Dido and the Spice Islands

A display of Vintage children’s books on offer in Book-ish bookshop, Crickhowell

We last left Dido Twite in South America, about to finally sail back home to England. But Dido is finding out that things don’t always go to plan when she sets off on her voyages. She had been shipwrecked in the North Sea, transported whilst in a coma via Cape Horn to north of Alaska, thence to New England. With the promise of a return to England her passage was diverted to the east coast of South America. And now, surely, she must be deserving of that homecoming? No, for now she finds herself heading to the Spice Islands in the South Pacific!

As has become my wont, I shall be setting the scene for Limbo Lodge, the next volume chronologically in Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles (also known as the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, the King James III sequence, the Dido Twite series, and so on and so forth). In the US it’s known as Dangerous Games, which probably gives a better indication of the content — on which more will be forthcoming in due course. Limbo Lodge comes relatively late in the Wolves writing sequence, published in 1999 just five years before her death, even though it is only the fifth (or sixth) of twelve related titles. It has disappointed as many fans as it has delighted, but I propose to give a spirited defence of it as fiction as well as a standalone episode in the series.

For reasons I hope to expand on later, Joan has set the action on the fictional island of Aratu, set in the Banda Sea lying to the south of Seram (or Ceram, the island which the turtle jaws of Papua New Guinea are forever trying to swallow). Described as a five-day sail southeast from Ambon, a sister island of Seram, ‘Aratu’ is — I’m convinced — a compound of a number of islands, mostly the Banda Islands but also the archipelago of Aru to the east, while ‘Aratu’ was probably borrowed from the Brazilian port of the same name.

Map of Maluku Islands (credit: Oona Räisänen via Wikimedia)

You may remember my mention of Aiken’s nod to the Brontë siblings’ juvenilia for some aspects of Limbo Lodge. I’ve also alluded to Austen’s enjoyment of parlour games, exactly as she features in Emma: in the novel Emma encouraged her protégée Harriet to indulge in “the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quarto of hot-pressed paper … ornamented with cypher and trophies.” (I/9) Game-playing is at the core of what Emma is concerned with, I suggested, though the outcomes in real life are seldom innocent or free from consequences. I think that Austen super-fan Joan has taken this aspect of Emma and run with it, for Limbo Lodge is also about games and about the dangers that may result from playing them. More about this anon.

I shall continue to dripfeed thoughts on this particular Wolves chronicle over the next little stretch while I embark on my reread and work on a review. There will also be an attempt at an ‘Aratu dictionary’, for which I hope some readers more familiar with the complex relationships of languages in this part of the world may give me advice on. 🙂 The game’s afoot!

Map of the Moluccas by Nicolas Sanson, Utrecht (1683)

If you have no idea who Dido Twite is, and what she does, here are links to my reviews of the previous four titles in the Wolves Chronicles (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, then Black Hearts in Battersea and Night Birds on Nantucket, followed by The Stolen Lake); there’s also a so-called prequel, The Whispering Mountain. Apart from the prequel each review has several related background posts, should you be interested in the box of scraps from which Aiken helped herself liberally!

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9 thoughts on “Dido and the Spice Islands

    1. It’s going to be another epic series, Daphne! And I’d be interested in your comments, seeing as it’s set near your (and Mari’s) neck of the woods, especially on the Dilendi words that are liberally scattered through — are they made-up or genuine, I ask myself…

  1. This is one I am missing! I’m also missing Cold Shoulder Road and Midwinter Nightingale. I have been able to find them online recently, so I will get them soon. Do you know if Is Underground is considered part of the series?

    1. Both Is and Cold Shoulder Road focus on Dido’s half-sister (and mention Penelope, Dido’s sister from Black Hearts) so, yes, they’re part of the sequence even though set a couple or so years after Dido’s main adventures. If you’ve read Limbo Lodge, Erin, at least you won’t be meeting any spoilers, but if not … !

  2. Yay for more of your explorations of Dido’s adventures! And (perhaps this is coming in a future post) the Maluku Islands map above suggests another source for the name, Aratu: a palindrome of “Utara”.

    1. Well spotted! I’d clocked Maluka Utara and that the name had a kind of resonance — now I know why it might have been so! So much to enjoy, and so much more to find out in the ten years since I first read this and took notes.

  3. I always enjoy your explorations in this alternative universe!

    Forgive me using this method to poke you about another matter, but an email didn’t garner a response (maybe I had the wrong address) — are you still up for doing a post for Witch Week this year? Just checking, as I would like to post something about the schedule soon. Thanks!

    1. Yay, thanks, Lory! It’s meant to be a sort of Lonely (Alternative) Planet travel book, a Dido Baedeker, or Rough Guide to Twiteland…

      On the other matter, yes, I’m up for it — I must revisit my rough notes anyway, but it’s still along the same tracks that I previously outlined, and that you will now want a working title for. I’ll email you, but do note that I rarely check my Yahoo account now, so do use the gmail address which I look at most days now!

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