Book Review: The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) by Maryrose Wood
When Miss Penelope Lumley graduates from Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, she immediately applies for a position as a governess at Ashton Place. When the advertisement specifies that “experience with animals is strongly preferred,” Penelope assumes that the children have ponies, or another sort of animal. Instead, she is greeted by the three children that Lord Ashton found in the forest. The children appear to have been raised by wolves, and are now the Ashton foster children. Named Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia Incorrigible, the children enjoy chasing squirrels, baying at the moon and climbing trees. Though Miss Lumley knows she has her work set out for her, she sets out at once to teach the children language, poetry, etiquette and mathematics. After considerable improvement, the children must prepare for Lady Constance’s Christmas dinner party. How will children who act like animals be able to act maturely at a respectable gathering? As Miss Lumley attempts to raise the three Incorrigible children, she also tries to understand the many mysteries of Ashton Place.
What a perfectly wonderful book! I find it strange that this book hasn’t been getting a lot of hype, as far as I know. I had never even heard of it before I saw it in the bookstore, but I was drawn to the cover and to the title. I pretty much loved this book from page one. The first thing that stood out was the writing. I’ll often hear books being compared to The Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, and I’m always disappointed when the novel doesn’t live up to that. The Mysterious Howling was dubbed the next Series of Unfortunate Events, and I’d say that that’s a very fair comparison. The style definitely reminded me of Lemony Snicket, with the explanations of words and phrases, although Wood’s style was subtler. Despite these similarities, the writing style still felt very unique. The Mysterious Howling is told in an old fashioned manner, with asides referencing the modern world. The explanations were often humorous and never made it feel like the author was talking down to the reader. Although this book is for children, it is narrated from the perspective of Penelope, who is fifteen but an adult in Victorian times. This worked much better than you’d expect, especially since Penelope was such a wonderful character. When Penelope first encountered the children, I had an idea in my head of how she would react. Who wouldn’t be upset to learn that they had been deceived, and were going to be the governess of three animal-like children? Instead, Penelope met her situation with optimism and conviction. I enjoyed her frequent recollections of Agatha Swanburne’s sayings, which I interpreted as the author mocking the didactic literature of the period. I loved Penelope for treating the children lovingly and for always believing in them.
Who would have guessed children that were raised by wolves could be so charming? Their progression wasn’t realistic, but I didn’t think it should be. I think of The Mysterious Howling as a fantasy book, so I was able to suspend my disbelief. The Incorrigibles were sweeter than many children I know who had a more ‘traditional’ upbringing. I even liked the spoiled and snobbish Lady Constance at times. The plot was fairly simple: a young governess tries to ‘tame’ her animal like charges, while peculiar things happen around her. The author turned this intriguing premise into a captivating and entertaining novel. There were some humorous parts and overall it was a very enjoyable read. I liked how there were many unanswered questions at the novel’s end, and I will definitely be checking out the next in the series. The Mysterious Howling had that special magic that I love to see in children’s books.
“In this way Penelope’s happy and sad feelings got all mixed up together, until they were not unlike one of those delicious cookies they have nowadays, the ones with a flat circle of sugary cream sandwiched between two chocolate-flavored wafers. In her heart she felt a soft, hidden core of sweet melancholy nestled inside crisp outer layers of joy, and if that is not the very sensation most people feel at some point or other during the holidays, then one would be hard pressed to say what is.”