Review: Midwinter Nightingale by Joan Aiken | Books | The.

Midwinter Nightingale is the latest but not the last in the series of books that began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, even though its author, Joan Aiken, died in January aged 79. Known variously as the Wolves Chronicles and the James III saga, they were written over a period of 40 years and are set in an alternative 19th century where the Hanoverians didn't replace the Stuarts on the English throne, and are forever trying to plot their overthrow. The final book, The Witch of Clattering Shaws, is due for publication next year.

As Dido grew older, Aiken realised that she needed a younger character to take centre stage in later books and created Is. Fans will be delighted at Dido's return in Midwinter Nightingale. No sooner is she back from the Americas than she is in the thick of it. And be warned, wicked things happen in this book: fingers are severed, a cat strangled, and people tortured. You will marvel at the speed and ease with which many of the key players - good and bad - are unceremoniously, and with great zeal, dispatched.

So what about the reader who has not read another book in the series? Does this stand up in its own right? If you are not used to the gluttonous use of rich language and dialect, or the alternative history, it will take some getting used to. Loyal readers will undeniably get more from it than newcomers, but - and this is a big but - the "back story" is explained where necessary, so the plot can be followed by all, and it really is well worth the ride. This is a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Humour is never far away in Aiken's world.