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BOOK REVIEW: MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE by Joan Aiken

Monday, February 29, 2016


THE BLURB:

Now, back in print, the engaging and suspenseful British fantasy by one of England’s most imaginative storytellers.

Lucas Bell is lonely and miserable at Midnight Court, a vast, brooding house owned by his intolerable guardian, Sir Randolph Grimsby. When a mysterious carriage brings a visitor to the house, Lucas hopes he’s found a friend at last. 

But the newcomer, Anna Marie, is unfriendly and spoiled—and French. 

Just when Lucas thinks things can’t get any worse, disastrous circumstances force him and Anna Marie, parentless and penniless, into the dark and unfriendly streets of Blastburn.


WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK:

Joan Aiken is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. Her books were out-of-print for a while and I haunted second-hand bookshops in the hopes of building up my collection. 

My copy of this wonderful book was bought from the Glebe Library years ago, and still has its yellow cardboard filing card in an envelope glued inside the front cover.

 Happily, her books have all recently been re-issued with fabulous new covers and so are easy to get hold of now. 


It’s difficult to exactly categorise Joan Aiken’s work. It’s historical fiction, with a Dickensian feel thanks to its brilliantly drawn characters (both comic and villainous), unusual names, and dark atmospheric settings. 

Her stories are fabulously inventive, and often have surprising elements in them (like pink whales). 

Some of the books have an alternative historical setting, with Good King James III on the throne of England, and the wicked Hanoverians trying to blow up Parliament House.


MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE is the most realist of her novels, and quite possibly her darkest. 

It tells the story of a lonely boy named Lucas, who lives at Midnight Court, next to a smoggy industrial town called Blastburn. His guardian is a foul-tempered, brandy-drinking eccentric who won the great house in a card-game many years before. 

One day the orphaned daughter of the previous owner comes to live at Midnight Court. Soon Lucas and Anna-Marie are left destitute, and must fend for themselves in the tough streets of Blackburn. 

There is one particular scene set in the carpet-making factory that I shall never forget – as a child, it burnt itself deep into my imagination. 

It is also striking for its refusal to restore the children’s lost wealth – instead they find happiness by making their own way in the world. 

Joan Aiken is one of the great children’s writers, and deserves to be much more widely celebrated.  


WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS BOOK?

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