Short works

Books : reviews

Diana Wynne Jones.
Fire and Hemlock.

[A retelling of Tam-Lin]

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
Vista. 1996

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 8 September 1996

Have you ever had a feeling of deja vu when reading yet another fantasy? Diana Wynne Jones provides a witty and sardonic "guide" to all those clichés beloved of modern fantasy authors. Fantasyland is run by The Management for Tourists, and is full of recurring people and events, situated in an illogical and unphysical landscape.

Official Management Term (OMT) appears in this guide where necessary and in italics. OMTs are the form of words which the Management has dreamed up for use every time a certain thing, fact, sensation or person is mentioned. Thus STEW is thick and savoury; HISTORY is lost; at the point where the party of Tourists is about to be attacked the very air seemed doom-laden; and a constant COMPANION on the Tour will be the rat-faced little man. OMTs perform the same function as music in films.

This book is best enjoyed by dipping into it, and following the cross-references for a while, rather than reading straight through. Not all items are funny in isolation; it's often the combination that provides the laughs. Then later, dip somewhere else, and follow a different thread (a Web version would be ideal).

Waybread or Journey Cake is a flat cake, infinitely nutritious and weighing almost nothing, on which Tourists may sustain themselves for long periods. In appearance, it seems to be halfway between a ricecake and a ship's biscuit, and in substance is truly remarkable since those eating it are never hungry and absolutely never suffer from any deficiency disease (see SCURVY).

Beware: after reading this, you won't suffer deja vu when reading generic fantasies, just fits of giggles!

Vampires are increasingly rare on the Tour. They have been attracted over to the Horror Tour by offers of better pay. Where they appear, you will find up-to-date Vampires wear expensive sunglasses and wish to drain you of energy rather than blood.

Diana Wynne Jones.
Deep Secret.
Vista. 1997

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 17 July 2005

Rupert Venables, most junior of the magids on Earth, is tasked with finding the next in line when his mentor Stan dies. The problem is, everyone on his list of five possible candidates seems impossible to track down, and to cap it all, he's having problems with establishing the succession in the Koryfonic Empire. He decides the only thing to do is weave the fate lines to bring all the candidates together for testing, and this requires being at the place of a magic node, at Easter time. But the node lies in a hotel, and it is completely booked at Easter for a fantasy convention...

DWJ is clearly having fun with the convention setting, which is lovingly painted in an only slightly over the top manner. (Although since I've never been to a fantasy convention, maybe it's spot on?) In particular, the bewildering geometry of the hotel reminds me of that of several labyrinthine SF convention hotels that I have wandered around in confusion. It's not all laughter and parody, however. This is a clever and intriguing tale, combining the surreal fun with some spooky landscapes, and some rather dark moments. I found the structure of the denouement rather strange, with a scene from the middle held over until the end, which rather diffused the tension for me. But a good story, worth reading.

Diana Wynne Jones.
A Sudden Wild Magic.
Vista. 1992

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 26 March 2000

The mages of Arth are watching otherworld, stealing its ideas, and even causing problems there just to provoke new ideas. But otherworld is our Earth, and the secret mages here have just noticed what is going on. They decide to send a minibus full of volunteers, along with a magic-virus, to stop the incursions. But there is a wild magic unknown to either side, and so very little goes according to plan, anyone's plan.

Having documented all the clichés of Fantasy allows Jones to fall into none of them. This is fresh and original, with lots of surprising twists and turns. I found it difficult, with the large cast of characters, to get inside any of them -- but they are all distinct individuals, with no chance of being unable to distinguish one from another. The plot mixes humour and darkness well, and, after a slightly slow start, rips along in several unexpected directions.

Diana Wynne Jones.
Minor Arcana.
Vista. 1996

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 6 April 1999

A collection of fantasy stories, ranging from light and funny to deep and serious, but all well written and affecting.


The Sage of Theare. 1982
Thasper is foretold to end the rule of the gods with his questioning. The bizarre panoply of gods are none too pleased with this prophecy, so send Thasper to a different world in order to prevent it coming to pass. But Chrestomanci rescues him and sends him home, seven years out of time. Even the gods cannot cheat their fate.
The Master. 1989
A vet is called to the Master's house, but when she gets there she finds only the fool, Eggs, and some hungry wolves.
The Girl Who Loved the Sun. 1990
Phega loved the sun, but the sun did not return her affection. So she became a tree in order to demonstrate her devotion.
Dragon Reserve, Home Eight. 1984
Siglin is examined by the Dragonate, who believe her to be heg. But when the Thrallers come, her awakening skills might be all that can save them.
What the Cat Told Me. 1993
Can the cat and the boy manage to defeat the wizard?
nad and Dan adn Quaffy. 1990
An excess of typos, and coffee of various spellings, lead an SF writer into a strange experience with her own creations.
The True State of Affairs. 1995
A young woman finds herself in a strange land, mistaken for a noblewoman, and imprisoned in a lofty cell, close to a great warrior prisoner. Their secret communication is her only contact with the outside world. [Published only now, this was originally written in the sixties.] Despite nearly the entire action taking place in a bare little cell, the parallel-history world is wonderfully evoked. Although I do find it a little strange that the woman is more interested in the other prisoner than she is in where she is, and how she got to this world.

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Homeward Bounders.
Mandarin. 1981

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 24 April 2003

Jamie is an ordinary 12-year-old boy, interested in football and not interested in school. Until the day he discovers the game They are playing with his world, and They cast him out of the game, condemned to wander the Bounds forever, unless he can find his way Home. He wanders hundreds of worlds, meeting and parting from other Homeward Bounders, until he finds out at last the true depth of the cruel trick They have played.

This is a powerful tale of loneliness, persistence, and the longing for home. The characters Jamie meets along the way are varied and interesting, and there is a constant feeling of unreality from the shadow the game casts over the whole tale. The ending is completely unexpected, and very satisfying.

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Time of the Ghost.
Beaver. 1981

Diana Wynne Jones.
A Tale of Time City.
Methuen. 1987

Diana Wynne Jones.
Howl's Moving Castle.
Mandarin. 1986

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume I.
Harper. 1977

Diana Wynne Jones.
Charmed Life.

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Lives of Christopher Chant.

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume II.
Harper. 1980

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Magicians of Caprona.

Diana Wynne Jones.
Witch Week.

Diana Wynne Jones.
Cart and Cwidder.
HarperCollins. 1975

Diana Wynne Jones.
Drowned Ammet.
HarperCollins. 1977

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Spellcoats.
HarperCollins. 1979

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Crown of Dalemark.
HarperCollins. 1993

Diana Wynne Jones.
The Dark Lord of Derkholm.
Millennium. 1998

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 8 September 2003

It's time again for Mr Chesney's hated "Pilgrims Parties" to experience all the trappings of fantasy land: pirates, leathery-winged avians, Evil Enchatresses, Dark Lords, the lot. But the people of the land are fed up with all the chaos and misery all these tours bring to their lives. So, despite Mr Chesney's demon-plated contract, they ask the Oracles for help. The answer: get the Wizard Derk to play this year's Dark Lord. But Derk's not a particularly skilled wizard, and has problems of his own, anyway.

This manages to weave many of the Tough Guide fantasy cliches in, without being at all cliched: the people of the "real" fantasy world have to work very hard to make it look anything like the cliched Pilgrims' Tour. The contrast between the two makes for a relatively light read, but it's trying to be a bit deeper and grittier than that. For example, people die, there's a rape, and one of the good guys is forced into a situation where he has to kill innocents as a punishment for enjoying the staged battles too much (a bit tough on the innocents, that). Yet these traumatic events are handled with the same light style, and so leave a slightly bad taste in the mouth. I'm also not at all sure about the unexplored morality of Derk's animal experiments.

However, it's an interesting bit of world-building, so I'll probably read the sequel, to see if any of these moral dilemmas are tackled there.

Diana Wynne Jones.
Year of the Griffin.
Gollancz. 2000