Joan Aiken writes a brilliant story on two levels which continues the saga of Dido Twite, lost at sea in the preceding novel (Black Hearts in Battersea.) She is rescued by a whaling ship whose skipper, the lugubrious Quaker Captain Coffin, is obsessed by his hunt for the great PINK whale while having some difficulty relating to his timid daughter, who has locked herself in his cupboard for the duration of the voyage. Dido wins her trust and is 'rewarded' by her father who imposes on her to be a sort of au pair. The girls are dropped off in Nantucket where they are to be under the 'care' of Coffin's sister, auntie Tribulation. Tribulation does indeed appear as Nantucket turns out to harbour anti - British-monarchy terrorists and the wicked Miss Slighcarp, villainess of 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase'. The fast-paced, intricately- plotted story comes to a very clever ending.
As usual Joan Aiken is brilliantly spoofing 19th century literature. Adults will find the parody hilarious while children thrill to the melodrama.
When we last saw Dido Twite at the end of "Black Hearts in Battersea" she was going down with the Dark Dew ship, swept away from her friends Simon and Justin in the middle of the ocean. Whilst the two boys were forced to go on without her (eventually preventing an assasination attempt on the Duke of Battersea), Dido's fate remained a mystery, that Joan Aiken now resolves for expectant readers in the third book in her "Wolves Saga".
After a ten month long sleep, Dido awakes on board a whaler in the middle of the Artic sea, on a boat completely covered in icicles and frost. There she meets young Nate, a ship's hand, who informs her of her surroundings, of how far she is from home. Also on board is the fox-like and slimy Mr Slighcarp and the moony Captain Casket, who is determined to chase and catch the magnificent pink whale. He informs Dido that his young daughter Dutiful Penitence Casket is also on board, but who has locked herself away in a cupboard in mortal terror of the sea. He requests that Dido attempt to coax her out, and then accompany her to her Aunt Tribulation on the island of Nantucket before she tries to head back to England. Dido, taking it into her responsiblity to teach Penitence not to be so timid, agrees despite her homesickness.
But there are other mysteries about, such as the fierce stowaway that Dido finds hiding in the hold, and the suspicious actions of Mr Slighcarp that aren't solved by the time Penitence and Dido reach the domineering and threatening Aunt Tribulation. The two girls eventually realise there's a Hanoverian plot in the making that involves a giant gun being fired from Nantucket to London, which will not only succeed in destroying the palace, but with blowing Nantucket backwards into New York harbour! With pink whales, German inventors, hidden woods and a familiar villainess from "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase", Joan Aiken once more dishes up excitement and intrigue set in her continually-growing parallel world, where history mingles with fiction, and characters engage in some rather incredible situations!
To a point, "Nightbirds in Nantucket" was not quite up to the standards of "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" and "Black Hearts in Battersea", as the duo of the strong-willed Dido and the meek little Penitence reminded me a little too much of Bonnie and Sylvia of "Wolves", (especially in "Aunt Tribulation"'s treatment of them), and the Hanoverian plot of conquering King James III was basically the same threat that was faced in "Black Hearts". However, Joan Aiken's imagination is amazing, whether she be creating the icy whaling ship sailing through the Artic Sea, or the warm sunny moorlands of Nantucket with its white-washed cottages. Her melodramatic plot twists and devices are always humourous and adventuresome (despite their unlikeliness), and the story ends on a note of further adventure for the irrepressable Dido Twite.
on July 26, 2001
Yet another incredible book in this series by Joan Aiken! This one places the focus on Dido Twite, and one of the things that I thought was most enjoyable about this book was seeing Dido grow into the strong, tough-girl from the wretched "brat" in Black Hearts in Battersea. I also thought that there was a lot more humour in this book than the previous three. I guess this book is like the "growth" book. Dido grows into the confident person we see in the later books, and Dutiful Penitence, under Dido's care, also becomes much stronger during the course of this adventure. I guess what I'm saying is that this is the book that makes Dido the mainstay for the rest of the series by showing how she grew stronger and how she helped others grow stronger.
I think it's a funny spoof of the whaling society of Nantucket in the 19th century, and of the Puritanical sort of Quaker types who brought up "Pen". This book introduces several sympathetic, believable, "bang-up" characters, such as Nate, Doc Mayhew, Cap'n Casket and Professor Breadno, and of course, Mr. Jenkins. The plot is wildly fantastical, (and physically impossible, in some parts) but the wonderful storytelling more than makes up for that, and rather sets the scene for the even more eerie and improbable sequels, The Stolen Lake and The Cuckoo Tree. Loads of fun, a must read for kids, and I personally think that adults should read it just to get in touch with the inner child within, etc. etc. READ THIS BOOK!
on November 21, 1997
This book (along with "Wolves" and "Black Hearts") is one of the finest pieces of youth fiction ever put into print. If you're a parent of young children (4-10), buy this book and read it to them. As a child I loved to listen to these yarns; now, as a new parent, I can't wait to read them to my child.
on October 24, 2012
A writer I know first pointed me toward Joan Aiken, with high praise that I didn't find justified for *The Wolves of Willoughby Chase*, though I was more accustomed to Aiken's MO by the time I'd read *Black Hearts in Battersea*. This book continues the Aiken penchant for totally implausible major plot elements - as in this one, when Dido Twite is fished from the sea at the end of *Battersea*, put aboard a whaler and kept alive in a 6-month coma by being fed molasses and spermaceti oil. The concluding two major plot elements are equally incredible, and while I can't say I'm won over to this side of Aiken's work, I like her characters, including Dido, and she takes care over the verisimilitude of her settings, whatever loony events happen there. Nantucket and the whalers come to life very nicely, and the plot line ends with a spectacular if unlikely climax and an HEA for nearly everyone.
This book hasn't developed the darker side apparent in the next work, *The Stolen Lake*, and more so in *The Cuckoo Tree* and the later books, which wd. make me classify Aiken less as somewhere around but not as satisfying as Diana Wynne Jones or Eva Ibbotson - who are less "fantastical" even when dealing in fantasy - than as a Clayton's version of Mervyn Peake. Particularly notable for this are the increasing number of caricatures, esp. the villains, and the nasty demise of assorted spear carriers - not just nasty deaths, but often unlamented ones.
Wd. give this one 31/2 stars if such was available.
Joan Aiken, Nightbirds on Nantucket (Doubleday, 1966)
The third book in the Wolves series addresses a mystery Aiken left unanswered at the end of Black Hearts in Battersea--what happened to Dido? As Nightbirds on Nantucket opens, Dido has been picked up by a whaler out of Massachusetts, and has been in a coma for some ten months. When she finally wakes up, her main goal is to get back to London pronto, but life, and the ship's captain, have other plans for her.
The series keeps improving book by book. It's a lot of fun, and if you missed it the first time around, you should definitely consider giving it a try now. *** ½
There's a more fantastical than Dickensian feel to this third in the Wolves Chronicles. As the story opens, we find Dido Twite (thought drowned in the climactic storm in "Black Hearts in Battersea") aboard the Nantucket whaler that has picked her up, just waking from a "long winter's nap" indeed--ten full months. The ship's Captain, Jabez Casket, is, like Captain Ahab, in quest of a whale--but his is as pink as a strawberry ice. Since the ship is currently in Arctic waters, he can hardly return Dido to her beloved London, but he does have a task for her: lure his young daughter, Dutiful Penitence, out of the stores closet in which she has locked herself ever since her mother's tragic death at sea early in the voyage. This the resourceful little Cockney succeeds in doing, but as she explores the ship and gets to know the crew, she discovers that there are mysteries aboard. Who is the stowaway hidden in the hold? What was the paper Second Officer Slighcarp tore into bits and flung overboard soon after the "Sarah Casket" had bespoken another whaler?
Returned to Nantucket with Pen (as Dido has christened her), our heroine finds that she will have to remain a while at Captain Casket's farm until arrangements can be made to return her home. Here it soon becomes apparent that Pen's "Aunt Tribulation" is in fact the mysterious stowaway. And lurking in the nearby woods are a band of Hanoverian plotters who have succeeded in fabricating an immense cannon with which they plan to lob a shot all the way across the Atlantic and murder good King Jim in his palace! Dido, Pen, and the "Sarah"'s ship's-boy Nate must find a way to expose the conspiracy and prevent the king's assassination. The pink whale, who proves not to be a figment of Captain Casket's imagination but a very real cetacean, plays a pivotal part in their counterplot.
In this book Dido assumes a central role in the series, one she will hold for several volumes to come. She's definitely a heroine for our time--gutsy, clever, quick-thinking, quick with a comeback and afraid of nobody, loyal to her friends and tough as a leather thong. Apart from the incredible elements of the cannon and the whale, which most kid readers shouldn't have much problem accepting, the chief difficulty I have with Aiken's story is that Dido--whose entire family was shown in "Battersea" to be Hanoverians down to the very youngest cousin--here declares herself a Stuart loyalist and risks life and limb to save her king, something which would have been easier to swallow if Aiken had given some thought to setting it up in the previous book. It would also be nice to know how Miss Slighcarp, the sinister governess from "Wolves," escaped getting her just due after her attempts to bring about the deaths of Sir Willoughby and his lady and take over their estate (no doubt with the view in mind of using it to finance James III's overthrow). But all in all this is another fast-paced and delightful alternate-Universe romp that maintains the author's previous reputation as a storyteller.
on October 3, 1997
This is one of my all-time favorite kids' books. Children love it because the heroine is cocky, resourceful, independent, and virtually an orphan.
Set 100 or so years ago on the whaling island of Nantucket, its argot-speaking British heroine has to solve a mystery of international intrigue and help her friend learn self-reliance. The book contains a delightful and wildly improbable mix of characters - a nest of dangerous Hanoverians, pious Quakers, a naieve scientist of unspecified Germanic origin, and two clever little girls who have to navigate this bizarre and somewhat menacing world. The characters are almost Dickensian, the setting is engaging, and the heroine's inventive London street speech is classic. Top marks and a whole-hearted recommendation to any adolescent who wants something more than the formulaic drivel of the insipid Sweet Valley Twins.
on October 17, 2004
My daughter and I read this book together. I had read other books in this series as a child and loved them. Nightbirds on Nantucket is very well written. Dido's is a very engaging heroine and we have read most of the books by Joan Aiken that involve Dido. I recommend all of them, but this is one of my favorites.
on May 2, 2002
I read this book after Dangrous Games (another book in this series).It was nice to read about Dido as she was a child.I have enjoyed this book.If not by the story than by the delightful cast
of characters,starring Dido,Pentinence,Nate,Captain Casket and Aunt Tribulation.I recommend this book to children of all ages.