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Black Hearts in Battersea

Style: Good

Attitude: Positive

This review was contributed by Lucy Smith, Portico Books

In Brief: Set in nineteenth century England, Black Hearts in Battersea is an enthralling tale of intrigue, conspiracy and suspense where the young characters must face cases of mistaken identity, revolutionary plots, hungry wolves, a shipwreck and attempts at kidnap and murder to save each other, the duke and duchess, and the King of England. It is a great read.

Cover of Black Hearts in Battersea

Author: Joan Aiken

Series: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

Publisher: Houghton

Published in: 1965

Age Range: Children

Period: Early 19th C

Setting: England

Genres:  AdventureFantasyFriendshipGrowing-UpHistorical


Characters:

  • Simon - 15 year old orphan who was found abandoned in the woods at the age of 3. He is taken off to the awful local orphanage (Gloobers Poor Farm), which he runs away from at the age of 7 to live in the woods. He is very artistic, resourceful, courageous, hard-working, generous, honest and honorable.
  • Sophie is an orphan slightly younger than Simon whom she befriended in the orphanage. She was given the job of personal maid to the Duchess of Battersea (unconsciously favoured by the duchess because of her resemblance to the late Lady Bakerloo). She is also very resourceful, hard-working and courageous, but also gentle, caring, patient and charitable.
  • Dr. Field a friend of Simon's whom he met in the prequel (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase). He is a doctor and an artist who uncovers the revolutionary plot in his lodgings in London and goes missing under very suspicious circumstances.
  • Justin is a young boy also (apparently) orphaned. He is the next in line to become duke. He is very spoilt and miserable at the prospect of having to become a duke. Simon and Sophie soon have a positive influence on him and his character improves.
  • The Twite Family: Mr. and Mrs. Twite are revolutionaries intent on dethroning the King. They have two children, Penny who is in her late teens, and Dido who is about 10 years old. Dido befriends Simon and saves his life, but does this (it is presumed) at the cost of her life. The Twite family rent out their house to lodgers. Mrs. Twite's brother is Mr. Buckle, the conspiring, evil tutor of Justin.

Synopsis:

This novel is set at the beginning of the 19th century in an England plagued by wolves and revolutionaries. It starts with the journey of the orphan Simon who travels to London to meet his friend Dr. Field who has helped the aspiring artist to gain admission to the art school there. After being suspiciously misled while trying to find the lodgings of Dr. Field, Simon eventually turns up to the Twite residence who claim to know nothing of Dr. Field.

Without accommodation or friends in London, Simon's situation seems hopeless until, with the help of the youngest Twite Dido, he is given accommodation at the Twite residence. At the art school Simon's talent wins the admiration of the head of the academy Dr. Furneaux, and the friendship of Justin, the young Lord Bakerloo.

Simon is overwhelmed by the discovery that his dearest friend Sophie is working in London for Justin's aunt, the Duchess of Battersea. Sophie and Simon were brought up together in an orphanage outside London. While visiting Sophie at Battersea Castle (home to the Duke, Duchess and Justin) Simon is befriended by the Duke who invites him back to play chess. It is on this occasion that Simon meets Mr. Buckle, the nasty tutor of Justin (and brother of Mrs. Twite).

Simon soon comes to learn that the Twite's house is centre of operations for the revolutionaries seeking to overthrow King James, and that they are lying when they say they know nothing of Dr. Field. Before Simon is given a chance to inform the police of these suspicious matters, Simon is kidnapped and stowed aboard a ship heading to the revolutionary headquarters. Dido, seeing this, alerts Justin and they hide in the same boat in order to save Simon.

Due to the intoxication of many of the crew, and an accident caused by Dido, the ship catches fire and sinks. While the crew takes the lifeboat, Simon, Justin and Dido are left to seek land with the help of wood and barrels. Simon, still weak from the knock he received over the head, is helped by Dido who leaves him on a large rock near the shore in search of help.

Simon wakes up in the house of a woman who saved him and brings him back to health. The woman turns out to be the wife of Mr. Buckle who ran off with a sea captain who left her isolated on the island to get rid of her, because she knows too much about the revolutionary plot. When Justin finds his way to the lady's hut, she recognizes him as her long lost son. It turns out that after the death of Lord and Lady Bakerloo, Mr. Buckle left their two children in a forest outside London, replaced the male baby with Justin and claimed that the female baby died soon after her parents death. Buckle planned to kill the Duke and Duchess so that Justin would be the heir, and when the revolution had succeeded, Justin, and hence Buckle too, would be in very influential positions. So it is discovered that Sophie and Simon, brought up in the forest and the orphanage near this forest, are the real children of the Bakerloos. They also discover that Dr. Field has also been abandoned on the island. With his help they drug the (wicked) crew of a passing ship and head back to the mainland.

Meanwhile Dido is lost (and considered dead) and Sophie is with the Duke and Duchess on a trip. Sophie has already saved them twice from Buckles murderous attempts and tells them of Buckle's plan to murder the Duke, Duchess and the King when he goes to the castle for Christmas which she overheard while in the castle. Simon, Dr. Field, Sophie and Justin eventually find them and the whole story is revealed. They head back to London in the Duke's recently invented hot air balloon (they cannot travel by land because of the snow and wolves) to put an end to the revolutionaries.

While the others are heading to the castle, Simon goes to alert his art school companions of the imminent disaster, and finds out from Mrs. Twite's disgruntled husband that he has put forward the timer on the bomb in order to knock off all the revolutionaries who will be in the castle in half an hour. Simon races back with the hot air balloon and in the nick of time saves the Duke, Duchess and Sophie from the explosion which gets rid of all the wicked people.

Notes:

I just loved it. There are lots of twists and turns (some that took me by surprise) as well as good and wicked characters. The hero is strong, good and brave; the heroine is resourceful, good and feminine. In the beginning they are poor orphans who endure great hardships but continue to fight for the good; at the end they are lost heirs of the aristocracy who have been caught at the middle of a wicked revolutionary plot. The secondary characters, Dido and Justin, are flawed children, miserable and unpleasant whose characters, under the influence of Simon and Sophie, greatly improve. The story is a bit silly and implausible at times, without a great deal of character depth or many necessary links between events, and this might bother slightly older readers. Children around the ages of 7 to 12 would probably enjoy it.

Simon paid off the driver and turned to follow Mrs. Twite. But she seemed to have locked the door behind her and, as he rattled the latch unavailingly and then rapped the locker, something dark and suffocating was forced down over his head and a pair of hands gripped his throat. He struggled and struck out, but other hands pinioned his arms and legs, while the clutch on his throat tightened. A rocket seemed to explode on the back of his head, he crumpled forward onto the steps, and was conscious of nothing more.

Sunday 29th April 2007