Review: Juniors of the Chalet School, by Katherine Bruce

70_juniors_of_the_chalet_school__42692-1480431225-1280-1280Rosalie held up a hand in protest. “I won’t hear it! This term will be such a peaceful one that it will be spoken of forever in the annals of the Chalet School’s long and glorious history! Future prefects will envy us for our weeks of inaction and the ability to get our work done in prep without disruption. We will have no illnesses or accidents or – or anything!”

Chalet School fill-ins are a mildly controversial topic, but I’ve always enjoyed fanfiction and I generally like seeing how other people view the characters and interpret situations both explicit and implicit. Juniors of the Chalet School by Katherine Bruce is one of the less usual ones, since it takes place during a published term, covered in The Princess of the Chalet School. As the author points out in her foreword, the juniors hardly appear in Princess, and I enjoyed the fact that she took the opportunity to tell the story from the point of view of the younger girls. It mostly revolves around the juniors’ conflicts with Matron and Grizel – they seem to have been a combative bunch that term! – with, of course, the traditional folk tales and natural (not to mention unnatural) disasters.

I must confess that I especially revelled in the fact that Matron Webb really was thoroughly evil. She bullies the girls. She tries to bully the staff. I forget whether or not the school had a cat at this point, but if it did she would certainly have kicked it. This, of course, makes the juniors’ treatment of her (we only see the older girls’ activites as they affect the little ones) entirely understandable and perfectly justified – and means that the reader can sit and enjoy Matron’s come-uppance with no regrets.

I’ve said this before, but for me one of the most important things in any novel is characterisation, and happily Katherine Bruce’s efforts in this direction are more than acceptable. The characters are all quite consistent with Elinor Brent-Dyer’s creations, and Robin (sorry, the Robin) is both consistent and quite bearable, which is an impressive achievement when you come to think about it!

Grizel, too, is more than bearable in Juniors of the Chalet School, which I’m glad about because she’s one of my favourite characters in the series. She’s complex and interesting and tries desperately hard and fails and tries again and is just very human and refreshing. Actually, in Juniors I felt rather sorry for her. At the start of term, Madge asks her to live with and supervise the juniors, giving her perhaps five minutes of guidance and then never bothering to check up on her for the rest of the time. Even the rest of the staff who live at Le Petit Chalet don’t seem interested in seeing how things are going or whether Grizel or the juniors are doing all right with the arrangement, until Grizel is driven by the juniors’ rebellion to beg for help from Juliet. Of course, such situations are only too common at the Chalet School – teenaged girls are regularly expected to have the wisdom of a sixty year old!

Altogether, I think Juniors at the Chalet School is a very worthy addition to the growing collection of fill-ins published by Girls Gone By Publishers. It’s very jolly and light-hearted, trots along at a decent pace, and has some good characterisation. I skimmed the description of the masque but that, of course, is a traditional Elinor Brent-Dyer experience! Definitely recommended for anyone who likes a fill-in that fits in well with the Chalet School canon.

(Image nicked from Girls Gone By Publishers)

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Review: Murder Most Unladylike, by Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike - Robin StevensIt was awfully fun too, creeping about behind the others’ backs and pretending to be ordinary when all the time we knew we were detectives on a secret mission to obtain information.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens takes place in the 1930s at Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have set up a secret Detective Society. So far the most exciting thing they’ve detected has been The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie (case closed). But that’s before Hazel discovers the body in the Gym – which then disappears!

Murder Most Unladylike might have only been published in 2014, but it is a classic school story nonetheless. Many of the elements are there: midnight feasts, pranks and pashes. But it’s also a classic murder mystery, with clues, red herrings and an ultimate, Agatha Christie style, showdown with the suspects at the end. The period detail isn’t overdone, but what there is is very convincing and makes the story and its setting feel completely authentic.

Our heroines, Daisy and Hazel, are beautifully drawn. Daisy appears, on the surface, to be the typical English schoolgirl, blonde, blue-eyed and obsessed with sport. Hazel, on the other hand, is stolid and unsporty but equally intelligent. Together they make the perfect detecting team and it’s hardly surprising that they get to the bottom of the mystery before the police do – particularly as they have an excellent head start!

The book starts briskly – the body has already come and gone by page 20, and things don’t slow down after that. Every chapter brings some new clue, suspect or twist in the plot. Having said that, the useful Suspect List which appears every so often helps the reader to keep track of what’s going on so there’s none of that getting lost in the details which can happen in the best of detective stories.

There are one or two more modern elements to Murder Most Unladylike, aside from the fact that there is a murder in a children’s book at all. There is the fact that the narrator is not just a foreigner but from ‘The Orient’. It’s rather interesting, because it gives an outsider’s view of the school and its traditions, as well, of course, as highlighting the low-level bullying that would undoubtedly have gone on. In addition, there is the romantic part of the plot and especially the mention of two girls ‘canoodling’ in the laundry cupboard. Very racy stuff for the 1930s!

Murder Most Unladylike is supposed to be for the 9-12s, but I can’t imagine anyone reading it and not enjoying it. It’s certainly a must for anyone who enjoys school stories of any kind. Buy it now, is my advice!