The People in the Castle : Selected Strange Stories by Joan Aiken

To say the least, Joan Aiken was prolific.  In her eighty years, she wrote children’s and people in the castleyoung adult books, Jane Austen sequels, all kinds of genres – over a hundred books in all, many of them short story collections.

This one gleans from the short fiction Aiken wrote throughout her long career.  The selections included range from ghost stories to almost traditional fairy tale fare, all of them written with a quick wit and a great sense of uncanniness.

In “A Leg Full of Rubies,” a stranger with an owl inherits an even stranger business, along with a foul-tempered phoenix and a curse.  In “Lob’s Girl,” a dog’s devotion to his young mistress transcends distance and death.  In “Some Music for the Wicked Countess,” sometimes composing in the avant-garde can save you from the lures of the fairy world.  And in “The Last Specimen,” a country rector finds just the right sample of flower for a strange visitor to his church, and just in time.

There’s twenty stories here to enjoy and puzzle over, and maybe not read before bed.  For the quality of writing and imagination, I’d put Aiken on par with Saki and Roald  Dahl, and maybe even Ray Bradbury, all of them masters of the odd and unnerving.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


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