Friday, January 09, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust / Alan Bradley
Toronto: Random House, c2015.
360 p.

I have loved this series since the very first book introduced us to Bishop's Lacey & our wonderful heroine. Flavia De Luce is a marvellous character, clever, wry, and yet still a young girl.

She's been 11 for the first 6 books -- but in this volume, she is now 12, and she's also living in Toronto, at Miss Bodycote's Female Academy, the school that her mother Harriet had attended. (I must admit to my fellow Canadians that I was rather hoping we might see a mention of Miss Scrimmage somewhere in this boarding school story...)

Flavia, as usual, starts off with a bang; in this case, a fellow student who bursts into her room and tries to hide from Miss Bodycote by climbing up the chimney...and dislodges a body. This seems like a startling way to be introduced to a new school, and a new country altogether, but nobody else at the school seems to be taking this unidentified body all that seriously.

Flavia is dreadfully homesick in this story, and so, I think, will many readers be. Where are her sisters, or Dogger, or even Gladys? Only in her recollections. While I was thrilled to read the descriptions of Toronto and to see Flavia navigate these new surroundings, there really is no place like Bishop's Lacey. All of Flavia's acquaintances in England are wonderful and quirky in their own right, but most of the girls (and teachers) at this school seem like ciphers. Not a lot of deep exploration of their characters or personalities, but then again, Flavia is really only passing through.

The plot of this story is as usual quite convoluted and complex -- I'm not going to try to go into it. The joy of this series is seeing Flavia encounter all the mayhem and try to make sense of it, we don't have to worry about it ourselves. Seeing her all alone in this setting really means that the story depends on her voice, on her perceptions (which are always shifting in this mysterious location). I thought it was a success, and builds lots of new directions into Flavia's world for her to explore in future.

If you love Flavia already, you're going to be waiting for this one. If you haven't yet encountered her, begin at the beginning to get the full Flavia effect. You may enjoy the darker undertones in this installment. Recommended!


Further Reading:

While the location and the set-up are both quite different, the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters have a similar quirkiness and scientific outlook. Both series are driven by their main characters.

Another quirky series that is focused on character is the Erast Fandorin series by Boris Akunin. Fandorin is a Russian detective who solves unusual mysteries using the power of deduction, and has a unique perspective on life and society.


  1. Flavia at boarding school...I can't wait to read this one!! (Too bad I'm still two books behind in this series. Guess I better get busy reading.)

    1. Oh, the two you need to read are will enjoy them!

  2. I liked the series, but this seems like a good time to stop. It'll be like a new series altogether without the familiar characters.

    But if Miss Scrimmage was in it, I'd be there in a minute. The fact you referenced her in this post makes it the best post I've read all week. Best book ever!!

    1. I know, right? There was perfect opportunity to throw in a reference to Miss Scrimmage... ;)

  3. This quirky series sounds like one I'd also adore! I've been interested in reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie for a while now, also.

    1. Yes, you will definitely want to start with Sweetness to get the full effect of Flavia. You have much enjoyable reading ahead!


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