by Joan Aiken
Published 2003, 2005
And so here we have the final books of the Wolves series. Sadly, I can’t say that I am disappointed to see the end of them. While I enjoyed the humor at times, and Dido’s character, the series became stranger and more violent as it went (especially for children’s books – and these are usually in the juvenile library, not the YA).
In these two books, Dido returns as the main character. They are shorter than most of the other books in the series – both of them together are about the same size as Cold Shoulder Road or Dido and Pa. Unfortunately, they are just as confusing as some of the earlier books. First off, the two books before this one – Is and Cold Shoulder Road – were about Dido’s younger sister, Isadora. In Midwinter Nightingale, we get basically no contact with them – Dido is kidnapped as soon as she arrives in England, and we are left to assume that the characters we met and adventured with in the previous two books are fine.
In these books, Aiken is even more casual about killing off characters. There are several minor characters who are introduced and seemingly having played their part, are casually disposed of, as though the author was unable to think of any other way of getting on with the story without them. The whole concept of good/bad guys is more or less eradicated, as virtually everyone seems to just be striving for their own power and glory, except for Simon, who goes from being the intelligent, forward-thinking fellow that he was towards the beginning of the series to being an incredibly passive character who worries about his future but doesn’t seem to do anything to change it. Deaths are violent: people are speared, poisoned, crushed, thrown off of towers, in carriages that drive into ravines, eaten by wolves, drowned, buried alive, and killed in any other number of dreadful ways. You’ll note that it’s a long list: that’s because a lot of people die. A lot.
The end of the whole series seems quite weak. Most of these books have been about people plotting to overthrow the king. In the last book, through a series of events, Simon has been crowned king. But his position is, as I mentioned, very passive. The king has no power, no control, nothing. So why has everyone else been trying to attain this position? He leads an entire army to fight a battle simply because he’s bored and wants out of the castle. The king of the invading nation challenges him to play a chess-like game. Instead of building tension, the whole situation devolves into them just playing this game, and when it looks like Simon is going to win, the other king just makes a compromise about the whole invasion thing and everyone goes home (???). I don’t know. Both of these books were very confusing and dull.
Overall, it’s been a disappointment to read these books. I love Wolves of Willoughby Chase so very much, and have enjoyed some of Aiken’s other works, like Jane Fairfax (a retelling of Emma) and The Five-Minute Marriage was such a delight that I have several of her other period novels on my TBR list. But the rest of the Wolves series just fell apart in my opinion, becoming more disjointed, confusing, violent, and depressing with each book.