The Dalemark Quartet, Volume 1: Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 2005 by Greenwillow.
I haven’t read Diana Wynne Jones in such a long time, and this book has been sitting on my TBR (“to be read”) pile for quite literally years. I’ve read the Dalemark books before, so I was familiar with the story, but it was so great to experience Jones and her writing and her worlds again.
Cart and Cwidder tells the story of Moril, who has to help escort a mysterious young boy to the North. Along the way, they stumble into the path of an army and have to prevent an invasion. The basics of Dalemark are established in this book: the North and the South have been in conflict for years. The South is much less free than the North. Moril inherits a cwidder (I’m guessing like a lute) from his father, which was the cwidder of a famous hero of old, and he discovers that it’s magical. In terms of tropes, everything is very familiar, but Jones weaves everything together in her trademark way and makes things interesting. I also liked the way Moril figured out how the cwidder works: you have to sing things that are truth, not opinion. I think that’s a good message that emphasizes the different between opinion and truth. Moril is a bit of a dull character, though, since he doesn’t get a lot of development.
Drowned Ammet I thought was much better story-wise than Cart and Cwidder, and there was much better development as well. I wrote an essay in college about true names in fantasy, and I used this book as an example. The book takes place near about the same time as Cart and Cwidder, though the bulk of it takes place after the events of the latter. I found this one much more interesting, since Mitt was a more interesting character and I liked the mechanics of the magic better in this one. I’ve also always enjoyed the big reveal at the end.
Hopefully the next two books in the quartet won’t take me years to get to! I think Drowned Ammet has always been my favorite, but if I remember correctly, the last two books bring in a Big Bad Villain that ties everything together.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Warnings: Assassination attempts, hints at violence.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2M4fvoh
Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 2010 by Greenwillow.
Aidan Cain has had the worst week of his life. Creepy, sinister beings want him dead. What’s a boy to do? With danger nipping at his heels, Aidan flees to Melstone, a village teeming with magic of its own. There he is taken in by Andrew Hope, the new master of Melstone House, who has some supernatural troubles too. Someone is stealing power from the area—mingling magics—and chaos is swiftly rising. Are Aidan’s and Andre’s magical dilemmas connected somehow? And will they be able to unite their powers and unlock the secrets of Melstone before the countryside comes apart at the seams?
Enchanted Glass is probably my favorite of Diana Wynne Jones’s later works; it reads much more like her old works and is less haphazard and abrupt than The Islands of Chaldea and others. That’s not to say it’s without flaws, but for the most part Jones proves herself, once again, as a fantastic fantasy writer with this book.
Jones has such a distinctive voice in fantasy to me that no other reader I’ve read has been able to replicate it; there’s something so quintessentially “Diana Wynne Jones” about her works that make them stand a cut above the rest. There’s something about her books that make me smile when I read them, that make me revel in the world and the magic and the little bits of humor and the DWJ-ness of it all.
Enchanted Glass does have flaws, though, mostly resulting in a lack of explanation about the little details of the world and the characters. For example, it’s never explained why none of the fairies can get Aidan’s name correctly, even after hearing it. Presumably some sort of spell was put on him to protect him, but if so, who did it? His grandmother? It seemed like an awfully convenient plot device, done solely so that Aidan didn’t immediately go with Mabel and Titania, which is a little disappointing if so. There’s a possible explanation, which makes it a little better, but since it’s never fully explained it seems a little hand-wavey to me.
It’s definitely not the best of DWJ’s works, but Enchanted Glass has the charm and the voice that every one of her books seems to have. Along with a pretty decent world and magic (with some flaws), it makes this book one of DWJ’s better works, unique enough to stand out from other fantasy books and good enough to stand next to her more well-known books.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
“Tell me, do you always take your glasses off to count money?”
Aidan lost count again. “No,” he said irritably. Must Andrew keep interrupting? “Only to see if something’s real—or magical—or real and magical. Or to keep it there if it’s only magical. You must know how it works. I’ve seen you do it too.”
“I don’t think I—How do you mean?” Andrew asked, startled.
“When you’re working with magic,” Aidan explained. “You take your glasses off and clean them when you want people to do what you say.”
You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pezF5j
House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 2008 by Greenwillow. Fun fact: it’s marketed as the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, but really it’s a sequel to Castle in the Air (the true sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle).
Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle Williams’ tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few. By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizards, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a Lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations. No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.
House of Many Ways is, in my opinion, more fun than Castle in the Air, but sacrifices some plot intricacies and worldbuilding in the process. The plot is just one step shy of being fully developed; some revelations feel too fast and too out-of-nowhere to feel like a tightly-crafted plot. I felt it a bit strange and contrived that a lot of the conflict revolved around one solitary creature that was revealed to have his fingers in many of the character’s pies, but I suppose for a short fantasy novel for middle graders it’s an acceptable plot to use.
I do love Howl, though, and he’s in top form for this book. Sophie, however, is nagging and irritated at Howl every time we see her, so that’s a disappointment. Yes, I do realize that she spends most of her time in Howl’s Moving Castle doing that, but we’re in her head then and we get to see other “faces” of Sophie at the same time. In House, there’s only the one and it’s disappointing to see Sophie reduced to a “Howl! Stop doing that!” broken record.
Charmain is also a decent protagonist and I like that she’s the lazy sort who has some flaws to overcome. It gives her something else to do besides “figure out the mystery” and it’s fun to see her and Peter struggle to figure out the house’s magic.
House of Many Ways is still nowhere near as good as Howl’s Moving Castle, and though it’s a fun, decently-developed book, it nowhere reaches the height of intricacy and development that earlier Jones’ books have. I felt that some things came a bit out of nowhere and I was sad to see some great characters sidelined to one-dimensional sidekicks. The problems I had with the plot are probably why I prefer her older books to her newer ones, actually. But in any case, House of Many Ways is a decent sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, as was Castle in the Air before it. The only real problem with it is that it’s not nearly as good.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Charmain jumped to her feet and smiled terrifically, so broadly and welcomingly that she thought she might have sprained her face. “Oh, hallo!” she said. “I didn’t hear the door.”
“You never do,” said Aunt Sempronia.
Mrs. Baker peered at Charmain, full of anxiety. “Are you all right, my love? Quite all right? Why haven’t you put your hair up properly?”
“I like it like this,” Charmain said, shuffling across so that she was between the two ladies and the kitchen door. ‘Don’t you think it suits me, Aunt Sempronia?”
Aunt Sempronia leaned on her parasol and looked at her judiciously. “Yes,” she said. “It does. It makes you look younger and plumper. Is that how you want to look?”
“Yes, it is,” Charmain said defiantly.
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2dd38UN
Castle in the Air, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 1990 by HarperCollins. It is the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle.
Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, there lived in the city of Zanzib a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer name Abdullah who loved to spend his time daydreaming. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet. That very night, the carpet flew him to an enchanted garden. There, he met and fell in love with the beauteous princess Flower-in-the-night, only to have her snatched away, right under his very nose, by a wicked djinn. With only his magic carpet and his wits to help him, Abdullah sets off to rescue his princess.
I like Castle in the Air, even though I don’t think it’s nowhere near as delightful as Howl’s Moving Castle or some of Jones’s other books. It has a classic complex Jones plot, some funny moments, and has all the beloved characters from the first book (minus Michael and Martha) even if they are only in the background for the most part. I think, though, that it was a smart move on Jones’s part: I enjoy seeing characters from an alternate perspective and it would be harder to do a good sequel from the point of view of Sophie than from a new character’s point of view, in my opinion. And Castle in the Air is a much better sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle than Year of the Griffin was to Dark Lord of Derkholm.
A few things did bother me, though. For one thing, I don’t think Abdullah ever told Flower-in-the-night that he actually wasn’t a prince (though he might have done in the end, I can’t remember), although I suppose it doesn’t matter considering where they end up. Also, Sophie’s awkward maternal feelings didn’t make much sense to me, seeing as the first time we see her she’s perfectly fine with Morgan. Then all of a sudden she starts thinking she’s going to drop him or whatever? That doesn’t really sound much like Sophie to me, but it’s different being outside of her head rather than inside.
As a final note, I really do like Jones best when she does the interconnected plots. One of the best things about Howl’s Moving Castle for me was the “everything is important” plot, and Castle in the Air has it too, only to a slightly lesser extent.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“O most excellent of carpets,” he said, “O brightest-colored and most delicately woven, whose lovely textile is so cunningly enhanced with magic, I fear I have not treated you hitherto with proper respect. I have snapped commands and even shouted at you, where I now see that your gentle nature requires only the middles of requests. Forgive, oh, forgive!”
The carpet appreciated this. It stretched tighter in the air and put on a bit of speed.
“And dog that I am,” continued Abdullah, “I have caused you to labor in the heat of the desert, weighted most dreadfully with my chains. O best and most elegant of carpets, I think now only of you and how best I might rid you of this great weight. If you were to fly at a gentle speed—say, only a little faster than a camel might gallop—to the nearest spot in the desert northward where I can find someone to remove these chains, would this be agreeable to your amiable and aristocratic nature?”
Castle in the Air, while not as good as Howl’s Moving Castle, is a charming, nicely-crafted sequel. Even though the main characters are new, a lot of familiar faces show up—rather conveniently at times. I had a few small problems with characterization, but other than that I enjoyed the book thoroughly.
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1Q2t3jt
Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 2000 by Greenwillow. It is the sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm.
It is eight years after the tours from offworld have stopped. High Chancellor Querida has retired, leaving Wizard Corkoran in charge of the Wizards’ University. Although Wizard Corkoran’s obsession is to be the first man on the moon, and most of his time is devoted to this project, he decides he will teach the new first years himself in hopes of currying the favor of the new students’ families—for surely they must all come from wealthy, important families—and obtaining money for the University (which it so desperately needs). But Wizard Corkoran is dismayed to discover that one of those students—indeed, one he had such high hopes for, Wizard Derk’s own daughter Elda—is a huge golden griffin, and that none of the others has any money at all. Wizard Corkoran’s money-making scheme backfires, and when Elda and her new friends start working magic on their own, the schemes go wronger still. And when, at length, Elda ropes in her brothers Kit and Blade to send Corkoran to the moon…well..life at the Wizards’ University spins magically and magnificently out of control.
Year of the Griffin is not nearly as good as Dark Lord of Derkholm. It’s not even a particularly good Jones novel. It reads more like a “sequel due to popular demand” than anything. The charm of Dark Lord of Derkholm was its satirical look at fantasy tropes; Year of the Griffin just plays everything straight. Since it is Jones, it’s still a decent novel, and a decent fantasy novel, but it lacks the charm of the first book.
The book is mostly about Elda & Friends dealing with the strange things that happen to them at school. There’s some mystery and plenty of oddity and multiple “love-at-first-sights” and lots of shenanigans as only Jones can write. I do think, though, that you have to be a Jones fan to really enjoy this book. If you’re not familiar with her, you might think it’s a bit long and rambling and boring—which it is, in parts, but as a Jones fan, I can tolerate that more because I know her style (and enjoy it!).
Did I enjoy the book? Of course. I love griffins. I love Jones. I liked all of the humor and most of “what happens.” Is it a particularly good book? I’m not sure. It’s decent, certainly. Better than a lot of other fantasy novels. But I’m not sure it’s very good, in the grand scheme of things.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some violence.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
At the top he encountered Wizard Dench, the Bursar. Dench came shuffling across the landing, wearing old slippers and a moth-eaten gray dressing gown. “Oh, there you are, Corkoran,” he said. “I’ve been to your rooms to look for you.” For some reason Dench was carrying a black cockerel upside down by its legs.
Corkoran stared at it, wondering if Dench was taking up black magic and if he ought to sack him on the spot. “Dench,” he said, “why are you carrying a black chicken by its legs?”
“On the farm when I was a boy,” Dench replied, “we always carried them this way. It’s the best way to capture them. That’s why I was coming to look for you. I don’t know if I was dreaming or not—I was certainly asleep—but while it was climbing through my window, I got the idea it was a man. But when I woke up and looked, it was a cockerel. Running everywhere, making a dreadful noise. What do you think I should do with it?”
Year of the Griffin has a strong “sequel written because of popular demand” vibe. It lacks all the charm of Dark Lord of Derkholm, though has plenty of heart and fun shenanigans. It’s a pretty unnecessary book to read, and it’s not a great Jones novel, but for Jones’ fans, it still has plenty of her trademarks to enjoy.
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1X1GC4F
Dark Lord of Derkholm, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 1998 by Greenwillow.
What does it feel like to have your world devastated by offworld tourists? Not good. Querida, High Chancellor of Wizards’ University, has received more than one million letters from wizards, farmers, soldiers, elves, dragons, and kings, all begging her to put a stop to Mr. Chesney’s pilgrim Parties. Querida takes a small group to consult the Oracles about getting rid of Mr. Chesney for good. The first person you see, they are told, must be this year’s Dark Lord, and the second person must be the Wizard Guide. The first two people they see are Wizard Derk and his son Blade. What does it feel like to suddenly be Dark Lord? Dreadful. Wizard Derk, who has spent much of his life peacefully breeding griffin, winged horses, flying pigs, invisible cats, and intelligent geese, is horrified to find he has to rebuild his house as an evil fortress and knock down a nearby village. And what does it feel like when most of your brothers and sisters are griffins? Interesting. Blade and Shona, Derk’s human children, share their home with five griffins. When Derk has an accident with a dragon, all his children, human and griffin, are forced to do the Dark Lord’s work for their father. Things do not go well. And what does it feel like to be a Wizard Guide to a Pilgrim Party? Frantic. When Blade at last gets to conduct his party of offworld tourists around the continent, he is almost glad that Shona decides to come, too. Even so, things go from bad to worse, until it seems unlikely that even Querida can help.
Another of my favorite Diana Wynne Jones’s novels, Dark Lord of Derkholm is Jones’s proverbial wink-and-nudge at common fantasy tropes. It’s set in the world that she describes in her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, where she basically deconstructs fantasy tropes from the “tourist’s” point of view, and in Dark Lord, she sets it from Fantasyland’s world’s point of view and further deconstructs fantasy tropes. Furthermore, Dark Lord is almost like looking at fantasy tropes from a writer’s point of view, having to come up with new and improved things every time yet still trying to make them quintessentially the same. It’s a fabulously meta book.
Dark Lord, besides its deconstruction and almost satirical look at fantasy, also is pure Jones through and through—a complex plot, where many things don’t fall together until the very end, humor (although not as prevalent as in other books, or maybe just more subtle), and a fascinating world with memorable characters.
The book is certainly one of Jones’s better (and more memorable) novels, but it’s not her best. The plot rambles on in the middle and some things really do come out of left field at the end, even for Jones. And the multiple viewpoints means that there’s a lot of jumping around (even in time!) and it can be confusing at times to remember where each person’s narrative is and at what point in the story. Luckily, the charm of Dark Lord lies in its deconstruction of fantasy, not in its mechanics.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Violence, death, one scene with the Dark Lord’s army and Shona that would probably fly over a younger reader’s head but for an older one is legitimately terrifying and awful.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
The next part was truly difficult. Try as he might, Derk could not get the Pilgrims even to attempt to kill him. He bellowed with sinister laughter; he loomed over them uttering threats; he adopted a toneless, chilling voice and explained that he was about to toss each of them into this bottomless pit flaming with balefire. This pit. Here. Then he went and stood invitingly beside the trench. But they simply stood and stared at him. It was not for nearly a quarter of an hour, until Finn managed to cannon into the woman who happened to be in front, causing her to stumble against Derk with a scream, that Derk was able to consider the deed done. In the greatest relief he threw up his arms and toppled sideways into his trench.
Dark Lord of Derkholm is a fascinating, funny, almost satirical look at fantasy tropes, taken from another book of Jones’s, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. If you’re familiar with fantasy, you’ll likely find yourself giggling with glee over what Jones does—and forgiving the book its rambling middle and sudden plot reveals.
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1Wgi0DG
“Aileen comes from a long line of magicworkers. And her own gifts should have been even greater. But she failed her initiation so completely that she doubts she’ll ever become as magical as her aunt Beck, the most powerful magicworker in Skarr.
So when the High King sends Aileen and Aunt Beck on a secret—and suspicious—quest across all the Islands of Chaldea, Aileen worries she’ll only be in the way.
Hmmm, as Aunt Beck would say. What blather.
The quest is not at all what it seems, and Aileen must puzzle out her own way after Aunt Beck angers another formidable sorceress. With the help of a (mostly) invisible cat, a (surprisingly) wise parrot, and a ragtag band of allies, Aileen will see her magic bloom. And while she’s at it, she might even rescue her missing father and save a lost prince.”
So, this is it. The very last DWJ book. I had such an incredible sense of both nostalgia and sorrow while reading this. It’s one of Jones’s simpler books, in the style of Aunt Maria rather than Fire and Hemlock, but for the most part it has that wonderful DWJ atmosphere. The world, although not as developed as it potentially could have been, had a slight Earthsea feel to it. Although one review that I read said that the magic didn’t make any sense, I say that magic doesn’t have to make sense, necessarily. It’s the wonder and mystery to magic that I love, not the precise details on how it works (although that can be pretty awesome as well). I don’t care how Aileen works her magic when what she does is so awesome.
Kudos to Ursula Jones for both taking the task of finishing the book and for maintaining DWJ’s tone throughout. I honestly couldn’t tell where DWJ left off and Ursula began, although Ursula’s afterword gave me a hint.
I’ve noticed that I always compliment DWJ for her plot-making skills when reviewing her books. It’s different this time around, but I must say that this book seems to have its focus less on plot and more on the world of Chaldea. I said earlier that it gave me an Earthsea feel, but it also gave me a Dalemark Quartet, also by DWJ, feel. In a way, The Islands of Chaldea seems to be trying to accomplish something similar to Dalemark, but slightly less effectively.
If I were to recommend any book to a first-time DWJ reader, it wouldn’t be this one (for the curious: I would recommend either Howl’s Moving Castle or Charmed Life, or possibly Dark Lord of Derkholm if they can appreciate subtle satire). While this is a good book, the fact that it was incomplete at the time of DWJ’s death shows. In her afterword, Ursula states that she had no clue as to what DWJ planned and had to scour the book for hints. While I think Ursula did a decent job, the last part of the book just seems strange. And let’s face it: we have no clue if this is how DWJ planned The Islands of Chaldea to end. And since DWJ is such a complex plot-worker, the abruptness and shallowness of this one really shows, especially in some of the more random romances (Aileen’s can be seen a mile away, not so much Beck’s).
And as seamless as the transition between DWJ and Ursula seems at first, once you take into account Ursula’s afterword, it becomes much clearer as to where one ends and the other begins, which is also where the book starts to fall apart. I don’t blame Ursula for this in the slightest; indeed, I commend her for finishing the book in lieu of her sister and doing so in such a way that I actually had to go back and check to see where exactly that one particular clue was. But, it is a bit obvious, in hind sight, where the transition is and it does make the book a little disjointed. Also, the last page is so remarkably un-DWJ that it’s like a dash of cold water to the face.
Also, the constant negative portrayal of religion is a bit much. I know DWJ was not a fan of religion, but she reaches almost rant-level proportions here.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“And no news of Prince Alasdair ever after, I believe, sire,” Ivar said.
The High King lifted his head and gazed into the coals of the brazier a moment. “As to that,” he said, “we are not sure. No, indeed, we are not sure. Rumors, and rumors of rumors, continue to reach us. The last words were so definite that it seems to us and to all our advisors that there must be a crack or so in the wall between Chaldea and Logra.”
“And those words are, sire?” asked my aunt.
“That the spell can be breached and Prince Alasdair rescued,” the High King answered, “and that the answer can be found if a Wise One journeys from Skarr, through Bernica and Gallis, and enters Logra with a man from each island. This would seem to mean you, my lady Beck.”
The Queen stopped to put her hand where Plug-Ugly’s head seemed to be. “Is that what you call him?” she said. “How did he find you?”
“He was on an island that seemed to be part of Lone, Majesty,” I said. “He—er—sort of followed us.”
“Or followed you,” the Queen said. She turned to Aunt Beck again. “You are very lucky to have such a gifted assistant,” she said.
I knew I was blushing redder than Ogo. Aunt Beck shot me a scathing look and answered in her driest way, “If gifted means secretly adopting a stray cat, then I suppose I am lucky, yes.”
The Islands of Chaldea is a decent book, but it lacks so many things that made DWJ’s books so great. It falls apart at the end despite the best efforts of Ursula Jones to craft the plot resolution, and the entire book (not just Ursula’s portion) doesn’t seem to have that great tight plot and complex details that DWJ usually has. This is definitely a book for DWJ fans to read, but not first-time DWJ readers as it might turn them off DWJ forever.
You can buy this here: The Islands of Chaldea
Hexwood is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1993 by Methuen Children’s Books.
“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.”
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.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some disturbing scenes/images.
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Middle Grade
“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.”
“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?”
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
Eight Days of Luke is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1975 by Macmillan. Jones’s website can be found here.
“There seemed nothing strange about Luke to begin with, except perhaps the snakes. If they were snakes—David wasn’t sure. He was just grateful for a companion as agreeable as Luke, who seemed able to twist anyone round his finger, even David’s odious relatives. “Just kindle a flame and I’ll be with you,” Luke said, and he always was—which turned out to be more awkward than useful in the end. For who were the people who seemed to be looking for Luke: the man with one eye; the massive, malevolent gardener, Mr. Chew; the offensively sprightly Frys; the man with ginger hair? Why were there ravens watching, one in front and one at the back gate? And then of course there was the fire….”
What I Liked:
So, basically this is Jones’s take on Norse mythology. She has a handy note at the end that tells you who the characters are, which I found really helpful because I’m unfamiliar with Norse myth. Even the reactions of the people to the gods were related to what that god was (such as the Frys), which was great.
David’s relatives reminded me a ton of Harry Potter’s. I kept thinking “Harry Potter” when David was around his relatives. It was very similar treatment, although Harry had no Astrid (or Luke).
I loved the “outwitting” parts of the book, such as David and the meat, and trying to confuse Mr. Chew. I also liked the more mythological aspects, such as the Tree and the cave where Brunhilda lay.
I found it most interesting that Luke here is portrayed as someone around David’s age, despite the fact that his (Luke’s) wife is in the book, too. Although, Jones does slip in a few times that Luke seems or looks older than David. I suppose Luke did it that way to get closer to David.
What I Didn’t Like:
This book isn’t nearly as plot-twisty or deep as Jones can usually go. It’s much more simple. It’s still a very good book, but it lacks some of the depth of her other works. This could be due to audience, however.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Realistic (in parts), Middle Grade
The next second, the gravel was covered with angry orange flames, pale and vicious-looking in the sun and dust. David backed out from them desperately, until his shoulders hit the hedge and held him up. But the flames had gone by then. They just flared through the dust as if someone had dropped a match in a pool of petrol, and then went out. David was sure his curse had punctured a gas-main. He looked the heaving ground over hurriedly, to try and locate the leak before going to confess and get help. He saw a round thing, something like a pipe and at least as thick as his arm, writhing among the rubble, and he thought it was a gas-pipe. It was covered with an ugly mosaic pattern which glittered in the sun. There were others, too, further off, and if David had not known they were gas-pipes, he would have sworn they were snakes—snakes somehow swimming in the rippling ground, as if it were water.
“You don’t know much about me, do you?” said Mr Wedding.
David looked up at him to agree, and to protest a little. And he saw Mr Wedding had only one eye. David stared. For a moment, he was more frightened than he had ever been in his life. He could not understand it. Up till then, there had been nothing strange about Mr. Wedding’s face at all, and it had been perfectly ordinary. David had not noticed a change. Yet one of Mr Wedding’s eyes was simply not there. The place where the second eye should have been had an eyelid and eyelashes, so that it looked almost as if Mr Wedding had shut one eye—but not quite. It did not look at all horrible. There was no reason to be frightened. But David was. Mr. Wedding’s remaining eye had something to do with it. It made up for the other by gazing so piercingly blue, so deep and difficult, that it was as wild and strange in its way as Mr. Chew’s face. As David looked from eye to empty eyelid and back, he had suddenly no doubt that what he was seeing was Mr Wedding’s true face, and his real nature.
Eight Days of Luke, while being slightly more simple than some of Jones’s other books, nicely interweaves Norse mythology into David’s everyday life in a way that is both a great introduction to Norse myth and a pleasure for those more acquainted with it. David deals with the Norse gods so nicely that you’d almost expect him to be connected with that world in some way, and it makes for some of the better parts of the book. Another great work from Jones.
You can buy this here: Eight Days of Luke