Miss BiancaBook - 1962
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Miss Bianca, Chairwoman of the Prisoners' Aid Society (a charitable mousy organization dedicated to the comfort of incarcerated humans), has a new project to suggest. The last daring adventure, the rescue of a Norwegian poet from the infamous Black Castle (pause for ominous music) was obviously a great ego boost to the mice, and they are consequently quite boisterous and full of themselves. Miss Bianca, waiting for the Society's latest meeting to come to order, muses that
"...their common adventure had given mice an unfortunate taste for flamboyance in welfare work. Not one, now, thought anything of sitting up to beg a prisoner's crumb - in the long run one of the most useful acts a mouse can perform. Crumb-begging, like waltzing in circles (even with a jailer outside the door), was regarded as mere National Service stuff, barely worth reporting on one's return from the regulation three weeks' duty..."
The new mission is the rescue of a little girl who is being held in an abusive situation by the wicked Grand Duchess in the magnificent but icy-cold Diamond Palace. Miss Bianca appeals to the Ladies Guild of the Society to assist her in the daring rescue, and of course things do not go as planned. Miss Bianca is left behind in the general rout of the rest of the mice when the Duchess' ladies-in-waiting, far from being tender creatures terrified of mice, turn out to be much more "hardened" than planned for!
This is a playful book; Margery Sharp indulged herself with a full flow of flowery and elaborate language, rather a challenge for young readers (but not necessarily a drawback), and the references are aimed rather at their elders over the heads of the child-audience; perhaps this was a book meant to be read aloud, with a nod to the parent as well as the child?
The villains in this little saga are properly villainous; the Duchess' black-hearted Major-Domo, Mandrake, has committed "...a very wicked crime, of which only the Duchess now had evidence..." and he is her willing (though cringingly obsequious) partner in crime. Even her two unkempt carriage horses "...had crimal records; each having once kicked a man to death..." And so on.
This book #2 in a series, the first four of which are illustrated by the incomparable Garth Williams. I believe all except the newly re-released The Rescuers (New York Review Books, 2011) are out-of-print. Some are very easy to find second-hand, but the more obscure later titles may require some serious online sleuthing.
■The Rescuers (1959)
■Miss Bianca (1962)
■The Turret (1963)
■Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines (1966)
■Miss Bianca in the Orient (1970)
■Miss Bianca in the Antarctic (1971)
■Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid (1972)
■Bernard the Brave (1977)
■Bernard into Battle (1978)
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