Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.
Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.
But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance’s holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?
This is such an adorable book! And I’ve probably just turned off about half of you, but believe me when I say it’s also got some things in it that absolutely horrified me, some exciting scenes that kept me reading long beyond the time I should be asleep, and a strong female protagonist that anyone would love to read about.
Probably there will be spoilers from here on out.
Mostly the horrifying things came from the characters other than Penelope and the Incorrigible children, like the people who took in the children and all their friends. Everyone but Penelope seems to be under the impression that just because the children were living among wolves for a few years and act more like animals than humans, their humanity is negated and so it’s totally okay to go off hunting them with GUNS, oh my god it was seriously disturbing. And the worst thing is that people in the Victorian times thought exactly that! And I bet some people in today’s modern world would think the children were animals, too. (But would they try to hunt them?)
That’s one thing I liked about The Mysterious Howling, actually: it wasn’t afraid to talk about horrible things like grown men trying to hunt down children with guns, though it does it within a shell of innocence (Penelope’s, mainly) and MG-style writing. I appreciated that, because it could have very easily slipped into a melodrama/Gothic thing, and instead it’s a quirky, sweet, slightly-tinged-with-horror story.
For such a sweet story there was a surprising amount of character depth and development– although maybe not so much positive development in anyone other than Penelope, who became extremely responsible, and the children, who learned quickly to act more civilized– and I appreciated that even though the baddies were obviously unhinged, they weren’t just evil because they were evil. There were reasons for the bad things they did, and there was even hints that they could be reformed into goodies if Penelope stuck around them long enough. Sort of like how Mary Poppins fixed everyone in the Banks house (not that Penelope is up to M. Poppins’ standards of nanny-ing, yet). Penelope is very practical, a thing which tends to be appreciated in a person, and I’m sure she could win over anyone given enough time.
I do look forward to reading the next book in the series, because this one ends with a very big (and yet somewhat expected) revelation that should be fun to explore later. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be released until next year! Woe is me.
Read: August 2010