As cunning as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University.
I received this seventh book about young Flavia de Luce, amateur sleuth, brilliant chemist, from Netgalley as an ARC. Truth be told I requested it especially as I devoured the first six Flavia books in about a week.
In this book we find Flavia on a boat on her way to Toronto, Canada to attend Miss Bodycote’s boarding school only a short while after burying her mother and finding out she had inherited Buckshaw from her. Overseeing Flavia are a Canadian couple, Dr. and Mrs. Rainsmith
whom Flavia dislikes. I feel like this book and the one before it saw Flavia more on the cusp of growing up, saying goodbye to her mother and then moving away from home and to another country. She feels homesick and tears well up at time, it’s not what I got used to from Flavia from the first few books but it is very realistic; she is so young and she has gone through so much in the past few weeks of her life. Thankfully a body comes crashing down the chimney in Flavia’s room at school only a few hours after she arrives. I say thankfully because it gives Flavia something else to think about. Flavia also finds out that girls have been going missing from the school and nobody is doing anything about it and she finds out that the school is not all that it seems, the mysterious Nide seems somehow implicated.
It was enjoyable to see Flavia in another environment than at Buckshaw, it was time to move the series to a new location because the endless bodies piling up around Bishops Lacey were beginning to seem a bit odd. As ever I’m impatiently looking forward to the next instalment.
Atonement centers around an event that changes and ruins lives, the leading up to that event and the consequences of that event.
“It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.” - Atonement
In summer during the mid 1930’s in England Briony Tallis is a 13 year old girl determined to be a writer. She teeters on the cusp of childhood and becoming an adult but there are so many things she does not understand. Her sister Cecilia is home from Cambridge contemplating her future and feeling annoyed with her childhood friend, Robbie Turner, the son of a family servant whose education is supported by Briony and Cecilia’s father. Briony witnesses tension between Cecilia and Robbie and misinterprets. Later in the day Cecilia and Briony’s brother comes home with a friend, Paul Marshall. During the afternoon Briony gives up on a play she has written to be performed by her visiting cousins and wanders the grounds in contemplation. Robbie sees her and asks her to deliver a note to Cecilia, realizing only too late that he put the wrong draft in the envelope. The letter, which Briony reads, contains a very sexually explicit clause which confuses Briony and later leads her to believe that Robbie is some sort of sex maniac. Walking in on Cecilia and Robbie having sex in the library later that evening, an even which Briony interprets as Robbie attacking Cecilia, reinforces her ideas about Robbie. Robbie and Cecilia have on the contrary admitted their love to each other and made love in the library. That evening Briony’s younger twin cousins run away and everybody goes out searching for them. Briony wanders the ground and stumbles upon her older cousin, Lola, being raped by someone Briony does not see clearly. The events earlier that day lead Briony to conclude that it was Robbie who raped Lola. She tells the police repeatedly that she knows that Robbie did it but the police push her to admit wether she saw him or not. Briony feels so sure that she says she saw Robbie and later she feels she cannot recant her statement. Robbie is lead away in handcuffs and Cecilia tells him that she believes in him and will wait for him.
The second part of the novel is told from Robbie’s perspective. It has been several years since the incident and Robbie has been set free from prison to serve in the army. This part mainly centers around his march towards Dunkirk which is being evacuated with two other soldiers. Robbie muses on the reasons behind Briony pointing the finger at Robbie and remembers meeting Cecilia for the first time after prison. That meeting, for half an hour, was all they could manage before he was deployed but they have written each other. Cecilia has broken ties with her family and moved to London to become a nurse.
“How guilt refined the methods of self-torture, threading the beads of detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime.” - Atonement
The third part of the novel is told from the perspective of Briony. She has given up her place at Cambridge and has come to London to become a nurse. Part of the reason is to gain her independence from her family and, as Cecilia speculates in a letter to Robbie, part of the reason is to atone for her actions. Briony is a trainee nurse in a London hospital and experiences the effects of war when, after the evacuation of Dunkirk, the hospital is flooded with severely wounded and dying soldiers. She finds out that Lola is about to marry Paul Marshall and goes to the wedding and stands at the back. During the service Briony muses on the events of that night five years ago and concludes that it was Paul Marshall she saw raping Lola. After the wedding she goes to see her sister and finds Robbie staying with her. They are both angry and refuse to forgive her but Briony agrees to tell the truth. She tells them how very sorry she is.
“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.” - Atonement
Part four of the novel is again told from the perspective of Briony on her 77th birthday. She has just finished a novel, her last novel as she has just been diagnosed with vascular dementia. She goes to her former home, now a hotel, to celebrate her birthday with her family. Later in the night when she cannot sleep she writes a sort of epilogue to her book. She writes that she told the truth until where Briony goes to see her sister. She admits that she never went to see her, she only went so far as Lola’s wedding. She writes that Robbie died in Bray Dunes during the evacuation of Dunkirk from septicemia and that Cecilia died that same year by the bomb that fell on Balham Underground station. She writes that she wanted to give them the time they so wanted to spend together and a happy ending in her book that they never got in real life because of her.
All in all Atonement is beautifully written. The first part, describing the inner thoughts of several characters in the build up to the incident so well. I don’t know wether part two, with Robbie's drive to survive, or part three, about Briony having grown up and growing up even more when she begins caring for severely wounded soldiers. I knew how the book would end as I had seen the movie several years ago but that did not stop me from enjoying the book. There is so much more to the book than the plot, the characters themselves, their growth and their thoughts are what make this book what it is.
I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley. The book will be published on January 14th.
“There we stood, like stone chessmen: Father, the checkmated king, graceful, but fatally wounded in defeat; Aunt Felicity, the ancient queen, her black hat askew, humming some tuneless tune to herself; Feely and Daffy, the rooks, the two remote towers at the distant corners of our castle world.
And me: Flavia de Luce.
- The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
Flavia’s mother is finally coming home after 10 years missing. As the train pulls up to the Buckshaw station and her coffin is carried out her family is there to welcome her; Colonel de Luce, Ophelia, Daphne and young Flavia who never knew her mother. Just as Flavia is coming to terms with her mother’s death mysterious things happen. First of all, Winston Churchill himself is present to welcome Harriet de Luce home and his odd question to Flavia piques her interest. Secondly, a man, just after he delivers a cryptic warning to Flavia to pass on, is crushed under the train.
“Daffy once told me that there are approximately half a million words in the English language. With so many words to choose from, you’d think that just one person, at least, could find something more original than that stupid word “sorry.”” – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
Flavia is busy though. This is perhaps the first time in the series where Flavia doesn’t really search the mystery out, mystery follows her. Flavia is grieving in her own way and having known this character for five books her subtle mourning and wonderings about grief made me tear up. It’s not often a book manages to pull a tear from me but Flavia did. Dogger is of course his old dependable self, wonderful friend to Flavia as always. Colonel de Luce is lost in his grief and Flavia’s sisters, as ever, seem to exclude her to a certain point. I think the most beautiful point in the book is when Flavia is looking at a film of her family having a picknick while she was still only a bump in her mother’s belly, feeling a bit jelous that Ophelia and Daphne were out in the sun with her while she wasn’t.
“In spite of being sisters, we were none of us what you would call great friends. We were still working out new ways to torture one another.” – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
Added to Flavia’s problems is the fact that Harriet’s cousin Lena and her daughter, six year old Undine, have come to stay for the funeral. I must say, Undine was about the most annoying character. She was supposed to be of course. Perhaps it speaks of Flavia’s grief that she didn’t simply poison the little twerp, which would have been perfectly understandable.
In the end, Flavia manages to solve the mystery of course, but is it too late? I won’t say anything more, only that there are several more questions. What was her mother doing in Tibet during WWII? What is to happen to Buckshaw now that it has been put uop for sale?
“Love at Arm’s Length: That should have been our family’s motto, rather than the forced witticism of Dare Lucem.” – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
The book was highly satisfying because it answered a lot of questions that I had been wondering after reading the other books but it raised a number of other questions. Immediately upon finishing the book I went online to see if this was really the last of the Flavia book. Much to my delight, and relief, there are at least four more (http://www.flaviadeluce.com/2012/01/31/320/). I am very much looking forward to the Flavia books going in a new direction.
It sounded like a good idea, mankind forced to retreat to space when Earth becomes inhabitable only to run out of resources 300 years later and attempt to establish themselves on Earth again. So far so good.
Unfortunately this is where the “good” ends and two dimensional characters, dull plot and lack of reasoning begins.
The storytelling was also annoying. I don’t mind an occasional flashback in a novel but when it’s every chapter, and all the chapters are from a different MC’s view, it gets confusing and too much.
The spaceship is divided into three colonies: Phoenix, where the important people apparently live, while conditions in Walden and Arcadia are dismal. For a while the space ship has not been able to support the populations so in order to get rid of people, convicts are being put to death. The story follows a group of young offenders. On their 18th birthday they are supposed to get a retrial but lately nobody has gotten pardoned and everybody have been executed on their birthday. But 100 young offenders get a chance to live when the chancellor on the space ship decides to send them to Earth to see how conditions are, specifically if there is still radiation. On the day of the kids being sent down by a drop ship, Bellamy, whose sister is among those being sent to Earth, forces his way onto the ship by shooting the chancellor while Glass escapes in the chaos and manages to outrun the guards. The kids are dropped to Earth, it is a hard landing, some people die, the rest try to set up some kind of camp with what supplies weren’t damaged in the landing. A boy named Graham sort of takes over as leader but Wells, the chancellors son, disagrees with his decisions. The final main character, Clarke, sets up a medical tent and tries to heal the wounded with her medical training. The rest of the book basically follows the four perspectives, Glass on the ship, Bellamy, Wells and Clarke on Earth. The kids on Earth are faced with numerous problems and despite the fact that they are in quite dire circumstances romance blossoms.
Bellamy: the boy who grew up in depressing circumstances with a single mother who gives birth to a second child, Octavia, in secret. As people are only allowed to have one child on the space ship Octavia must be hidden in a closet for most of the time. Bellamy loves her and shoulders most of the responsibility for caring for her. When Octavia is to be sent to Earth, Bellamy immediately hatches a plan to go with her and protect her. When they get to Earth all he wants is for them to break away from the main group and go it alone. I found this extremely short sighted of Bellamy, what on Earth will they do then? Just the two of them, if something happens to him she will be left alone. Anyway, things don’t work out according to his plan as Octavia isn’t a little baby anymore and makes choices of her own.
Glass: the girl who escaped from the Earth bound drop ship. She heads straight to her ex-boyfriend’s apartment, not to her mother, only to find that he has a new girlfriend. I fail to see why she thought this was a good idea as apparently she ditched him quite brutally (to save him of course). She eventually makes it to her mother’s apartment, her mother gets her pardoned, it is implied that she went to a lot of trouble to do it and that Glass should be grateful and not cause more trouble. Glass does not seem very grateful to her mother, she immediately runs back to her ex and they get together again. Basically, their story is to mawkish for me to enjoy.
Clarke: she was on her way to become a doctor on Phoenix when her parents got executed and she got sent to confinement for being an accessory to their crime. She was in love with Wells but he betrayed her. She is angry with him. She seemed to me to be the only one of the four main characters that had redeeming qualities. Unfortunately she was a bit of a Mary Sue.
Wells: the chancellors son with the future ahead of him. Loses his mother, meets Clarke, falls in love with Clarke, betrays Clarke so that she is sent to prison and her parents executed, feels bad about that, decides to endanger humanity to save the girl he loves from execution and have her sent to Earth instead, commits a stupid crime to get himself sent to Earth, tries to win Clarke back. Basically he is the dumbest and most selfish character I have come across for a long time. There is a line in the book which goes like this:
“A terrifying plan began to take shape, and his chest tightened in fear as he realized what he would have to do. But Wells knew there was no other way. To save the girl he loved, he’d have to endanger the entire human race.”
Yes, you read that right. To save his ex-girlfriend he just about sentences everyone else who’s left on the ship to death. Because, dangnabbit, he just luvs her so, so much. Such a nice guy.
“His plan was reckless and stupid and incredibly selfish, but he didn’t care. He had to make sure Clarke was sent to Earth instead of the execution chamber.”
This plan isn’t incredibly selfish, it is so incredibly selfish that words don’t begin to cover it. All the main characters, except for Mary Sue Clarke perhaps, do something incredibly selfish and justify it to themselves somehow, but Wells definitely takes the cake. Selfishness, thy name is Wells Jaha.
First of all, I could not understand why the three space colonies where so unequal. Basically Phoenix is the best, Walden somewhere in the middle and you’re screwed if you’re born on Arcadia because, apparently, you can never move between these colonies, work yourself up. Why, when resources are dwindling, do Phoenicians continue to host parties with wine and fancy dresses while the other colonies go without? What the hell happened that Phoenix is full of socialites while Walden and Arcadia people struggle?
Second, the drop ship. What the hell? Humans managed to build themselves a space ship but the only other way they can think of to get to Earth is by loading people into what is basically a container and dropping them to Earth. Forget possible radiation on Earth, it is a miracle in itself that most of the kids survived the landing.
Which brings me to my last point. What the hell happened to Earth? There is apparently the possibility that there might still be radiation. Why? They only refer to it as the cataclysm. What happened? Was it a war, nuclear bombing all around, a massive volcanic eruption, an asteroid that crashed into the Earth? It can’t have been to bad as Clarke finds an old church somewhere in the forest with some of the windows still intact. It also can’t have been to sudden or desperate as the people who made it to the space ship apparently took the time to bring some books and useless stuff, for survival at least, with them.
I get that this is a series but the first book was just so ill explained that it makes no sense. Couple that with badly written characters and you’ve basically got my reason for not picking up the next book in this series.
“I wanted to cry.
I also wanted to go to my laboratory and prepare an enormous batch of nitrogen triiodide with which to blow up, in a spectacular mushroom cloud of purple vapor, the world and everyone in it.” – Speaking from Among the Bones
My favourite chemist/sleuth is back!
It’s almost time for Easter in Bishop’s Lacey and what better way to celebrate than by opening the crypt of the patron saint of St. Tancred’s church. This intrigues some, like the ever-curious Flavia, and infuriates others, like the bishop. Feely has taken up the position of organist since Mr. Colicutt, the organist before her, has disappeared, seemingly with no regard for his duties nor his admirers in Bishop’s Lacey. When said former organist is found dead in St. Tancred tombs a police investigation follows... which naturally means Flavia is five steps ahead of them. But for the first time it seems Flavia has competition from other sleuths!
“There's an unwritten law of the universe which assures that the thing you seek will always be found in the last place you look. It applies to everything in life from lost socks to misplaced poisons. . .” – Speaking from Among the Bones
Wih the threat of losing Buckshaw still looming Flavia muses what is to become of them, where will they go. Father gets a phone call and acts even more distant and strange than usual. Flavia continues to mature, how can she not after being through four murder mysteries already, and it sometimes confuses her. She continues to learn about her mother, a very sweet subplot in light of the fact that Flavia seems to be the spitting image of her mother but never knew her.
“Was sorrow, in the end, a private thing? A closed container? Something that, like a bucket of water, could be borne only on a single pair of shoulders?”
– Speaking from Among the Bones
“Although it is pleasant to think about poison at any season, there is something special about Christmas, and I found myself grinning.” – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
It’s Christmastime at Buckshaw and because of his dire financial situation Colonel de Luce has rented out the family pile to some film company. Famous actress Phyllis Wyvern comes to stay and the ever oportunistic vicar asks her to perform for the villagers of Bishop’s Lacey to raise money for the church roof fund. She and her co-star put on a performance of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene for half the population of Bishop’s Lacey that’s not without its hickups. During the performance the storm picks up so none of the villagers can get to their home and they must camp out at Buckshaw for the night.
“Either way, the whole thing was a pain in the porpoise.” – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
During the night Flavia, on one of her midnight strolls, finds another body, what else? The police manage to plow their way to the house and ground everyone who was there at the time of the murder as vitnesses. This doesn’t just lead to a good mystery, it also grounds all of Feely’s, Flavia’s sister, suitors in the house. I’ve mentioned before that I love reading about Flavia’s relationship with her sisters and in this book, despite the freezing cold outside, it begins to thaw. It was quite lovely to read about. I love all their little quirks, from their specific truce formalities to their banter and teasing. Flavia is also beginning to grow up, musing intelligently of live and her sisters. Bradley has done a fantastic job in pacing Flavia’s inner voice throughout the series, from child to, well not an adult but at least maturing.
“I lay for a long time in silence, staring at the ceiling. Was my life always to be like this? I wondered. Was it going to go, forever, i an instant, from sunshine to shadow? From pandemonium to loneliness? From fierce anger to a fiercer kind of love?” – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
There is also a subplot wherein Flavia decides to catch Father Christmas. This might seem juvenile to anyone who doesn’t know Flavia, but it isn’t. Flavia doesn’t do anything halfheartedly. There is careful planning involved and, of course, chemistry. I found it hilarious that she would skip happily around Buckshaw singing “You’d better watch out…” after her detailed description of the plan.
“I had concocted the gunpowder myself from niter, sulfur, charcoal, and a happy heart. When working with explosives, I've found that attitude is everything.” – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
I honestly think this might be my favourite book out of the bunch. Well at least so far, I haven’t read number 6!
“I have no fear of the dead. Indeed in my own limited experience I have found them to produce in me a feeling that is quite the opposite of fear. A dead body is much more fascinating than a live one and I have learned that most corpses tell better stories. I’d had the good fortune of seeing several of them in my time.”
- Red Herring Without Mustard
Flavia is back with a new mystery. After accedentally burning down a fortune-tellers tent during the church bazaar she invites the woman to camp on the grounds of Buckshaw. During the night Flavia wakes to find an intruder in the living room, and later after having shown him the door takes a midnight stroll to visit the woman’s caraven to see if she is alright and finds the old gypsy woman in her caravan unconcious from an attack. Flavia acts quickly and summons a doctor. Later she decides to visit the crime scene of the crme for a bit of snooping, Flavia’s specialty, where she meets the woman’s grand-daughter and invites her to stay at Buckshaw because the caravan can hardly be safe with the assailant still on the loose. On their way to the main house Flavia discovers a body, non other than the nightime intruder whom she found in Buckshaw’s living room. Flavia takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of the gypsy woman’s attack, the death of the nightime intruder as well as the disappearance and appearance of two fire dogs with her usual brilliance.
“How very kind of her, ' I said. 'I must remember to send her a card.'
I'd send her a card alright. It would be the Ace of Spades, and I'd mail it anonymously from somewhere other than Bishop's Lacey.”
- Red Herring Without Mustard
Into the Soup.
Put out the mourning lamps
Call for coffin clamps
Teach them to trifle with
Flavia de Luce!”
- The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag.
In this second book of the Flavia de Luce series Flavia must solve two murders, one that happens before her, and the rest of Bishop’s Lacey population eyes, and one that happened years ago.
“I drew in a deep breath, sucking the sour tange into my lungs and savoring the chemical smell of decay. But this was no time for pleasant reflections.”
- The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag.
A travelling puppet show has come to Bishop’s Lacey, famous Rupert Porson and his assistant Nialla whom Flavia befriends. Rupert and Nialla are stuck as their truck has broken down and the vicar sees this as an opportunity; he will get their truck fixed if they host two pupped show performances in the church hall. It seems like a lovely plan. Unfortunately it ends with death.
“I'm at that age where I watch such things with two minds, one that cackles at these capers and another that never gets much beyond a rather jaded and self-conscious smile, like the Mona Lisa.”
- The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag.
Enter Flavia: master chemist, amateur sleuth, eleven. Flavia, always at the scene of the crime, takes it upon herself to unearth the truth with her usual brilliance and unstoppable snooping. Oh, how I adore her. The same cannot be said for the local police, inspector Hewitt and his men, who are always one step behind Flavia and usually embarrased when it turns out they’ve overlooked something an eleven-year-old found out. The book, mystery interlaced with Flavia’s interactions with her mean sister, her distant father, the chatty Mrs. Mullet, the wonderful Dogger and Bishop’s Lacey colorful population is brilliant.
“While you've been gadding about the countryside, we've held a meeting, and we've all of us decided that you must go.'
In short, we've voted you out of the family,' Daffy said. 'It was unanimous.”
- The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag.