© Diana Wynne Jones, illustration © Brandon Dorman.
This new book by fantasy master DWJ (which I loved, by the way) has clarified something for me about the majority of her work. Perhaps it’s because it includes some characters from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” With a few exceptions like parts of “The Dalemark Quartet,” Jones’ books have these elements in common, in varying proportions: plots based on mistaken identity or characters who don’t know their own true identity, characters who seem very powerful but have hidden weaknesses, characters who are very powerful but either don’t know it or don’t know how to use their power, romantic entanglements, humor, trickery, luck both good and bad, many things that are not what they seem, and of course magic. Much the same could be said for Shakespeare’s play, and if you left out the magic, nearly all of his comedies. What Diana Wynne Jones is writing is Comedy in the traditional sense, but with magic added. Magical Comedies.
There are many characters in this delightful magical comedy, with the two most important ones being Andrew, a college professor who has just inherited the large estate of his grandfather, and taken up residence there. Andrew knows vaguely that there is powerful magic in the place, and that he’s supposed to take charge of it, but he’s not sure how. Aidan Cain is a boy who has just lost his grandmother, a woman with powerful magic of her own. While social services wants Aidan to stay with a foster family, he soon finds himself besieged there by magical beings who seem to want to capture him, and Aidan escapes and runs to Melstone, the home of his grandmother’s friend and fellow magician. Unfortunately, when he arrives, Andrew tells him that man has died, and Andrew is now the master of the estate. Andrew takes the boy in, along with an ever growing troupe of other characters who keep showing up on his doorstep. Aidan and Andrew soon find themselves helping each other to explore and understand the deep undercurrents of magic in Melstone, while trying to keep Aidan’s pursuers at bay.
There’s lots more, and it’s all good. Like the last few Jones books I’ve read, this one has a less frantic and more relaxed feel than some of her earlier work. I’m not sure why, there are many of the same elements. Perhaps it’s that the characters seem to have time to relax a bit and enjoy themselves between perilous adventures and annoying encounters with those who wish them ill. Then too, there’s a good feeling of teamwork in this book, as each character on the side of Melstone finds ways to contribute to their success and discoveries, even the ones with bad tempers and annoying habits. If you like fantasy without tragic consequences, you’ll enjoy this one. Recommended!