Book review: Black Hearts at Battersea

Black Hearts at Battersea starts off where Joan Aiken’s first book, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, left off. Bonnie and Sylvia, our heroines in the first book, are nowhere to be seen. Simon, a minor character in The Wolves, takes center stage in Black Hearts.

Simon journeys to London to meet up with the doctor that the trio (Simon, Bonnie, Sylvie) met in their earlier adventure. He hopes to stay with the doctor while he pursues art at a famous school in London.

The intrigue starts when Simon arrives at the appointed place, but there is no sign of the doctor. He throws himself into the school during the day and working for a living during the night. He crosses paths with a fellow orphan friend from his past, Sophie, who is a lady-in-waiting of sorts on an elderly Duchess. By chance, he is befriended by the Duke, with whom he plays chess.

The plot thickens with hints of rebellion in the air against the current British regime (James III), accompanied by attempted murder and kidnapping. Dido, a young daughter at the house where Simon is staying, goes missing. Presumably she is drowned, but Sophie has a feeling this scrappy lass will reappear—possible foreshadowing for the next book in the series since Dido doesn’t reappear by the end of the book.

As with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, I stumbled across lots of words, maybe more so as this book showcases language reflecting different dialects and social classes. A lot of phrases left me wondering: “slice dabs off”, “lobbed his groats”, “prig some peck”, “dicked in the nob”, “pain in my breadbasket”, “be in clover”, “twigged their lay”, “not on your oliphant!”. (The last phrase caught my attention; a coworker’s last name is Oliphant.)

I’m not sure how many of these words and phrases I can use in daily life. Describing someone has being dicked in the nob or my desk as higgledy-piggledy might earn me double takes from others. I certainly don’t want my talk to be sporific. But there is something descriptive about these words and phrases. It almost makes me want to slip “a couple of coves on peep-go” into a conversation.


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