Alan Bradley - As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust
Summary: Flavia’s Aunt and Father have sent her away to Canada for “finishing”, the very same school her mother attended, Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy. Flavia views this removal from Bradshaw as banishment plain and simple. This places Flavia in an odd sort of isolation - she is cut off from her family, friends, lab and Gladys, forcing Flavia to stand on her own to solve the riddles presented to her. Such as.... What really happened to the girls who’ve disappeared from the academy? Are the grounds really haunted by these same missing girls? And does the mummified body which flew out of Flavia’s chimney (on her first night, what a welcome!) belong to one of them? Flavia must solve these puzzles while combating treacherous and sneaky emotions which seem to creep up on her in the most unexpected ways...
Review: Query, which group do you think is more obsessive? Bibliophiles or gardeners? A case can be made for each and it seems the only correct answer is a gardening bibliophile! The meticulousness (or obsessiveness as the non-initiated may call it) of a gardening bibliophile (I think) explains how Shakespearean themed gardens came into existence. It is exactly like it sounds, gardens who are planted with all the flora mentioned in the Bard’s plays. Which is no small undertaking, as there are 181 plants mentioned in his works (I got the list from the Golden Gate Park website). Most of these themed gardens stick with perennials, herbs and trees - basically veering away from annuals, fruits and vegetable vegetation. Since many of these species require annual planting which can be time and labor intensive, and like libraries, public gardens are generally pretty far down on the public funds lists. Now if you take these gardens one step further (and like research a whole lot) you can try you can try and figure out witch breed of plant on the list would likely have been found in Elizabethan England. All done in the hopes of creating the most authentic Shakespearian garden around... If you really lucky (or devious) you could perhaps get a cutting from one of the plants from Anne Hathaway’s garden!
There really isn’t an end to this line of thinking, you could create all kinds of gardens based on the offhanded comments made in literature with varying results. You could have a tongue-in-cheek version, aka a one plant wonder by potting the single plant mention by an author. See how interesting an Alice in Wonderland garden could look (you would have to decide however if you’d just stick with flowers mentioned in the text or include the movie flora and see if you could add any of fauna as well - this has many possibilities). Or you could go in the other direction as Agatha Christie’s garden at Greenway which features a mystery which visitor’s must try and solve while strolling through it. Now we must think of what a garden dedicated to the plants mentioned in Flavia’s books would look like...I think we might have the answer already. Alnwick’s Poison Garden which houses some of the world’s most toxic plants, including many which must be kept under lock and key they are so toxic. I think Flavia would be absolutely over the moon to visit a garden such as this!
Now you are probably wondering what on earth this has to do with Flavia and her adventures in this installment! Well she made a reference on page 345, “...one of those little jungles of artists’ colors whose owner tries to include every flower mentioned in Shakespeare.”. Which made me wonder if these themed gardens really were a thing, which apparently they are (and now I feel slightly compelled to make a road trip out of this and visit all of these Shakespearian themed gardens in the continental US, but I suppose I should only plan one trip at a time...)! This quote demonstrates exactly what I enjoy about this book, most of the references she makes all correlate to real people, places or things; things like themed gardens, the poisoner William Palmer, hangman George Smith or the (chemical) Marsh test. Even closer to my heart was literary references to Dickens, Shakespeare (obviously) and Christie (which tickled me to no end!). Alan Bradley is a master of dropping references and hints into the text without jarring the reader out of the narrative, while adding additional layers to his narrative.
I would recommend this book to any Flavia fan out there, I think this was a good addition to the series. I enjoyed watching Flavia’s observations on Canada, her new school and teachers they were priceless! Now this is completely conjecture on my part but... While Dead In Their Vaulted Arches brought one major story arc to a close - I think this book is all most a stand alone. This is the book which allows Flavia to process her feelings on Harriet and her life at Bradshaw which as we know wasn’t exactly what it seemed to be. The next book I think will place Flavia at the beginning of a new story arc which Bradley will slowly spool out over several books (I hope). But like I said I have no real proof of this theory beyond what I perceive as small hint in the text and my experience as a reader.
But word to the wise, if you haven’t read any Flavia books before I would highly suggest you start with Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie - the first book in the series - as I think you’d get more out of the books by reading them in order (unlike me who didn’t). Just a helpful hint to anyone wishing to read something just a little bit different and absolutely wonderfully precocious.