Book cover image for The Very Wicked Headmistress

Publication date: April 2005
Publisher: Barn Owl Books
ISBN: 1903015464
Page count: 94
Price: £4.99
Size: 128mm × 188mm
Age group: n/a 

The Very Wicked Headmistress

by Margaret Mahy (Author)
Margaret Chamberlain (Illustrator)

The story’s central character Miss Tatiana Taffeta is a strong independent female. she is also an infamous cheater and blackmailer and has made some unusual career choices in her time. she has been both a trapeze artist and a human cannonball and all of this before opening a select school for rich young ladies. ‘Miss Taffeta enjoyed danger!’

Other characters central to the story are Bainbridge, Miss Taffeta’s brother, who believes himself to be a gorilla at heart; Mr Fendalton Bassett, a very susceptible man; and his orphaned nephew, Tancred, whose responsibility is to protect his uncle from impulsively falling in love with every woman he meets.

The story is a riotous mix of fantasy and reality involving the volcanic eruption of custard and the discovery of diamonds within it.

This is a modern fairytale and is both witty and fast-moving. In contrast to traditional fairytales where female characters often lack courage and resourcefulness, the female characters in this story are forceful and individualistic, typical of Margaret Mahy’s work.

This book was first published in 1984 and while the language appears at times slightly formal and old fashioned, the writer’s skill still shines through.

Review by
Eileen Phelan

This review originally appeared in Inis #13