Diana Wynne Jones is one of the grand masters of English children’s/YA fantasy, illness and I generally love her works. I’ve reviewed a couple of her books here before, denture and I’m sure I’ve mentioned that in many ways, her books form the template for the Harry Potter books. (Also, they’re better written. But I digress.) She has written an incredible number of books of all lengths, and for age groups from middle readers to adults. Primarily she’s known for Howl’s Moving Castle, made into an animated film, and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which most fantasy authors find hilarious and a little disturbing.
Hayley is perhaps six or eight when her grandparents, who have been raising her, become fed up with her general untidiness and the fact that she’s done some odd things recently. They pack her off to visit her aunts and cousins in the country. She has an awful lot of aunts — four or five who are there — and so many cousins that she can’t even remember their names. All the cousins, though, play a game they merely call “The Game”, which they keep secret from the adults. It involves searching through the mythosphere and finding things like golden apples, scales from the Zodiac dragons, and Sleeping Beauty’s slipper. Hayley is already in trouble from the mythosphere, and Uncle Jolyon — seemingly the only uncle, despite all those aunts — seems to be mad at Hayley, too. What, exactly, did she do?
This is really a novella, not a novel; like Charles de Lint’s Dingo, it’s in a smaller book size, and is just under 200 pages long. Unlike de Lint’s, though, the story felt a little more complete. Hayley had more of a personality than Miguel, and all the elements were there, including a resolution that didn’t really invite a sequel. I’m sure if Ms. Jones wanted to, she could write more in Hayley’s world, but she doesn’t need to. The packaging is lovely, as well; my copy, from Firebird, has a metallic cover with a picture of Hayley on it (I assume) and a swirling, starlit background.
The characters, including Hayley, are wonderful. Primarily we have Hayley, inquisitive but quiet; Harmony, who is calm, but disobeys stupid rules when no one’s looking; Troy, Harmony’s brother, also calm, but with a quick wit and a talent for The Game; Tolley, annoying and a tattle-tale; Grandmother, prim and proper and insistent that everything stay exactly in its place; and Uncle Jolyon, large, frightening, and not terribly jolly. The aunts are great as well, but Jones has always had a talent for writing aunts (or women of the parental/grandparental generation).
The mythosphere, which I can’t remember whether Jones has used before, is also delightful — it’s a kind of meta-reality with ‘strands’, each of which contains a different part of the general mythology of humans. It’s vaguely like what Howl used, but better described, since the main character was using it herself. I can’t even tell you why I loved this book so much, because it would give away the plot and trick of the book. Suffice it to say that there is more to the story than I have described, and when I realized what was going on, I was absolutely delighted. I would guess that any other reader would love the revelation as much as I did. This book comes highly recommended for adults and children alike; I’m awarding it a full 5/5 stars.