Do I need to say anything to introduce Diana Wynne Jones anymore? I’ve reviewed a good deal of her books prior to this, store including (but not limited to) The Pinhoe Egg, page Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air, cost The Dark Lord of Derkholm, and its sequel, The Year of the Griffin. She’s British; I think her son even publishes books occasionally. She’s been publishing children’s fantasy since J. K. Rowling was in grammar school, and her stories typically include wizards, witches, humor, and traveling between alternate universes.
This novel is not exempt. There are two main characters, Nick and Roddy (Nichothodes and Arianrhod). Nick lives in something not entirely unlike our world, with his (adopted) father who writes mystery novels. Roddy lives in an alternate land where England is called Blest, and the king must constantly keep moving around the country to keep the magic strong. Roddy’s parents both work for the king, so she is part of the Royal Progress. Her best friend, Grundo, and she are sort of outcasts. In any case, Roddy and Grundo overhear something they should not, and realize that there is a conspiracy going on, at around the same time that Nick gets horribly lost, by accident, between worlds. Can they help each other and fix what’s going on?
The presence of Magids makes me think that this book is related in some way to her adult novel Deep Secret, but as it’s been years since I’ve read it, I’m not entirely sure if that explains all of Nick’s backstory and random other things that seemed slightly in medias res to me or not. The book’s definitely a standalone, though — I think perhaps I only noticed that there might be a larger backstory than what gets revealed because I’ve read Deep Secret and can only imperfectly remember it. Those familiar with Ms. Jones’s general reality will find this similar, but not the same, to the Chrestomanci world and others. Even if they aren’t the same place, they invoke many of the same ideas.
Roddy is possessed of the most interesting family members in the book. She has one grandfather who — well, let’s say that she and Susan have something in common. Another is a Magid who writes mystery novels and publishes them in other worlds. (I strongly suspect that he’s actually Terry Pratchett.) One of her grandmothers is a powerful hereditary witch, and her father is the weather wizard for the king. Her mother, a number-cruncher, is even a great character. While of course other characters are quite fun — my favorite is Mini the elephant, or perhaps Helga the goat — it’s really surprising that Roddy is related to so many of them. (Obviously she’s not related to the animals.)
The story’s a bit complex, and it’s got a strong dose of adults-ignoring-children’s-warnings going on, so if you enjoy that aspect of the Harry Potter books, I’d say this is the Diana Wynne Jones book for you. While there are mentions of the political situation, all one really needs to know is that there’s a king who travels, a Merlin who is the king’s advisor (it’s a title, not a name), and a retinue associated with both. I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of her other works, as well as the aforementioned Harry Potter or other English children’s fantasy. Actually, I enjoyed this book so much that I’d recommend it to almost everyone. 4.5/5 stars.