Banished, screams the wind, the ocean, the sky and young Flavia’s heart as she stands at the bow of a ship sailing toward Canada. Indeed, Flavia’s homesickness has to be the theme of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust.
Anyone who has ever been sent away to school, boarding school or college will recall their first few confused months away from the family. The homesickness, the nostalgia, the trivial events that can trigger some fond memory. That is what is happening to Flavia De Luce and I can well empathize with her. One wonders why such a young girl was sent so far away! And then we remember the thing about the pheasant sandwiches!
The girls academy is daunting. The principal appears strict. And on day one, a body is found in the chimney in Flavia’s room. The young girl who finds it disappears and is never seen again. And then Flavia De Luce learns that there have been others who disappeared. It seems the school is a veritable worm hole that just sucks in young girls. Then she learns that half the girls are just a front, and half have a higher purpose. But she will never learn which ones. The girls are not allowed to reveal anything or ask questions. The chemistry mistress is an ex-con, well almost.
Flavia excels in secret chemistry lessons and agonizes over why no one from home has written to her. Her tiresome sisters and father seem to have forgotten her completely. Miserable and frightened, she sets about finding out where the young girls disappeared to and who came down her chimney. I think this is a sort of transitional book, at least, I hope so.
When I read The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, I was really charmed by the whole sleepy English village, old crumbling mansion, hidden chemistry lab, loyal retainers etc. Now I feel as uprooted as Flavia because none of these elements are a part of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. Frankly, I prefer Buckshaw, and sincerely hope that Flavia is allowed to come into her calling while living in her own home.
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust left me wanting to get out of the Canadian school, just like Flavia De Luce. It’s a good read, and a fast read, but all through it, you might wish you were somewhere else!