Night Birds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken

Puffin, 1969, 172 p.

Night Birds on Nantucket cover

At the start of this follow-up to Black Hearts in Battersea, itself a sequel of sorts to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Dido Twite has been comatose for four months, fed by one of the crew on the whaling ship Sarah Casket, which rescued her from drowning.

On her awakening she is asked by Captain Casket to befriend his now motherless daughter Dutiful Penitence (Pen) who is too scared to come on deck and hides away in her cabin. Dido soon finds another member of the crew, Mr Slighcarp (a surname readers of the series know well,) acting suspiciously and keeping secret the presence on ship of a mystery woman.

After following a pink whale (the captain’s obsession) from the Arctic down past the Galapagos and round into the Atlantic, Dido and Pen, now firm friends, are dropped off at the ship’s home port in Nantucket, where it has been arranged for the captain’s sister Tribulation to look after Pen for a while. Readers familiar with the series know where this domestic situation is going by now but perhaps its target younger audience might not. Excitement ensues though, when our two young friends come across a Hanoverian plot to kill King James III.

This is wholesome fare, as befits its intended YA audience but also eminently readable for older booklovers. Dido and Pen are agreeably portrayed – though some of the adults’ characterisations are a little over the top.

The book is decorated at intervals with illustrations (one of which is unfortunately placed one page too early.)

Pedant’s corner:- “The whole crew were trying to…” (the whole crew was trying to,) imposter (I much prefer impostor,) sculduggery (I know Dido does not speak in received pronunciation but the spelling of words she does speak ‘normally’ should not be altered; skulduggery,) trapesing (traipsing,) “‘when you Papa’s at sea’” (your Papa’s.) In the ‘About the author’; “the Amercian writer” (American.)

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