Anyway, I dug them out of my bookshelf and read the first one again. I think these books were targetted for a more mature audience than the Prydain books. The vocabulary is more young adult-ish (and sometimes not even English) and now -- at 31 -- I think I'm finally able to understand exactly what's going on. Overall, it's a pretty good series (so far -- there are four more books that I've yet to get my hands on). Vesper starts out as sixteen, turns seventeen in the next book and I guess gradually ages. She's an interesting character and it's interesting to speculate where Alexander got his ideas for her. In "Time Cat" and his Prydain Chronicles, he seems to favor chatty, emotional girls with red-gold hair. Vesper's character has "marmalade" colored hair. When I was a kid, I didn't know what the fuck marmalade was (another one of the reasons the books turned me off). I still don't. Now I have Wikipedia and can see it's sort of a reddish-yellow jam spread kinda stuff. Which means we're talking about another girl with red-gold hair. Nice to know I'm not the only writer with a thing for redheads.
Although I didn't realize it at the time, it's pretty obvious that the Vesper Holly books are aimed a 9th grade thru 12th grade girls. The cover art for the two books I have don't really express this, but the newer covers depict Vesper in various Nancy Drew meets Indiana Jones type poses. Which means I think that your typical boy would probably have a hard time taking them to the register without a certain amount of embarassment. Which is unfortunate because Lloyd Alexander is a very good writer, and the stories don't seem to be geared toward girls more than boys apart from the female protagonist. There's plenty of adventure, humor, etc. I like Brinnie a lot more now that I'm old enough to identify with him. I think Alexander did a brilliant job with his character.
Which brings us to Vesper. Is she really a convincing female character? She's certainly a well-drawn character, but I've noticed in some of the Amazon.com reviews that a lot of people don't care much for her intelligence. Which is kinda sad. I don't think that's the defining element of her character. I think it's her courage and determination when it comes to what she thinks is right. The backstory surrounding her father and the ways in which she ends up going on these adventures seem entirely plausible to me, but I can see why people might not like it. Given that I can't find many of these books in stores, and the shelves where they would normally be stocked are filled with books about girls for girls with covers of bikini-clad teens on beaches (a la Laguna Beach), I can only assume that the series itself was only moderately successful. Which is too bad. I like Lloyd Alexander, and I like this series. I wouldn't say it's in the same league as the Prydain Chronicles, but I don't think it was meant to be. Regardless of why he wrote the books or what he was trying to accomplish, you can tell that he really got a kick out of writing them.