A prim and properly trained governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, has been summoned to Ashton Place. She is a bit taken aback when she is hired without ever meeting the children, but as it turns out, there was a reason for the secrecy. The children she will be watching are a bit unusual.
Given only until the Christmas ball to bring the children up to snuff, Miss Lumley has her work cut out for her, and she can’t expect any help from the young mistress of Ashton Place, nor the mysterious, hunting-obsessed master.
Like many series books, this lacks a sense of resolution at the end, driving children to continue reading the next and then the next books. On the plus side, it was an adorable and engaging book and left me actually interested in reading the sequel.
Miss Lumley’s education was quite thorough and as such, expect many literary and cultural references that will go over the heads of younger and less worldly readers. The vocabulary can be complex at points and there is a great deal of inference necessary to make sense of the book. I’d recommend this for bright and advanced readers, especially gifted children in grades three and up, although younger children might like it as a read aloud with some adult interpretation and discussion at the harder parts.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – The governess has no intention of harboring romantic thoughts about either her employer or a poor tutor. The children wear nothing but blankets draped over them. The boys have great difficulty with clothes and put them on all wrong. Women see them this way, one reporting that they were “naked as monkeys”. During dancing a man’s eyes lingered on a woman.
Profanity – “blast it,” a quote from “The Wreck of the Hesperus” reads “Christ save us all from a death like this”, “heavens to Betsy,” “where the devil,”
Death, Violence and Gore – A character worries that masked bandits might take the train hostage. A character greatly enjoys hunting. All of someone’s ancestor’s died while hunting. A man who died while hunting had a “gruesome” death and his body was never recovered. Someone remarks that dancing is more fun than slaughtering bacon. The children’s namesakes – Beowulf – slew monsters and dragons and met a bloody and violent end and Cassiopeia tried to sacrifice her daughter. Some characters were nearly accidentally shot. Penelope does not want to see pigeons caught and eaten or squirrels torn limb from limb. There’s a reference to Dante’s Inferno. Children are traumatized after seeing taxidermied animals. There’s a reference to spanking. The boys are given toy rifles. Cassiopeia says “no bite.” There is an implication that the children might be hunted as sport.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A cigar is smoked (by an adult). The skipper in “The Wreck of the Hesperus” smokes a pipe. Whiskey is consumed. So, then there’s the party, where adults drink and flirt with each other’s spouses. But the real issue is that Constance (Lady Ashton) has far too much to drink and is in fact, falling down drunk, slurring her words, just completely inebriated. Her overconsumption of alcohol and subsequent behavior are not a side note, but rather a pretty main focus of the party, so adults should be prepared to address this with young readers if it comes up. Obviously, this will be touchier with some families than others depending on what the children have been exposed to.
Frightening or Intense Things – Penelope was abandoned by her parents.