I read my way quickly through this first book, maintaining a rather bemused expression on my face and a slightly arrogant tilt to my nose which meant that it was a charming children’s story though highly improbable. After all, how likely is it that back in the Victorian era, three children would be found on a Lord’s property who appeared to have been raised by wolves?
Even though such improbably could give way to some curious and exciting events, I found the first part of the book rather slow-moving. But that changed quickly when I came to the last several chapters. At that point, we begin to see hints of a mystery. What are we to make of Old Timothy the coachman who seems sinister but has never been proven guilty of anything? And what of Lord Ashton’s almost continual disappearances? Why will he insist on keeping the children when his wife detests them so? And who is trying to cause trouble for them?
MaryRose Wood knew what she was doing in setting up this series. She gave the main character, a young governess (who comes to teach and look after the children), plenty of pluck, optimism, and a matter of fact way of going about things. She even writes as a governess would (at least she writes like Penelope Lumley would speak to the readers of her story, if she knew she were in a story.) And thus we feel almost like Lumawoo (as the children call her) is telling us her own story and adding in her own asides and trying to make it as interesting and educational as possible in the telling. I’ve learned rather a lot of trivia (whether it’s truly trivial or not, I’m not sure) in reading these first two books. So the style is quite charming in that it perfectly matches the characters in the book.
The second notable thing that MaryRose Wood created in her story were main characters with plenty of room for mystery. Penelope has no background to speak of—all that we know (and she knows) is that her parents left her at a good school for poor females when she was quite young and that there was some necessity weighing on them to disappear. Similarly, all we know of the children is that they had been living in the forest at Ashton place and presumably raised by wolves. The oldest is 10 and the youngest is 5(?) so one might wonder how much Alexander remembers of the time before they were lost/left/stolen.
In the second book, Wood firmly establishes the fact that the children are in danger. This surprising message comes from none other than Penelope’s old headmistress, who is much more of a mother to her than a teacher. Does this danger have anything to do with the also surprising fact that Penelope’s hair is exactly the same shade as the children’s (at least when she doesn’t use the special hair poultice/dye that the headmistress is so insistent that she use)? Does it have anything to do with Lord Ashton’s peculiar regularity in disappearing during full moons and was that a cough or a bark or a howl that just came from his corner of the room? When Ashton’s friend, Judge Quinzy is proven to not be among the lists of judges in England, we are left another mystery: who on earth is “Judge” Quinzy and why does he take such exceptional interest in the children? Oh! And what about the curious guidebook that Penelope acquires…having very little good information about London except for the unheard of and little traveled Gallery 17 at the British Museum of Art?
By the time I reached the end of the second book “The Hidden Gallery” my nose was not only out of the air, it was nearly touching the pages with eagerness to discover more clues to these mysteries. And my bemused look had long been replaced by pop-eyed, open-mouthed enchantment (my usual look when reading exciting stories.)
I’ve read a couple books since then, which has dulled the anticipation to a bearable degree, but really… just thinking about it again makes me impatient for the third book to come out!