Hexwood: Probably The Strangest Diana Wynne Jones Novel

Hexwood is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1993 by Methuen Children’s Books.

Summary/Blurb:

“Strange things are happening at Hexwood Farm, not far from London.

On another world entirely, a harassed Sector Controller gets a letter from a maintenance team apparently trapped in Hexwood. A small boy called Hume encounters a robot and a dragon there. Ann Stavely, lying in bed with a virus in her nearby home, watches person after person disappear into the old farmhouse and not come out again.

When she feels better, Ann decides to investigate. She goes into the wood, where she meets a tormented sorcerer called Mordion who seems to have arisen from a sleep lasting centuries. Yet Ann knows she has seen him enter the farmhouse that morning. Nothing seems to happen in the right order. Nothing quite makes sense. And things keep getting stranger and stranger until, long before the end, the strangeness has spread from Earth right out to the center of the galaxy.”

Thoughts:

The dedication is to Neil Gaiman, so that’s awesome.

This book and Fire and Hemlock feature Jones at her strangest. Not that this is a bad strange. Hexwood is really quite good. It’s a sort of science-fiction Arthurian tale, but even though the Arthurian influences are plain to see, it’s not simply an adaptation. Hexwood is, essentially, a strange, mind-bending virtual reality adventure. The events are not chronological—the first half of the book takes place after the beginning of the second half—and yet they are chronological, in a way. Yeah, strange certainly describes it. But this book starts off so weird that it’s hard to get into first. By the second half, I was eating it up, but the first half was a little rough. And I’ve read it before! But, granted, once that second half kicks in with that brilliant melding of what seems to be two completely different stories, all the weirdness sort of make sense.

For a children’s book, Hexwood is incredibly Nightmare Fuel-inducing, and it’s all thanks to Reigner One and Mordion. Jones is by no means descriptive, but the lack of description lends an even greater air of awfulness to Mordion’s tragic backstory. I got chills down my spine when Mordion describes his life as a Servant, especially what happens with his sister. Definitely keep that in mind when giving this book to children (and also the level of depth may just simply be confusing for them).

Jones is such a master of plot and it really shows in books like this. None of her books are simplified and none of them talk down to their readers. She has a level of complexity that is all too absent in children’s literature today, and I love her books for it.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some disturbing scenes/images.

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“Can you tell me where we are? Where this is?” He gestured round at the green distances of the wood.

“Well,” Ann said, “it ought to be the wood just beside Hexwood Farm, but it…seems to have gone bigger.” As he seemed quite bewildered by this, she added, “But it’s no use asking me why it’s bigger. I can’t understand it, either.”

The man clicked his tongue and stared up at her impatiently. “I know about that. I could feel I was working with a field just now. Something nearby is creating a whole set of paratypical extensions—”

“You what?” said Ann.

“You’d probably call it,” he said thoughtfully, “casting a spell.”

~Jones 31

“So.” Reigner Two slowed down until the Servant’s strolling stride was forced to become a loiter from one long leg to the other. “So you have a machine that was designed to run through a set of scenes, showing what would happen if you made decision A in a certain position, and then decision B, and so on, until it had shown you everything that could possibly happen. Then, if you’d fed your stuff into it properly, it should stop, shouldn’t it? Now, if this isn’t a hoax, the evidence says that the thing’s still running. Why?”

~Jones 105

Overall Review:

Hexwood is weird, but weird in a brilliant DWJ way. There are several truly awesome moments in the book, especially at the end when all the weirdness is (sort of) explained. Mordion’s backstory is tragically chilling, and doubly so for a children’s/MG book, but makes him all the more appealing as a character. And the Arthurian references are great.

You can buy this here: Hexwood

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