My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Oh but this book is pale and wan and feels as though you could hold it up to the light and feel the paper disintegrate in your hands. And it is saddening, saddening, for Lorna Hill shines, even now, even in her last Wells books, and yet in almost the same breath she fades like the setting of a shadowy sun.
Rosanna is a tragic heroine; tragically romantic, tragically verklempt, tragically dancing with a wild naivete and innocence and coincidentally doing her beautiful, wondrous dancing under the training of a talented tutor. And handily enough she, through a series of increasingly awkward coincidences, ends up joining the Wells. Along the way she has encounters with a world of recurring characters ranging from the King of Slavonia through to Ella “let me hug your Swan” Rosetti.
Here is where the series aches and falters, and crumbles internally. As noted in this excellent article , the recurrent plots and ballet hotbed of the North of England begin to pale as they are re-re-reused, increasingly lacking a freshness each and every time they make their presence felt anew.
And yet, here’s where I contradict myself, near wholly. Despite everything, despite all of this, I love Lorna Hill. I love the way that even when she’s trotting out the whole Miss Martin is awesome thing, she does so with a nuanced eye for detail and humanity. Yes, the humanity is occasionally something out of a depressing Victorian sermon, but it is humanity nonetheless. I love the way she never quite forgives Fiona, immolates Nigel, and can’t ever quite recover the searing power Sebastian holds his introduction to the series (granted, she does achieve this in No Castanets at the Wells but this is all too glorious and brief to really matter).
I recommend this book. I recommend it in the way I recommend one of the later Chalet School books. Read it with a love for what this writer was – and what she has achieved – and what she can, albeit so very briefly, still achieve.