© Diana Wynne Jones, illustration © Rick Berry.
Diana Wynne Jones seems incapable of writing a bad fantasy novel, but this one is like a bottle of cognac among the fine wines in her literary cabinet. It’s a short book, just 176 pages of story, but Jones has taken a large cast of characters and a complex plot and distilled them down to their sweetest and most enjoyable essence.
Hayley is a shut-in child being raised by her grandparents in a stuffy old house, home schooled, ignorant of much of the world, and very bored with her life. On occasional outings with her governess she meets a street musician who shows Hayley that she has the power to travel in a fantastic and dangerous world outside of this one. When her grandmother finds this out, she is packed off to her aunts’ home in Ireland as a sort of punishment.
Instead, it turns into a fine adventure, where she joins her many cousins in a Game that must be kept very secret from the family adults. A game that involves each of them traveling in that other world to retrieve magical objects from myth and story. Every trip into the “mythosphere” is dangerous, and Hayley also must deal with the jealous envy of her youngest cousin, Tollie, who keeps trying to get her in trouble. Fortunately, some of her other cousins are much friendlier.
As the story unfolds, the mysteries surrounding this powerful family gradually come into focus, but there are delights and surprises to the very end, and Jones’ deft handling of mythic characters and forces in a way that seems very real and down to earth is masterful.