The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (Jonathan Cape, 1962) Set in an alternative, wolf-plagued 19th-Century England, this first book of Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles captures both the stark, chill beauty of the countryside and the wanton cruelties suffered by orphans of the time. A bleak—almost Dickensian!—yet happily ending quest fantasy.
The Cockatrice Boys by Joan Aiken (Victor Gollancz, 1966) This dark, rather detached MG story sees an odd cadre battling by train across an England overrun by fantasy monsters. Like much of Aiken’s writing it is unsettling, compelling, but totally lacking in resolution (or even intent)—a beautifully described bad dream.
A Foot in the Grave by Joan Aiken (Jonathan Cape, 1989); audiobook read by Melissa Exelberth (Bolinda, 2015) These supernatural stories breeze along, effortlessly conjuring character and mood; yet their conclusions invariably fail to shock, spook or satisfy. The let-downs are palpable! Aiken is like a pole-vaulter who runs in beautifully, soars to great heights but always clips the bar.…
The People in the Castle: Selected Strange Stories by Joan Aiken (Small Beer Press, 2016) This posthumous collection spans thirty-five years of Joan Aiken’s prolific career. The stories, though frequently lacking in closure, are beautifully written, with rich, dark ideas and a wondrous touch of fairy tale logic. Aiken’s characterisation of people (and notably, animals) is exquisite.