This one had me charmed at the first sentence: “It was not Miss Penelope Lumley’s first journey on a train, but it was the first one she had taken alone.” By the end of the first chapter, I was reading passages aloud, telling my girls that I should probably just buy this book. It’s a very, very charming book: funny, quaint and with an interesting story.
That said, by the time I finished it, I wasn’t so sure about it. Yes, it’s the first in the series, but I felt there were too many questions raised and not enough answers given.
Penelope Lumley is a 15-year-old graduate of the anburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, and her first job is as a governess for three children at the estate of Lord and Lady Ashton. Once Penelope gets there, she realizes that this will not be any ordinary governessing job: the three children — whom Lord Ashton has christened Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia — were found in the woods and are more canine than human. This doesn’t really bother Penelope: she’s always had a soft spot for animals, and she figures — thanks to the nuggets of wisdom of Swanburne’s founder, Agatha Swanburne (like: “There is no alarm clock like embarrassment.”) — that she should just make the best of the situation.
The best part, incidentally, is the asides. I adored the asides, because they were just so funny. Like this one:
Extraordinarily busy places are often compared to beehives, and if you have ever seen the inside of a beehive, you already know why this is so.
(It is not necessary to actually set foot inside of a beehive to confirm this, by the way. They are too small and too full of bees for in-person tours to be truly convenient. But there are alternatives: One could peer inside using some sort of periscopelike magnifying device, for example. Or one could simply accept that beehives are busy and get on with it. This second option is called “suspending one’s disbelief” and it is by far the easiest row to hoe, now and at other times, too.)
The book is mostly Penelope’s experiences in reteaching the children, but there’s also an air of mystery surrounding it: how did the children end up in the forest? What is Lord Ashton’s “business” and club that he’s always spending time with? And what’s the deal with Old Timothy, the coachman? Why is he always lurking around?
The problem is that none of the questions are ever answered. As I said before, I know it’s the first in a series, but I found the lack of resolution highly annoying. (That, and the “to be continued” at the end of the book. Really? How trite.) It’s a quibble, and a bit of a major one for me, but it did serve its purpose: I need to read the next book and find out if there are any answers. Though I do hope that Wood doesn’t drag it out: enough “to be continued”s and I lose interest.
Which would be too bad, because this book really is quite charming.