There’s a chance that the reason I felt the way I did about “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” was because I read Joan Aiken’s book about how to write at around the same time. Basically, what I came away thinking was: excellent book. Each part felt very well constructed. But because each part seemed so carefully constructed, the story fell flat.
The characters move from one carefully contained location to another. Every person they meet is either good or bad, and they show their goodness and badness in predictable decadent ways. They practically cackle with evil. They’re wolves, through and through.
Each of the good characters is introduced in such a way as to make the reader go “oh, I empathize with you.” A little girl is scared going to a new home, and is instantly welcomed by another sweet little girl. A boy rescues the girls from the wolves. Two servants embrace and covet their servile status in the face of being told to relinquish it.
I also thought it was rather painfully normative. “What is already there is good, and disruption is the work of evil.” Not a theme to produce much excitement.