I bought this book because Edward Gorey did the cover art. I’ve done that a handful of times before (I can spot the Gorey font from across a crowded bookstore), and sometimes the books I end up with aren’t so great. Sometimes, though, I find a treasure. This one may not be up to ‘treasure’ status, but it was a fun read.
Cousins Arun and Is Twite are searching for Arun’s mother. The story seems to take place in the real world (they talk about London and France), but there are non-real things happening (mostly a lot of telepathy). The time period is uncertain (girls aren’t supposed to wear breeches; the bicycle just got invented), and the age of the cousins isn’t specified. Arun ran away from home five years ago, and they’re old enough to travel on their own, but the villain calls them ‘the children.’ There are more books about the family, from what I can tell, so maybe there are more stories about the cousins before this one. Anyway – Arun’s unpleasant father, a member of the Silent Sect, a cult which prohibits speech, has died, and Arun’s come to look for his put-upon but hopefully-freed mother.
When they get to Folkestone, however, and return to Arun’s childhood home, there is no sign of her. Stories from the town suggest that she has fled a group of smugglers called the Merry Gentry. The ‘MGs’ have a practice of kidnapping a local child to keep the townsfolk in line (“tattle and we’ll drop her under the train”), and Arun’s mother Ruth had had enough, taken the child, and run away. Is and Arun set off to find her, encountering suspicious admirals, other relatives, the shady leader of the Silent Sect, smugglers, treasure-hunters, and more.
I enjoyed Is very much. She is the more level-headed of the pair, with Arun more likely to sit and mope when plans don’t go his way. Is is very practical, but not so much that she doesn’t enjoy their grand adventure, even when danger lurks at every corner. (I don’t quite get why her name is Is, but I got used to it.) The pair can speak to each other in thought-language, which is handy when some of the villains you run into don’t like it when you speak. They find others with the same gift, which is handy when one or both of you keep getting kidnapped and need to call for help over long distances.
Usually I get annoyed when dialogue gets too dialecty, but Aiken makes it work. It flows well and really adds to the characters. Is says things like “Queer he keeps his garden so spange when the house is such a mux. He’s a rum old cove and no mistake.” Money is mint sauce, lamps are glimmers, bad guys are wrong ‘uns and their minions are dumfoozle squareheads.
Joan Aiken writes great stories for kids and young adults, and this was another great adventure. I’ll be looking for more books about the Twite family, regardless of the cover art.