The Wolves of Willoughby Chase


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken is the first book in the “Wolves Chronicles” series. Bonnie and Sylvia must try to keep their evil governess from stealing the family estate.

Plot Summary

This story takes place in an alternative version of 1932. Wolves have migrated from Northern Europe and terrorize citizens of England. Bonnie lives with her parents in a lavish estate called Willoughby Chase.

When Mother’s illness becomes severe, Sir Willoughby decides to take her abroad for treatment. Miss Slighcarp, a distant relative they’ve never met, comes to care for Bonnie in their absence. Bonnie’s parents invite Sylvia, their impoverished niece, to live at the estate and keep Bonnie company.

The orphaned Sylvia lives with her elderly, ailing Aunt Jane. Aunt Jane urges Sylvia to accept the invitation, even though Sylvia worries about leaving her alone in their London flat. Sylvia takes the train to her new home, carrying only meager belongings and food. She is nervous, particularly when she finds herself alone in a compartment with a strange man. He saves her from wolves trying to enter through the train window and introduces himself as Josiah Grimshaw.

Bonnie and Sylvia bond instantly, but they quickly see that their new guardian intends to make their lives miserable. Miss Slighcarp dismisses most of the servants and begins wearing Mother’s best clothes. The girls discover Mr. Grimshaw from the train is working with Miss Slighcarp on some mysterious business.

With the help of a young servant named James, the girls discover a series of secret passageways behind the walls in the house. They are able to overhear conversations and learn Miss Slighcarp and Mr. Grimshaw intend to commandeer Willoughby Chase for themselves. The villains believe the ship on which Bonnie’s parents are sailing is destined to sink, so they make arrangements to take over the property.

The villains send Bonnie and Sylvia to a school for girls. It’s run by a cruel headmistress, Mrs. Brisket. She makes them shave their heads and engage in hard labor, along with the other residents.

Simon, one of the many Willoughby Chase servants Miss Slighcarp fired, comes to visit the girls at the school. He tells them he will be spending the next few months driving his geese to London to sell at the Easter Fair. The girls escape and join him. They vow to find Aunt Jane so she can help them thwart Miss Slighcarp.

When they arrive in London two months later, Simon and the girls find Aunt Jane ill and malnourished. Simon uses his own money to get her the medical assistance she needs. When she is feeling better, they seek additional help from Sir Willoughby’s lawyer. They learn Mr. Grimshaw once worked for him, which is how he gained insider information about Willoughby Chase.

Sir Willoughby’s lawyer and a police officer named Cardigan return with the girls to the estate. They learn Miss Slighcarp has opened a school. As the men interrogate Miss Slighcarp, Mrs. Brisket and Mr. Grimshaw, Sir Willoughby appears. Bonnie is stunned to see her father, since Miss Slighcarp had insisted her parents’ ship sank. Bonnie’s mother is with him, and her health is much improved.

Once the criminals are arrested, Bonnie’s parents rehire all of the servants Miss Slighcarp sent away. They invite Aunt Jane to come and run a school for the girls and those formerly in Mrs. Brisket’s care. Bonnie and Sylvia anticipate wonderful adventures to come.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Miss Slighcarp, Mrs. Brisket and Josiah Grimshaw are deceitful, cruel and self-serving as they try to cheat the Willoughby family out of their estate. Bonnie’s loving parents leave for a long trip in the interest of helping Bonnie’s ailing mother. They graciously invite Sylvia, Aunt Jane and Mrs. Brisket’s orphans to live with them in the end. Elderly Aunt Jane urges Sylvia to go to Willoughby Chase, even though she knows her own life will be lonely and difficult without the girl.

Profanity & Violence

Grimshaw stabs a wolf that tries to get on the train. While not graphically depicted, there are some scary images of evil guardians and vicious animals endangering vulnerable children.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at

Additional Comments

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.