The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches / Alan Bradley
Toronto: Random House, c2014.
Well. I am both very happy and very sad to read this book -- because it is fantastic, but it also the last book following the adventures of 11 yr old Flavia de Luce.
It was a fitting conclusion to the series, full of personalities, new characters and old, and lots more self-discovery by Flavia. I think that the previous book should be read along with this one, as it really seems that they are two parts of a whole. There are lots of loose ends being tied up in this volume, lots of secrets coming out, and Flavia is having to incorporate new information about herself and about her parents. There's lots of grief, suspense, even some gore, unlike the action in most of the previous books.
To begin with: Flavia's mother Harriet has been found, as we discovered in the last pages of the previous book. This story deals with what happens when Harriet returns to Buckshaw. Many, many things become clear to Flavia, and her family story turns out to be much larger and much more complicated than she had known. She is growing up, now that she's nearly twelve, and it's shown by her decision to give her father information she'd obtained rather nefariously, rather than keep it to herself. She also starts headlong on a mad experiment but realizes its impossibility and gives it up, where in book one of this series she might have kept flinging herself at it nonetheless. Her character is changing.
I'm not going to give any plot points in my review; I'm sure anyone who has set out on the path following Flavia will be eagerly awaiting this one. If you haven't, you must start with book one, and know that you have a fantastic journey ahead. In this final installment, Flavia finds a kind of reconciliation with her sisters -- she finally accepts herself as a de Luce -- she makes discoveries and judgments that have real consequences.
But here's a SPOILER...
Near the end, Flavia's great aunt tells her that it is now time for her to be sent away, to attend her mother's old boarding school in Toronto, Canada. For a fraction of a second, I thought, Flavia is coming to Toronto!!! before finishing that thought with, oh, yes, she's imaginary. That is simply how real Alan Bradley has made this family for me.
It's probably clear by now that I love this series, and that I really loved this whole book. Flavia is an amazing character, and I think Bradley is wise to finish the series with her still at age eleven. In a recent interview with the Montreal Gazette, he said that he can't see Flavia as a teenager -- I agree. I can see her returning to Buckshaw as a grown woman -- I think that a 28 or 30 yr old Flavia would be a wonderful sleuth. Or even, as Bradley says, Flavia at 70 has clear potential. I just hope that this isn't the last we see of Flavia, or of her middle sister Daphne, a bookish favourite of mine.
Conclusion: read this. Read the entire series!