The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book 3, The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012. Review copy from publisher. Website for the book (with games, etc.) Book 1: The Mysterious Howling; Book 2: The Hidden Gallery.
The Plot: The three Incorrigible children (Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia) and their governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, have returned from their London adventure and are happily ensconced in Ashton Place. Nothing ever remains safe and comfortable for these four, and unexpected guests of both the animal and human kind lead to new adventures and new questions about their mysterious origins.
The Good: I just love how smart the Incorrigible Children books are. The words, the references, the allusions, all of it. This book alone mentions dodos, derbys (the race and the hat), pince nez, ostriches, Edgar Allan Poe, rhetorical questions, puns, and synonyms.
If a reader stumbles upon this without having read the first two, there will be no confusion; Wood handily explains the premise: children raised by wolves now being raised by teen governess whose own parents abandoned her at a girls’ school. They will enjoy this one so much they will go back to read the first two; and, based on how carefully crafted and well-structured these books are, as a series, that reader will probably pick up on clues to the origins of the Incorrigibles and Penelope that the in-order readers like myself missed.
The unexpected guests are Lord Ashton’s widowed mother Hortense, her fiance, Admiral Faucet, and Faucet’s ostrich. The ostrich, the basis of Faucet’s several money-making schemes, has escaped and must be tracked down and found. Faucet wants to find it alive; Ashton, the hunter, wants it dead so he can place it amongst his other trophies. Faucet recruits the Incorrigibles to his cause, using them because their skills at tracking are superb. The scenes of Miss Lumley preparing for the expedition are hilarious, as her “must have” lists basically mean bringing all the comforts of home with them.
I could make this entire post quotes from the book; I’m showing my restraint by avoiding those that are too spoilery, or need to be read in context. Here is one that makes sense no matter what: “...as a person who had recently made an error herself, and had gone to the trouble of correcting it, [Miss Lumley] knew better than to expect other people to be perfect at all times.”
Also fun? All the sayings of Miss Angela Swanburne, the founder of the school that Miss Lumley attended. Has anyone put together a site just of her sayings? Here are to classics: “new boots never fit as well as old” and “patience can untangle the knottiest shoelace, but so can a pair of scissors.”
The background mystery of these books — the origins of the children and Miss Lumley herself — continues to move forward. It does so at a slow pace; a few hints revealed, with the reader often guessing more than the characters. When the Incorrigibles go on their expedition, they gleefully recall their pre-Ashton Place days of living in a cave. With quilts and sandwiches. Sandwiches, Miss Lumley asks? The children laugh at Miss Lumley’s ignorance; of course, sandwiches! There are also the wolves, and the encounter with the wolves and the hints of other wolfish things continue to pile up.
Because this series continues to be smart, funny, and respects the readers; because I have no idea what the mystery concerning the Incorrigibles and Lumley will end being; because Miss Lumley is so brave and proper and smart, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.