Oh, scissors – Flavia is back! Thanks to NetGalley and Bantam Dell, I had a chance to read an advance copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the seventh novel in Alan Bradley’s fantastic Flavia de Luce series.
In this novel, we pick up with Flavia on a boat crossing the Atlantic as she departs England and her beloved home at Buckshaw to attend Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada. Flavia understands this school will train her to follow in the mysterious and patriotic footsteps of her mother and her eccentric Aunt Felicity, but she knows nothing about what to expect or what this training will entail. Most twelve year old girls would probably faint if their first night at boarding school involved a charred corpse tumbling out of their chimney, but Flavia – chemistry enthusiast, lover of poisons, and avid student of biological decomposition – is not your average twelve year old. Thanks to her habit of pocketing important bits of evidence and her ability to startle people into answering her unexpected questions, Flavia discovers that something is amiss at Miss Bodycote’s. Three girls have disappeared, and Flavia makes it her business to determine what has become of them, and whether one of them might be the unfortunate body from her chimney.
I absolutely loved exploring Miss Bodycote’s with Flavia. It reminded me of reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time and watching Harry learn his way around Hogwarts. At Miss Bodycote’s, there are day-pupils and boarders, chemistry labs with the very latest technology and equipment, teachers with a wide variety of backgrounds (among them an acquitted murderess), and a headmistress who seems uncannily omnipresent. The wings of the school are named after goddesses, the girls’ rooms after heroines, the houses after female saints, and the bathrooms after defunct royalty. There is a hierarchy among the students, both official and unofficial, that Flavia must learn to navigate, and she hasn’t been at the school for more than a week before she’s had several late-night visitors and an impromptu field trip into the Canadian woods to hone her survival skills.
Watching Flavia try to integrate herself into new surroundings was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be. When she tries to mimic the other students’ slang and says to a classmate, “Spill it,” she is overjoyed to see that she’s used the phrase correctly. Flavia decides that “[a]ll those afternoons with Daffy and Feely at the cinema in Hinley had not been wasted after all, as Father had claimed. I had learned my first foreign language and learned it well.” She calls upon all her skills to learn her new environment – her ability to adopt the body language of “little girl lost,” squeeze herself into tight spaces, and (oddly) to vomit on command all come in handy in this story.
If you’re a regular reader of the series, you probably will miss Colonel de Luce, Dogger, Mrs. Mullet, Flavia’s sisters, and the other Bishop’s Lacey locals we’ve come to know and love. But Bradley introduces a whole cast of characters to take the sting out of their absence, and I found that this change in setting is breathing new life into the series. If you haven’t experienced Flavia yet, definitely grab a copy of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and get started. If you’re already a fan, you won’t want to miss the latest of Flavia’s exploits.