From the inside cover: Joan Aiken's talent for storytelling, her masterful wit, and her engaging perceptions have created some of the most memorable female characters of our time. Growing out of the rich soil of Aiken's carefully crafted plots, these women bloom complex and vivid in every reader's mind. The story begins when young Pandora Crumbe's mother dies suddenly at the luncheon table, and Pandora falls into the care of Lady Mariana Morningquest and her husband, whose celebrated musical talents have infused all of Boxhall Hill manse with an air of enchantment. The once lonely Pandora soon finds herself building "tree-palaces," chatting about Stravinsky over tea, and gradually, startlingly, taking on an essential role in her new family--a family she loves deeply, and that loves her in return. Pandora flourishes. Her insight, grace, and imagination lift her to success at college, where she studies art. But the other Morningquest children seem to fade under the harsh lights of adult reality. In this vibrant, artful novel, Joan Aiken illuminates a world that will capture again the thousands of readers who know and cherish her fiction genius.
This is the first of Aiken's adult fare that I have tried, and I'm not sure what to think of it. Sixteen-year-old Pandora Crumbe's mother dies suddenly when visiting friends, and the Morningquest clan immediately unofficially adopts her. Pandora welcomes their attention, so different from her taciturn mother and busy, almost non-existent father, and is also intrigued by the mystery of how her simple mother came to know the wealthy, talented, and quirky upper-crust family. The story takes us through Pandora's maturation and life, as well as that of the Morningquest children, and although in the beginning the writing has a Mary Stewart-like atmosphere, it quickly wanders off into its own bizarre convoluted path. Strange as it sometimes became, I somehow felt compelled throughout to keep reading, and it remained intriguing for the most part, though the end fell a little bit flat for me. Aiken's sense of the absurd which permeates most of her children's books is here transformed into mere peculiarity, and I was left feeling like one does sometimes about a piece of abstract art - as though there was some hidden meaning that I was missing, even though the work itself was pleasing enough.