Set in the 1950s English countryside, Flavia Sabina de Luce is an 11-year-old girl living in a somewhat decrepit family manor with her father and two older sisters. She’s also an amateur sleuth and obsessed with chemistry – especially poison. The nearby village of Bishop’s Lacey is, conveniently for her, scene to an absurdly high number of murders most foul.
I picked up the books for their burtonesque covers at first (although Flavia is always described as having dark blonde or mousy hair, not black) and then got the rest of them for the mysteries (who doesn’t love a good murder mystery?). Once I started reading one of them I got through the book in a day, not only because it’s written smoothly enough to just flow by like this but also because I wanted to know how it ends really, really badly.
I have somewhere (probably on TVtropes) read “proto-goth chick” as a description for Flavia which sounds about right. She’s somewhat dark in character, extremely fascinated with death and an expert on poison – not to mention that she lives in the perfect setting for a Gothic novel.
While I love the detailing, the sinister serenity of Bishop’s Lacey – my favourite character is Dr. Darby, the resident physician – and how the past of everyone there seems intertwined and the strange details on chemicals and reactions there are, however, a few things that bug me about the books, mainly the heroine herself more than once.
I found it quite a bit of wasted potential that her relationship with her sisters never changed. I would have loved for her to get over herself for once and ask them to join her in her investigations, tapping their special skills – Feely’s social contacts around the village and musical knowledge and Daffy’s absurd amount of knowledge and well-read-ness -, because mystery-solving sisters would have been just amazing. There wasn’t that much of a character development for Flavia overall, sadly, either, but maybe because the books were set only months apart (which maybe wasn’t the best idea, either). I also wasn’t too keen on the reveals of The Dead in their vaulted Arches which might have explained a lot but not really in a satisfying manner (to me, at least), and As Chimney Sweepers come to dust – Flavia’s in Canada now, at the same boarding school that prepared her mother for her adventurous live, – didn’t really make things better, once again thanks to the very short, very unsatisfying and quite back-to-status-quo-ish ending. It also felt a bit like a drag overall, maybe because I didn’t enjoy the book before that too much for several reasons, the main one probably being the lack of overall sleuthing in exchange for more family drama and family revelations that somehow happened all by themselves. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m not going into more detail here.
However, this is just my personal opinion and I’m sure a lot of people actually like Flavia and find her charming – then again, I was never into Wednesday Adams, either, and the characters have some things in common. Everything else is good enough to balance out this harsh judgement of mine (I’m picky, really, don’t mind me) – and after all it’s a first-person view and Flavia might be an unreliable narrator – so I enjoyed the series enough to read all of the books the library had available.
The novels in correct order are
- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (probably my favourite)
- The Weed that strings the Hangman’s Bag
- A Red Herring without Mustard
- I am half sick of Shadows
- Speaking from among the Bones
- The Dead in their vaulted Arches
- As Chimney Sweepers come to dust
- and as of Spring 2017 Thrice the Brindled Cat hath mew’d (which the library didn’t have yet)
If you like chemistry, or science in general, the vintage countryside, great old crumbling estates, high-cultural references and dark humor the Flavia de Luce books might be just the right thing for you. Don’t let the fact that the protagonist is just 11 years old confuse you – those are surely not “just children’s books”.
Some of you commented on the vlog I mentioned the books first in that you’ve read them, too. Which one was your favourite? Who’s your favourite character?
Look here for the author’s website and more information on Flavia!