The irrepressibly inventive Aiken returns to the Dickensian alternate Britain of Dido and Pa (1986) with a heroic adventure starring Dido's sister, Is. Ravening wolves pursue Is's uncle to her cottage; before expiring, he begs her to find his missing son.
The quest leads Is to a London mysteriously bereft of children, including King Richard's only son, and on a dangerous mission to a new kingdom north of London, to which she travels on a train full of children convinced that they're on their way to ``Playland''--a cruel hoax: these innocents are to be enslaved in mines from which their only escape will be death. Feisty Is cleverly evades this fate, finds relatives to take her in, and learns that another uncle--a reprobate with even less to recommend him than her father--is the industrialist king and evil mastermind behind a vicious society that is literally expending its children in the service of greed. With courage, ingenuity, and telepathic communication, Is contrives--in a breathtaking climax--to free the children as a tidal wave destroys the villain's stronghold. The intricate story, rich with suspense, incisively drawn characters, and imaginative detail, comes to a largely tragic close, despite Is's triumph.
Dark, compelling, and thoughtful--with hints of another sequel. (Fiction. 10-14)