Dotty woke early, eager to explore the house. She pulled on a pair of jeans and a thick grey woollen jumper with a big pocket in the front and toyed with the idea of donning her roller blades. This was a large house, after all, and it would add speed to her explorations. But thinking better of it for her first expedition she pulled on a pair of slipper socks instead.
Dotty Parsons is just an ordinary nine and a half year old Welsh girl, living with her parents in the suburbs of the Welsh capital city of Cardiff. That is, until the fire. When her parents die in a freak firework accident that sets her home alight, she is shipped off to live with a previously unknown great-uncle in ‘deepest, darkest Yorkshire’, she soon discovers that there is more to her family than meets the eye. Dotty is a bit of a tomboy: feisty, inquisitive and seldom without her rollerblades.
Sylv was wearing her favourite onesie: pink and furry with bunny rabbit ears. “Hiya, Dot,” she drawled in her thick South Wales accent. She was busy painting her short, bitten nails in a lurid glitter pink, presumably to match the onesie. “What d’you reckon?” She held a hand out for her friend’s approval. Dotty shuddered. Sometimes she really had no idea how they had come to be best friends.
Sylv is Dotty’s best friend and confidante. Whilst she remains in Cardiff throughout the books, the girls keep in regular contact via Skype, and through regular visits to one another’s houses as and when time permits. Sylv lacks finesse, but is fun-loving, kind and loyal to Dotty, who she loves unconditionally.
“As for the who: Pip’s the name. It’s short for Peregrine,” he said. “But it’s too much of a mouthful for most people, so everyone just calls me Pip.” The boy took a low bow. “As for the where: I came down your chimney. A fact that, begging your pardon, Miss, I would have thought quite obvious and, as for the what: well, I’m an apprentisweep, aren’t I?” The boy gesticulated, waving about a chimney brush in his right hand to demonstrate his trade.
Pip is an ‘apprentisweep’ who comes from the magical world of sweeps that resides within the walls of the Calendar House. He is a sometimes-friend to Dotty and acts as a go-between where the business of the sweeps and the world of the ‘ordinary folk’, as Pip calls them, collide. Pip is cheeky, cheerful and charming, and usually without shoes.
GREAT-UNCLE WINCHESTER (“WINNIE”)
Dotty’s great-uncle was everything Dotty didn’t expect him to be. She had imagined a shy, retiring, quiet man who locked himself away in his study and preferred not to be around children. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Great Uncle Winchester was fun. Great Uncle Winchester loved children. In spirit, at least, Great Uncle Winchester was no more than a child himself.
Dotty’s great-uncle is a larger-than-life character with a childlike wit and an unfettered love of dressing up. He is also partial to Mrs. Gobbins’ cooking, in whatever form it may take, and the odd mint humbug. He acts as guardian to the hidden world of sweeps that lies beyond his study window.
MRS. GOBBINS (“GOBBY”)
The woman was short in stature – no more than five feet tall – and matronly, with a mass of wiry curls that tumbled out at all angles from her white cloth mop-cap. Her face was round (as was the rest of her) and rather red around the nose and cheeks. Over her plain brown dress she wore a large white cooking apron covered in flour, protruding from the front pocket of which was a rolling pin.
Affectionately named ‘Gobby’ by Sylv and Dotty, because of her ceaseless chattering, the Calendar House cook-cum-housekeeper is kindly but absent-minded and somewhat eccentric. She is the nearest thing Dotty has to a mother-figure since the death of her parents. She can usually be found in the kitchen stoking up the ranges and cooking up a storm. She is permanently covered in flour.
The man was tall and impossibly thin, with sharp weasel-like features, a pointed nose and protruding teeth barely covered by paper thin lips. His back was curved, bending forwards to make his reedy frame seem to form a perpetual human question mark.
Jeremiah Strake is Great-Uncle Winchester’s longstanding personal secretary. Dotty finds him creepy and takes an instant dislike to him when they meet – a feeling which is mutually held between them.
Kenny was a man of few words, but Dotty soon learned that, if plied with a cup of tea, he could be persuaded to stop his toil for a
moment and answer a brief question or two about the garden: the name of a bird or a plant, where were the best spots in the garden to catch the fleeting morning sun, or how to make a den out of fallen twigs and branches, at least before Kenny tidied them away.
Kenneth Diswold, or Kenny, is the gardener to the Calendar House estate, as his father was before him. He is a gruff man of few words, but knowledgeable about the house and grounds and has a soft spot for Dotty, who he keeps a protective eye on.
Reaching under the bench for a stray macaroon, Dotty felt a warm breath on her hand. Slowly she pulled the macaroon out from under the bench. The breath followed, as did a big brown velvety nose. It was a dog. Squeezing himself out from under the bench, the rather portly brown and white spaniel looked at Dotty with a doleful ‘feed me’ expression.
Geoff is Great-Uncle Winchester’s dog – a greedy and overweight spaniel of advanced years. He is Dotty’s day-to-day companion and protector. When not with Dotty he can usually be found conducting a stealth-raid of the kitchen, or digging up Kenny’s prize produce in the garden. He hates baths.
PORGUSS AND POACHLING
The chimney breast bulged as if straining with the effort of expelling its cargo onto the hearth. So large and amorphous was their shape that it was at first difficult to tell one from the other. But Dotty knew at once that this pair needed no introduction. The bulging mass now occupying her fireside rug was the twin forms of the dreaded rogue sweeps themselves: Porguss and Poachling.
Porguss and Poachling are rogue sweeps, trading outside of the law of the sweeps and oftentimes using kidnapped boys and girls to do their dirty work for them. They are fat, odious and ill-intentioned.
This was no normal magpie. For a start, it was far too big. And then there was the thing that seemed to be strapped over one of its eyes. It looked like some kind of small camera lens, fashioned out of brown leather and metal. Joe watched it buzz and click, making a zipping sound as it focused on him. Joe realised in horror that the unholy looking bird had a mechanical eye.
Mordecai is a giant talking magpie with a mechanical eye. He is the Vagabond King’s henchman and therefore a baddie, although we see another side to him in later books. He prizes loyalty and possesses a strong sense of justice, albeit viewed within the bounds of his own moral code.
THE VAGABOND KING
The King’s threadbare clothes gave away no sign of nobility or riches. But he exuded from his being such force and strength that Joe could not mistake this for anything but a man with huge power: an ancient power, borne not of kingly kindness or mercy or grace, but of steel and grit and determination.
The Vagabond King is an ancient and powerful sweep who leads a band of sweeps against the Sweeps’ Council, with a view to severing ties between the ordinary folk and world of the sweeps permanently. He is charismatic, but vicious and cruel. He is feared by those who follow him.
Little Joe Raman was only seven and a half but already an experienced salesman. Coming to an abrupt halt, the girls found him in his usual spot behind the counter of the cramped and gloomy newsagents, wearing a disproportionately shocked expression, presumably at the thought of their failure to make their regular purchase from his father’s store.
Joe Raman is the son of the local corner shop owner at Wyvern Road in Cardiff – the place where Sylv lives and one-time home to Dotty. He is unwittingly drawn into the world of the sweeps when he is abducted by Skitter during a chimney theft, and subsequently held prisoner by the Vagabond King. He is thoughtful and clever, and serious for a boy of his age – but also brave when he needs to be.
Joe stared the contents of the cage and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. It was a tiny person. Well, sort of. It was person-like, in that it had arms and legs and a body and a head. But it was small and dark and leathery and wizened, as if it had been dunked in muddy water for too long and then shrivelled like a dirty brown prune.
The hob is one of the faerie folk, captured by the Vagabond King and forced to do magick to advance the Vagabond King’s cause. Like all fae folk, the hob is a trickster and cannot be trusted, as he follows his own agenda. He is not to be bargained with and his word holds no guarantees.