"Good book?" my husband teased me.
"They're fighting off wolves with croquet mallets and billiard balls," I replied.
Black Hearts in Battersea, of course.
What do I love about this book?
1) The fabulously nimble language, half of which I'm never sure if Aiken invented or if it's real slang.
"Hallo, my cocky," said this individual. "Old Fur-nose told me to watch out for you. So here's poor old Gus, eyes like cannonballs from lack of sleep, hoisted from the downy before the Chelsea cocks have left their watery nests---particular watery this morning, wasn't it, Fothers? Ugh!" he added, shuddering. "Eight o'clock! To think such a time exists! There ought to be a law against it, so there should!"
("hoisted from the downy" Can we ALL start using that phrase for being woken too soon?)
2) The often humorous role of food.
Here's the main character, Simon, offering bread and sausage to another boy, Gus:
"Ah, that's devilish good...I haven't had my grinders in a bit of solid prog for three days; had just enough of nibbling old Mrs. Grobb's parsley and spring onions from her window boxes."
and the Duke later offering food to Simon:
"do you take gruel, my boy? No? My cook has a capital way of making it with white wine and sugar---no?"
(Is that true? Gruel is often doctored with wine and sugar? Or is Aiken joking? She also mentions "spirits of rhubarb" and "singed sheep's head" as food and drink choices. I think those are real, even though I'm pretty sure when someone goes off to "re-singe" the sheep's head before serving it, that's a punch line.)
3) The introduction of Dido Twite (who later on, in another bit of food humor, drops a slice of bread with jam on Simon's head.)
"She was a shrewish-looking little creature of perhaps eight or nine, with sharp eyes of a pale washed-out blue and no eyebrows or eyelashes to speak of. Her straw-colored hair was stringy and sticky with jam and she wore a dirty satin dress too small for her."
She also described later as "dirty as a gutter perch, and got no more manners or gratitude than a hedge fish."
(Don't you love a heroine who is as grubby as all that?)
4) The aforementioned battles and pervasive sense of over-the-top danger.
There are opera house boxes that burst into flame, rescues by balloon, boats split in two by storms, poisoned mince-pies and those ever present wolves.
Sophie ran to the door, but old Mogg the steward was before her.
"All right, all right," he grumbled, letting down the massive bars. "Leave a bit of t'door standing, cansta? We doesn't want t'wolves taborin' in and setting by her Grace's fire---"
"And we don't want the wolves biting off our breeches pockets while you fiddle with the bolt!" shouted an impatient voice.
And now I'm impatient to begin the next book: Nightbirds on Nantucket