What a surprise! I figured this would be a decent three star book; worth reading but nothing really memorable. I was even prepared to sigh at the idea of badly behaving children giving their governess trouble.
Nope, this is not that book. This is the book where a girl with her own mysterious past becomes the governess of three children literally raised by wolves. Now from some weird reading back in the day, I had to seriously suspend belief at what these children accomplish and how quickly they talked. But this is not meant to be realistic, it clearly has Gothic elements. The house has strange people around and an air of mystery, there is clearly more going on here, and even the text itself seems to try to hide the shadows behind humor and easy answers.
But what really got me was the style of writing. It reminded me slightly of Lemony Snicket and his way of defining a word by the events surrounding it. Here, sayings and other explanations are treated similarly.
"If you have ever opened a can of worms, boxed yourself into a corner, ended up in hot water, or found yourself in a pretty pickle, you already know that life is rarely (if ever) just a bowl of cherries. It is far more likely to be a bowl of problems, worries, and difficulties. This is normal and should not be seen as cause for alarm."
The characters were all interesting though felt slightly cliche, deliberately so I believe. Penelope reminds me of Jane Eyre and the house is stocked with the plump housekeeper, the suspicious servant, the mysterious employer, and the obsessed with status lady of the house who almost seems like a doll.
"In the changeable light of the fire Lady Constance's face seemed an inscrutable, doll-like mask, with half-smiling lips painted on and expressionless glass eyes - all at once Penelope thought the lady bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the animals in Lord Fredrick's study. The image of Lady Constance's stuffed head mounted on the wall was disturbing and difficult to shake off."
The story held my interest very well and while complete, not all out questions are answered and I'm interested to see what more lies in store for the Incorrigibles and Penelope.
Agatha Swanburne turns out to be quite a wise woman:
"All books are judged by their covers until they are read."
All of what I wrote above is true and decided to keep my review exactly how I originally wrote it even though new information I just found out would completely change it. This is shelved as a Juvenile book! Looking back, I can see reasons why - the virtual non-treatment of the very real issues the children would have, the cliche characters, the Lemony Snicket why of explaining everything - but when I read this I did not read this as a Middle grade book! YA, yes I could see that, but there are some rather sophisticated words in this book and the style it's lightly parodying would not be read by many children that age. On the other hand, I can see particularly girls who enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events liking this.
All of this is to say that this was an extremely surprising and wonderful book hiding behind an unassuming cover. I like the artwork but I wouldn't call it eye-catching.