Balzer + Bray, 2011
Governess Penelope Lumley is off to London with her three pupils - Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible - and their guardians, Lord and Lady Ashton. Penelope is excited to be able to visit with her beloved former headmistress, Miss Mortimer, and begins planning educational walking tours around the city for herself and the children using the guide Miss Mortimer sent to her. Things begin to go awry as soon as she and the Incorrigibles step off the train, from getting lost to strange proclamations from a fortune teller, but Penelope continues to be optimistic. When a luncheon with Miss Mortimer takes a mysterious turn, Penelope becomes determined to get to the bottom of who may be threatening her beloved Incorrigibles and why they were left in the woods to be raised by wolves in the first place.
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books are spoofs of classic governess novels (such as Jane Eyre) and poke a lot of fun at Victorian life and culture, and this second book in the series certainly delivers on those counts. The fact that the children were actually raised by wolves is a gimmick that is still paying off in The hidden gallery, although I find that the children have stagnated a bit in their development and acculturation. In the first book (which I read a few months ago so have not reviewed here), the children had just been discovered so could not speak human language and were terrified of their new situation. The process of their linguistic and cultural acquisition was handled in a manner that was both charming and hilarious, as were Penelope's reactions to and methods of teaching the children. In this second book, while still charming and often hilarious, the children did not develop very much further. True, they are all clever and learn quickly, whether it's navigation techniques or geometry, but their skills did not seem to improve very significantly. Perhaps it is inevitable that they would not develop as much as during the first book, but more individual character evolution would have been nice to see, as in my mind the three children are almost interchangeable.
This lack of character development does not apply to Penelope, who is earnest and also very clever, if a bit naive. She doesn't shy away from a challenge (if it wasn't already obvious when considering her pupils), even if that challenge is befriending the moody, spoiled Lady Ashton. Indeed, Penelope has the sort of astute intellect that would be a menace if she discovered the powers of sarcasm. The addition of Simon Harley-Dickinson - whose surname I nearly always misread as Harley-Davidson - to the cast of characters was welcome, and I also enjoyed learning more about housekeeper Mrs. Clarke.
There is an entangled mystery to the Incorrigible Children books, and that is why the children were raised by wolves in the first place and what connection Lord Ashton has to them. Penelope is also tied up in all of this as an orphan who has the same hair colour as the Incorrigibles. Now, by the end of the first book it was obvious what was going on with Lord Ashton (I won't ruin it for you though), and by the end of The hidden gallery Penelope seems to have it figured out although it is not spelled out to the reader. True, perhaps Maryrose Wood assumes all the readers know what is going on with Lord Ashton, but it seems drawn out longer than necessary. I worry that, as much as I delight in these books, the mysteries will be drawn out to the point that the books will become episodic. I sincerely hope that does not come to pass.
As soon as I found out that there was a second book about Penelope and the Incorrigibles, I was determined to get my hands on it, and overall this sequel does not disappoint with its pokes at Victorian culture that made me giggle out loud. I am now waiting to get my paws on the third.