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Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken
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Black Hearts in Battersea (original 1964; edition 1999)

by Joan Aiken

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7411112,575 (4.18)117
Member:Crazymamie
Title:Black Hearts in Battersea
Authors:Joan Aiken
Info:Sandpiper (1999), Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library, Kindle, Completed in 2013
Rating:****
Tags:children's literature, England, English author

Work details

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken (1964)

  1. 30
    Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge (Sakerfalcon)
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  2. 10
    The Borribles by Michael De Larrabeiti (FrederFrederson)
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    The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (Bjace)
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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Late summer, 1833. The second in Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles opens with Simon, the orphan who helped cousins Sylvia and Bonnie Green to regain Willoughby Chase, looking for his friend Gabriel Field in London: Dr Field has offered him space in his Southwark lodgings so that Simon can attend an art academy in Chelsea. But Simon is encountering difficulty finding Rose Alley, having been misdirected a few times. When he does eventually find No 8 it is to discover no sign of the good doctor, only a streetwise little urchin called Dido and her rather strange family.

The mystery of Gabriel Field's disappearance is only one of several puzzles that Simon meets during the course of this inventive novel, a good example of a sequel that is not only the equal of the first novel but in some ways almost surpasses it.

It combines the twin thrills of pantomime and melodrama by means of a series of extraordinary coincidences: typically, every character Simon meets somehow has a connection with him, and every individual turns out to be either his friend or his foe. Only rarely is there a hint of ambiguity, and with two potential adversaries -- Dido and her nefarious Pa -- we soon realise that their personalities are more nuanced than expected. In fact with Dido, who almost literally drops out of the story, her peccadilloes have so endeared herself to us that we are cheered when somebody at the end declares, "I feel in my bones that we shall hear of her again. So do not grieve too much."

I've been wracking my brain to figure out what it is that strikes me about what might otherwise be regarded as a very slight adventure story for youngsters, and I think I've finally twigged: the year that Black Hearts in Battersea was published -- 1964 -- was the year in which we celebrated the fourth century of Shakespeare's birth, and I wonder if, consciously or subconsciously, Aiken drew inspiration for her plot from his plays. For a start, Rose Alley (just a narrow service street now) commemorates The Rose which, erected in 1587, was the fifth purpose-built London theatre as well as the first on Bankside. Bankside is where The Swan was erected in 1595 and The Globe transferred in 1599 from another part of London, sited close to where its modern counterpart is. Bear Gardens, which runs parallel to Rose Alley, reminds us that here too stood an arena dedicated to the cruel sport of bear-baiting.

But even if Aiken deliberately sited the Twites in this area that doesn't necessarily prove a Shakespearean inspiration, but there are other clues. First, let's remember this is an alternate history and that Hanoverian rulers are plotting to overthrow the rightful Stuart king James III (who, oddly, still retains his Scots accent). There is a sequence which strongly suggests to me the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Guy Fawkes and his associates planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament, due to be opened by the Scottish-born king James VI of Scotland, by now also James I of England.

Next, it's often proposed that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in the aftermath of the Plot, in 1606, and the dastardly deeds of the usurping thane of Glamis may find an echo in Aiken's subplot of a rightful heir to a duke's title.

Another related subplot is about twins, both missing and unsuspected, and some Shakespeare comedies are full of this universal theme, as we know from The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night. Add to that the Shakespearean commonplace of a shipwreck following a storm (The Tempest, of course, and Twelfth Night) which Aiken also cunningly includes in Black Hearts in Battersea and it's hard to avoid the impression that Joan may well have been cock-a-hoop with delight at how many references she could include. To include more here would be to spoil the story for anyone yet to enjoy this tale of derring-do, but she may still have been surprised that it might have taken till the fourth centenary of Shakespeare's death to pick this Gordian knot apart.

The title of Black Hearts utilises a phrase associated with the moral depravity of villains, but I also suspect that Joan used it to substitute for blackguard, commonly pronounced to rhyme with laggard and meaning a rogue, scoundrel, rascal or, indeed, anyone who acts in a dishonourable or contemptible way. In a just world such people would get their deserts, but you will have to read the novel itself to discover if in fact this holds true here. But one can hope! ( )
  ed.pendragon | Apr 20, 2016 |
Simon, who appeared in 'Wolves of Willoughby Chase', arrives in London to begin art training, only to find he is not expected. A complicated mix-up follows in a most unlikely but extremely well-told story. Exciting; great for reading aloud. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
Two orphans, Simon and Sophie are at the heart of this story. Simon arrives in London at the invitation of a doctor friend who wishes to encourage him in his art studies, but the good Dr Field seems to have vanished into thin air. Simon soon meets the Duke of Battersea who invites him to play chess and before he knows it, he is embroiled in a plot to depose the fictitious King James III, this series being set in an alternate reality which is a bit beyond my comprehension, having not yet sorted out who the various English kings were in reality, let alone in an alternate history version! Must admit it took me a while to get into the story and about halfway through I was ready to give up because I found there were lots of disjoined bits, none of which seemed to connect, but I was well rewarded for sticking to it till the end, when it all came together beautifully. Lots of Dickensian touches with a great big cast of London characters including an impish pest of a girl you can't help but liking, and of course, this being a children's book from the 20th century, you can expect a happy ending. ( )
  Smiler69 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Just as much fun, and in the same vein, as Wolves of Willoughby Chase; melodrama on all sorts of levels. Here the alternate history does come into play - the villains are Hanoverians, who want to put Prince George on the throne instead of King James (the reverse of our history). But that's just a side-story (though it drives the rest) - there are mysterious disappearances, eccentric nobles, a long-lost heir or two (plus a pretender), multiple attempted assassinations, on and on. Not to mention fighting off wolves in Hyde and Battersea Parks in London, a shipwreck, and a long trip by balloon. I'm a little surprised the kitten never got a name. And I'm very glad that I know the series goes on with Dido - her loss is a hard blow for Simon. Great story - next, please! ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Nov 7, 2013 |
Young Simon arrives in London, expecting to meet Dr. Field, who has promised to help him enroll in the art academy. But Dr. Field is nowhere to be found, and no one appears to have any recollection of him.

So begins a delightful romp full of intrigue and mystery in early nineteenth century London. If you've already had the pleasure of reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, then you should enjoy this follow up story as well. Not just for kids! ( )
  fuzzi | Oct 14, 2013 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joan Aikenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacques, RobinIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marriott, PatIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Jessica and Joanna
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On a fine warm evening in late summer, over a hundred years ago, a boy might have been seen leading a donkey across Southwark Bridge in the city of London.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0395971284, Paperback)

Simon, the foundling from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, arrives in London to meet an old friend and pursue the study of painting. Instead he finds himself unwittingly in the middle of a wicked crew's fiendish caper to overthrow the good King James and the Duke and Duchess of Battersea. With the help of his friend Sophie and the resourceful waif Dido, Simon narrowly escapes a series of madcap close calls and dangerous run-ins. In a time and place where villains do nothing halfway, Simon is faced with wild wolves, poisoned pies, kidnapping, and a wrecked ship. This is a cleverly contrived tale of intrigue and misadventure.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:25 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Simon, the foundling from the earlier book, The wolves of Willoughy Chase, arrives in London to meet an old friend and pursue the study of painting, but he finds himself in the middle of a wicked crew's plan to overthrow good King James and the Duke and Duchess of Battersea.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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