My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Prodigy chemist, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce has been banished from her beloved Buckshaw in the village of Bishop's Lacey in the English countryside and sent, for her sins, to the wilds of Canada. Toronto, to be exact.
It was thought to be time to send her to boarding school and so, most reluctantly, off she goes, across a dark and stormy North Atlantic, to become a student at Miss Bodycote's Female Academy. It is the alma mater of her late, sainted mother, Harriet, who is still revered at the school. She is to receive training in some unique subjects while a student there and perhaps to learn about a secret society called Nide.
Torn from the company of all those that she loves and forced to leave her treasured bicycle, Gladys, behind, Flavia faces the bleak prospect of making her way in a place where she knows no one and no one knows her. And though she tries to keep the proverbial stiff upper lip, she finds herself at the most inopportune times overcome by homesickness. She even misses her hated/loved sisters, Daffy and Feely.
Fortunately, there is soon plenty to distract her and occupy her mystery-loving mind. On her first night at the academy, she is awakened by another student rushing into her dorm room and accosting her. When the headmistress comes to investigate the commotion, the trespassing student climbs up inside the chimney to hide. As the headmistress and Flavia converse, suddenly, the student tumbles out of the chimney, followed by a very dead body with detached head that rolls across the floor. A dead body! Flavia could not be more excited.
Flavia soon learns that her new school, a former nunnery, is full of mysteries. There are stories of ghosts, There are three students who have disappeared without a trace in recent years. There is the chemistry teacher, famous for having been acquitted of the murder of her husband. And what really happened to the first wife of the chairman of the board?
Flavia's incorrigible curiosity leads her to try to solve all of these mysteries and to find out if they are somehow interrelated. But school rules forbid her from asking questions of other students regarding their classmates or indeed about themselves. How will Flavia ever be able to dig up the information that she needs to piece it all together? One must never underestimate the determination, ingenuity, and indefatigable spirit of Flavia de Luce!
With this seventh in the Flavia series, Alan Bradley obviously broadened her horizons and took her into new situations where she did not have the comfort of knowing that her family and friends were nearby to support her if she got into trouble. It wasn't necessarily a bad strategy, and yet, much of what I love about the series is the setting of Bishop's Lacey and the quirky characters that we've come to know there. None of those characters appeared in this book and I found that I missed them.
Unfortunately, none of the new characters that we met here were really developed beyond the cardboard cutout stage. We didn't get to know much about them or to care much about them. Moreover, there still seemed to be a lot of loose ends in the mysteries, even after Flavia's denouement speech, and I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying.
Nevertheless, in spite of those quibbles, Flavia remains a charming character and reading about her is always a pleasure - even if I found this somewhat less pleasurable than some of the earlier books.
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