Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Release Date: April 28, 2009
Source: Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 4 out of 5
Flavia de Luce is eleven years old and a science wizard. She lives in the “big house” outside Bishop’s Lacey, a small English village. Within the corridors of her old, rambling house where she lives with her father and two sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, is her chemistry lab, her place of solace. The main use of her lab is to make the lives of her older sisters miserable, until a dead bird is left on their doorstep. While Flavia tries to make sense of this mystery, something even bigger happens: Flavia finds the dead body of a red-headed stranger in the garden. Secretly delighted by this turn of events, as it’s the most exciting thing that has ever happened to her, Flavia begins to inquire into the man’s death, trying to discover who he was and why he was in their garden.
I have heard a lot of great things about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but it took me a long time to get to it. Part of the reason was because, though I really wanted to read it, I was a bit apprehensive. The gushing had been so strong that my expectations were very high. Therefore, I put it off until I’d heard my share of negative reviews in order to temper my expectations, and I’m so glad I did. While I really did enjoy this book, I’m not sure I would have if I had read it in that initial wave of praise.
Flavia was a very interesting, complicated character. Some have said she’s too self-satisfied, and unbelievably knowledgeable and resourceful for her age. While those arguments are understandable, upon my reading, it made sense. Flavia has been shut up in an old house for most of her life, without any friends her age. Though she can leave for town whenever she wants to, she usually chooses to stay at home with her books and chemistry lab. As a result, Flavia’s mind works like an adult’s. While unusually precocious, she doesn’t know what it is to act like a child because she’s never really been around any. With that in mind, it was much easier to accept her intelligence and skills of deduction without having to make too far of a leap. Still, if you can’t suspend that disbelief and accept Flavia as she is, this book will not be enjoyable. (That being said, she is very self-satisfied, a quality that irked me at times.)
The mystery within Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was intriguing and well-crafted. While the story moved slowly at the beginning, it definitely picked up its pace as Flavia deduced more and more. It’s not a huge puzzle, though, and as a result it’s easy to guess the culprit before Flavia figures it out. Despite this fact, it was a fun mystery, made all the more entertaining by the wacky characters that Flavia encounters.
Alan Bradley already has a sequel to his hit debut novel out, called The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. I already have it and hope to read it soon. It’s good to know that the reader can revisit Flavia and the town of Bishop’s Lacey, as they are too large for just one book. The characters are really what make the first book in this series worth reading. However, if you can’t accept them for what they are, then this novel is likely not for you.