as chimney sweepers come to dust

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley 

My god, am I hesitant to criticize an author's choice to change things up. 

It seems as though, as readers, we're always hoping that an author will take our favourite characters in new and exciting directions... and at the same time we fear losing all those things that make them our favourite characters - personality, context, place, secondary characters off which they ping and play and conflict. 

And before reading As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, I would've easily said I was eager for a change in Flavia de Luce's world, and that the strength of her incredibly adorable personality would easily weather the change. 

But I realize, now, how very much I miss Dogger. 

It's unlikely that you're reading a review about the seventh installment of Bradley's Flavia series and don't know who Dogger is, so I won't much belabor the point, but Dogger is one of the shining and tarnished characters in the series and his absence - along with those of literally everyone else in the series with only the exception of Flavia, is a difficult blow.

Those who are reading the series will know that the sixth installment, in which we learn the fate of Flavia's beloved mother, was much anticipated, and it feel to me that this, the seventh, just released Tuesday, January 6th, has been as well. It promised, and delivers, a swerve in Flavia's arc and maturation. She's been "banished" to a girl's boarding school in Canada, where she's to receive a proper - and secret - education. Because of this, the entire world built around Flavia is stripped away; England, Buckshaw, her father, Gladys, her sisters, and, of course, Dogger, are nonexistent (save a paltry missive). I found all this more difficult to stomach than I would have imagined. 

Bradley maintains the Flavia we adore. She is still, of course, cleverer than anyone around (and makes certain you know as much):

"For a fraction of a second, my hopes were up, thinking her head might explode. But no such luck."

"Marge's tongue was rolling busily about inside her cheek, rooting out thoughts - or perhaps in search of something to eat." 

"Was it wrong to be so deceitful? Well, yes, it probably was. But if God hadn't wanted me to be the way I am, He would have arranged to have me born a haddock instead of Flavia de Luce - wouldn't He?"

"None of the books were shelved in alphabetical order, which made it necessary to cock my head sideways to read each of the spines. By the end of the third shelf I had begun to realize why librarians are sometimes able to achieve such pinnacles of crankiness: It's because they're in agony." 

"A hissing sound caught my attention. It was coming from somewhere behind the Rainsmith's house and to my left. A hissing in the garden is a sound that cannot be ignored by any human female since the time of Eve, and I was no exception." 

I admit; I was about a third of the way through when I seriously considered putting the book down. All of those things I love about Flavia and her English countryside have been translated into a Toronto setting, along with Canadian/American slang, as Flavia tries to fit in, and I didn't like the translation at all.

And I sorely missed Dogger.

But.

I continued. And I was glad to have done so. The mystery is somewhat complicated and compelling, and we get a glimpse of the larger world for which Flavia is being groomed. Although it makes me a bit sad to see Flavia starting to grow up, I'd much rather see a maturation and development of the character than I would in those series - especially those concerning children - where the protagonist is caught in the amber world where the reader fell in love with them. For her to change makes Flavia more authentic and grounded.

Also, by reading to the end, you discover that the upheaval might not be so dramatic as feared.   

* Advanced copy provided by Random House.