cover image Is Underground

Is Underground

Joan Aiken, Author Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers $15 (242p) ISBN 978-0-385-30898-4

The latest addition to the cycle begun with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is just the sort of serious and thrilling fare young readers crave, a rip-roaring adventure in which a handful of good-hearted folk are pitted against a truly menacing villain. The children of London are steadily vanishing, and no one knows why. Is Twite (younger sister of Dido Twite, from Dido and Pa and Nightbirds on Nantucket ) sets out to discover the whereabouts of two lost children, her cousin Arun and Davie, the King's only son. Soon Is finds herself aboard a secret midnight train heading north to Playland, which--according to one of the many urchins also en route--is ``a reel prime place . . . no work to do unless you fancies workin', fun an' frolic an' dancin' every night.'' In reality, the children's destination is a ghastly, underground slave labor camp ruled by the sinister Gold Kingy. Is realizes that she has been sent to rescue the children trapped in Gold Kingy's mines. Though jam-packed with strange details, quirky snatches of dialect and odd bits of rhyme, the story fairly gallops along; its momentum is only increased by Aiken's keen sense for the absolute terror of life under a dictatorship. No heavy-handed political allegory, this is a story of zest and sparkle, sad and frightening and defiantly hopeful all at once. Ages 10-14. (May)