs for a friend to take away his loneliness. Then Anna-Marie arrives. Spoilt and wilful, she is practically half Lucas’s age. But one night something terrible happens, and together they fight to survive.

Joan Aiken fantasy book reviews The Shadow Guests, The Shoemaker's Boy, The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family StoriesThe Shadow Guests — (1980) Ages 9-12. Publisher: After the mysterious disappearance of both his mother and older brother, Cosmo is sent away to live with his eccentric mathematician aunt. Lonely and confused, Cosmo must also deal with being the new kid at school. Not an easy assignment! But things take a weird twist when Cosmo is visited by ghosts from the past. Ghosts who claim to need his help fighting an ancient curse! Only in time will Cosmo learn that he is at the center of that ancient… and deadly… curse.

Joan Aiken fantasy book reviews The Shadow Guests, The Shoemaker's Boy, The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family StoriesThe Shoemaker’s Boy — (1991) Ages 9-12. Publisher: “I have come to ask a favour of you…” It is a night for visitors for Jem, the shoemaker’s boy, working alone in his father’s famous shop. First, there strange green children ask him for a set of silver keys, which he knows nothing about. Then a black knight comes requesting a fine pair of boots — and also asks for keys. But the third visitor proves to be the strangest — and most magical — of them all…

Joan Aiken fantasy book reviews The Shadow Guests, The Shoemaker's Boy, The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family StoriesThe Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories — (2008) Ages 9-12. Publisher: This is the first complete collection of Joan Aiken’s beloved Armitage stories-and it includes four new, unpublished stories. After Mrs. Armitage makes a wish, the Armitage family has “interesting and unusual” experiences every Monday (and the occasional Tuesday). The Board of Incantation tries to take over their house to use as a school for young wizards; the Furies come to stay; and a cutout from a cereal box leads into a beautiful and tragic palace garden. Charming and magical, the uncommon lives of the Armitage family will thrill and delight readers young and old. Includes Joan Aiken’s “Prelude” from Armitage, Armitage, Fly Away Home, as well as introductions from Joan Aiken’s daughter, Lizza Aiken, and best-selling author Garth Nix.