My introduction to Joan Aiken was her marvelous novel The Cuckoo Tree, which I had pressed on me by my friend Alex Lambert more than 30 years ago. That led me to Black Hearts in Battersea, Midnight is a Place, and The Whispering Mountain.
Small Beer Press, which has brought us many delightful volumes over the years, will be publishing a collection of Joan Aiken’s “Selected Strange Stories” next week, and I’m looking forward to it. Kirkus Reviews calls it:
A welcome anthology of fantasy stories by a 20th-century master. The author of the beloved classic gothic for children The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Aiken (1924-2004) also wrote hundreds of works of popular fiction that spanned the genres, from fantasy to horror to historical fiction, including several Jane Austen sequels. Naturally the tone of her books and short stories varies with their content, but its main notes include sophisticated, spritely satire and the darker moods of literary fairy tales. Fans of Wolves will recognize the honorable orphans and cruel guardians who populate these tales. Typically the wicked meet with fitting fates and the innocent triumph, though for Aiken, a good death counts as a happy ending. She plays with the contrast between the eldritch and modern culture and technology: ghosts and dead kings out of legend who contact the living by telephone, a doctor who writes prescriptions for fairies, a fairy princess who’s fond of Westerns.
The People in the Castle will be published by Small Beer Press on April 26, 2016. It is 256 pages, priced at $24 in hardcover and $14.99 for the digital edition. The cover, “The Castle in the Air” (1939) is by Joan Aikman. Kelly Link provides an introduction, and you can read a complete sample story, “The Cold Flame,” at Tor.com.