First, a caveat: I was expecting a lot more from this book than it gave me, and those expectations were not unreasonable. In fact, they are a direct consequence of the way Mr. Bradley structured not only this book, but the last book in the series. I was expecting a sort of series reboot: Flavia at boarding school with a new cast of supporting characters, learning to be a spy and such. Or at the very least, that there should be real reason why he went to the trouble of movie Flavia all the way to Canada. I thought I was getting both for a while, and then it turns out . . . I wasn’t.
Let’s back up a little. This book follows our intrepid twelve year old heroine, the hyper-intelligent chemistry whiz with a fascination for death and solving puzzles, as she’s sent to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto. It’s also strongly hinted she will be trained to be a part of the same organization her mother and Aunt Felicity were in, the Nide. But on her very first night at school, a dead body wrapped in the Union Jack falls out of her chimney. And so she goes to work.
I think I liked this book more as I was reading it than I do now thinking about it afterwards. I liked seeing Flavia navigate her new environment, and the mystery was pretty good, too, although it was nothing special. The best bits involved Flavia being homesick, and her relationship with her headmistress, a sort of antagonistic mix of discipline and affection. It also genuinely surprised me with a reveal at the end (even if the thing that surprised me was relatively inconsequential). Alas, Bradley makes the extremely puzzling decision at the end of the book to SPOILER send Flavia back to Buckshaw after making so mistakes and breaking so many rules (although it didn’t seem she had behaved so badly to me). Why did he do this? I have no idea. It makes this whole book seem pointless. Flavia doesn’t learn how to be a spy, she makes no friends, and she barely solves the mystery. In an actually sort of insulting move, Bradley has Flavia draw the conclusion that her training was completed. I am completely baffled by this plot decision. I can only hope that the murderous chemistry teacher who escorts Flavia back to England is going to stick around, otherwise this whole book will have been pointless END SPOILER.
I’m still in for this series, but with more reservations now. I was overly optimistic that Bradley had addressed my concernes with his writing in the last book. Won’t make that mistake next time.
3.5 stars, but rounding up.