Building castles in Spain

roch-castle-1880

Joan Aiken The Teeth of the Gale
Red Fox 1997 (1988)

The resourceful teenager of Bridle the Wind has, five years later, turned into the resourceful young man of this, the final volume in the Felix Brooke trilogy, but though its speedy, almost perfunctory ending seemed to suggest the way was open for a follow-up, this was sadly not to be. A pity, as Felix is an engaging if slightly humourless character, and well matched by the prickly Juana, the object of his attentions.

As with Bridle the Wind and its predecessor Go Saddle the Sea, this volume is set in early 19th-century Spain following the Napoleonic Wars, now riven with rival political factions (as the author’s own Afterword helpfully tells us). Felix is persuaded to go on a mission to rescue the kidnapped children of a nobleman, but all is not as it initially seems even though enough clues are presented to the honest young man along the way. Continue reading “Building castles in Spain”

Peril in the Pyrenees

landscape

Joan Aiken Bridle the Wind Puffin 1986 (1983)

In the chaotic years that are the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars young Felix Brooke is journeying from England to his home in Galicia in Spain when he is shipwrecked off the Basque coast of France, thus precipitating the strange sequence of events in this novel. He convalesces at the fictional Abbey of St Just de Seignanx, on the French coast near Bayonne (very much like Mont-St-Michel in France or St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall) but finds that due to a form of amnesia partly brought on by a supernatural happening he has lost three months of his life. Rescuing Juan, a youngster his own age, from hanging, he helps them both escape the terrifying Abbot Father Vespasian by trekking east before crossing the Pyrenees on their way to hoped-for freedom in Spain. But, not unexpectedly, things don’t go to plan as they are haunted by the memory of the Abbot and chased by a group of brigands. Continue reading “Peril in the Pyrenees”

A homage to 19th-century adventure stories

Arno’s Castle, the model for the stables at Asshe in Go Saddle the Sea

Joan Aiken Go Saddle the Sea Harcourt 2007 (1977)

Twelve-year-old Felix Brooke, ill-treated at home in Northwest Spain, resolves to travel to England to find out the truth about his father. Thus begins a young adult novel, set after the Peninsular Wars in the early 19th century, that is enjoyable both on its own merits but also for its many references, influences and intricacies. Joan Aiken wrote this after field trips to Galicia and her careful research and attention to detail add weight to the seeming authenticity of the story told by its young hero, whom one implicitly believes is a thoroughly reliable narrator. Continue reading “A homage to 19th-century adventure stories”