Juushika's Reviews > Black Hearts in Battersea

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken
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's review
Jul 28, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: status-borrowed, genre-ya-or-childrens, genre-gothic
Read in July, 2011

Young Simon comes to London at the invitation of his old mentor, but when he arrives his mentor is nowhere to be found. What Simon finds instead is a wicked plot to overthrow King James, and only his wits and unlikely friends can help him save the day—and himself. Black Hearts in Battersea is thoroughly predictable, but not as such bad. It's one part rollicking adventure and one part heavy-handed foreshadowing, and while the latter strips all suspense from the former, it doesn't sap its energy. Indeed, the excessive foreshadowing feels almost at home: it paints a vivid caricature of adventure and danger, with all of the fun and little of the stress. While the plot is predictable, the protagonist's experience of surviving it remains engaging—Simon is likable, bright, and real despite his stylized setting, and there's a certain satisfaction in watching him work his way out a quandary. His companions have a similar appeal; the villains are quirky (often extremely, but not obnoxiously, so), and their eccentricities provide much-needed depth and color to an otherwise simplistic evil. Aiken's tone is smooth, intelligent, and verging on understated, which is what lets her get away with such heavy foreshadowing. Her book is also surprisingly dark—surprising insofar as it offers a lot of evil for children's literature, and surprising also that it doesn't feel dark. Consummately written for its intended audience, it's colorful, engaging, and largely tension-free, packed full of adventure and villainy without overwhelming a young reader. Adult readers, meanwhile, may find the dissonance of tone and content rather charming in an Edward Gorey (who suitably provides the cover art for this edition) sort of way—but the book's inclination towards energy and adventure in lieu of depth may make it quick, fun, but ultimately unsatisfying to a more demanding reader. Call me, then, more demanding: I found Black Hearts in Battersea enjoyable, and I appreciate the tone more and more in retrospect, but the book didn't grab me, didn't quite fulfill me; I don't feel the need to read it again, or to seek out more by the author. I look for a bit more substance even in my rollicking adventures, or perhaps rollicking adventures just aren't for me. Nonetheless I mildly recommend Black Hearts in Battersea: the book has a fair bit going for it—just not quite enough for my personal taste.

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