Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone, by Dene Low, is a somewhat funny juvenile that reads like an odd cross between P.G. Wodehouse and Georgette Heyer. Petronella Arbuthnot, a young English lady of substance, is celebrating her sweet sixteenth in the opening years of the 20th century when her guardian, her Uncle Augustus, swallows a beetle from Tou-Eh-Mah-Mah Island and is immediately consumed with the desire to eat insects and other creepy crawlies of all kinds. Horrors are likely to ensue; Petronella is possessed of quite a large fortune that she cannot touch until she comes of age, and her rather Wodehousian aunts, Theophilia and Cordelia, would like nothing better than to take over the guardianship of Petronella and her money. As any reader of Wodehouse knows, being under the care of such aunts is a fate worse than death; but if they learn of Uncle Augustus’ new proclivities, it is a fate only too likely.
And then Dame Carruthers, famous British Actress, and Generalissimo Reyes-Cardoza, ambassador to England from the nascent state of Panama, are abducted right from Petronella’s birthday party, and the marquee tent falls down and nearly smothers everyone, and the game is on.
As I say, Low is clearly channeling Wodehouse and Heyer, a potent combination; but, although the book is entertaining enough (my kids all enjoyed hearing it) it’s rather a pale shadow of the originals. The Aunts are diverting but underused, and though she tries, Low doesn’t have Wodehouse’ hand with language. And then, Petronella is constantly going into raptures over her bosom friend Jane’s brother James’ handsome physique, which gets rather tiresome. By the time we finished the book I began to read these passages in a dreamy voice while the kids all giggled and waved me on.
Still, it’s light, reasonably entertaining, and despite Augustus’ fate not unreasonably disgusting.
The book is subtitled “The Entomological Tales of Augustus T. Percival,” which leads me to believe that sequels were projected; to date, though, there haven’t been any that I can find.