Joan Aiken, who died in 2004, wrote more than 100 books over the course of her career. Today, she is best known and loved for her children’s novels, including the classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which launched a series of popular and award-winning alternate history books set in nineteenth century England, in which the Stuarts reign. However, many people don’t know that Aiken also wrote adult novels as well. Almost a quarter of her literary output consists of books that combine, to a lesser or greater degree, mystery, suspense, romance, and history—all with wildly entertaining results.
Sourcebooks is about to republish Joan Aiken’s romance novels The Smile of the Stranger, The Weeping Ash, The Girl from Paris, and The Five-Minute Marriage, which presents the perfect opportunity to introduce or reacquaint readers with these older gems. I asked Deb Werksman, the editor at Sourcebooks overseeing the Aiken reprints, about the reissues. “We have been publishing Joan Aiken since 2008, with her Jane Austen novels The Watsons and Emma Watson, Eliza’s Daughter, and Mansfield Park Revisited,” she told me. “So it was very natural for us to pickup her backlist romances as well. She is a brilliant author, and should never go out of print.”
The Smile of the Stranger—first in the Paget trilogy and back in print in September—opens with heroine Juliana Paget being forced to pack her bags and leave Florence after she tells her scholar father about the strange lady with a crow-like voice she saw asking about them on the Ponte Vecchio. Traveling through revolutionary France, the Pagets escape across the English Channel in a balloon. Once Juliana arrives in England, she must rely on her own wits in order to survive the unscrupulous plotting of some of her estranged relatives. The Smile of the Stranger is a wonderful example of Aiken’s flair for delivering to readers a novel jam-packed with madcap adventures brimming over with danger and intrigue, a marvelously quirky cast of characters, a generous dash of romance, and a substantial sprinkling of this author’s distinctive sense of wit.
Coming in October is Aiken’s The Weeping Ash. This story centers on Fanny Price, whose arranged marriage to controlling Thomas Paget is definitely less than a love match. However while the couple is living at the Hermitage (owned by Juliana Paget from The Smile of a Stranger), Fanny finds a new friend in the estate’s gardener Andrew Talgarth. A parallel plotline concerns Thomas’s cousins Cal and Scylla’s dangerous return from India to England. The Weeping Ash is steeped in a wonderfully gothic sense of atmosphere, making it a wonderful choice for any reader who loved Victoria Holt’s romances or Barbara Michaels books like Sons of the Wolf, Black Rainbow, or Greygallows.
Next up in November is Aiken’s The Girl from Paris, in which Ellen Paget, encouraged in part by her godmother, leaves her job as a teacher at a private school in Brussels and accepts a position as governess to the young daughter of the Comte de la Ferte. Tensions among the Comte and Comtesse result in a tragedy that forces Ellen to return to Hermitage, the Paget family home in England, where she quickly becomes entangled in her relatives’ bitter battle for control of the estate.
In March of 2017, Sourcebooks will release The Five Minute Marriage. While this is not a Paget novel, it is a deliciously Heyer-esque Regency romance with a generous dash of mystery. In this book, private music teacher Philadelphia “Delphie” Carteret agrees to participate in a sham marriage with her cousin Gareth Penniston in order to secure funds that will help provide living expenses for both their mothers. However, Delphie neglects to take into account that there really is no such a thing as a sham marriage when it comes to Gareth.
“Aiken’s romances are sweeping, dramatic, epic stories, full of excitement, mystery, and thrilling events,” Werksman said. “I think readers will love the strong sense of adventure and enterprising characters most of all. Aiken’s work, in my opinion, feels fresh and new in any era.” Indeed, these reprints of some of Aiken’s romances are definitely cause for celebration–they not only provide a whole new group of readers with the opportunity to discover her superbly imaginative novels, but will allow long-time fans the chance to revisit her cleverly crafted literary worlds and re-engage with her endlessly amusing characters.