The end of the line

Joan Aiken 1924-2004

The Witch of Clatteringshaws
by Joan Aiken.
Red Fox 2006 (2005).

Malise is the District Witch of Clatteringshaws, sometime in the 1840s of a Caledonia not of this world. She almost held the key to who was to be the monarch after the death of King Richard IV, if only she hadn’t been distracted by a tune composed by Dido Twite’s father. And if that last piece of a puzzle isn’t recovered, Dido’s friend Simon won’t be fully convinced he need not be King any longer.

This, then, is one facet of the final instalment of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles, a series which ran to a dozen or more titles and which this novella, even in its seemingly truncated form, attempts more or less successfully to bring to a satisfactory conclusion.

But, as with each and every episode, the story is like a intricate mosaic: seen in a cursory way from a distance it presents a strong image with a narrative, but when examined closely its tesellated pieces give hints of different materials and unexpected relationships.

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Saga’s ending

Joan Aiken 1924-2004

Next year it will be sixty years since what is now regarded as a modern classic was published; as well as being a delightful children’s novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962) unexpectedly proved to be the start of a series of instalments set in an alternative world of the early 19th century.

Six years ago I began a reread of all of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles (as her daughter Lizza dubbed them) with a view to thoroughly exploring through reviews and discussion posts the alternative history world she’d created. (Incidentally, these posts can be read in chronological order via this link or in reverse order using the tag Wolves Chronicles.)

I’ve now, after a dozen or so titles, started on the last ever of these chronicles, The Witch of Clatteringshaws which was published in 2005, a year after her untimely death: Aiken, who was born nearly a century ago on 4th September 1924, in Rye, East Sussex, passed away on 4th January 2004, in Petworth, West Sussex, but not before completing the final instalment in novella form.

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