by Diana Wynne Jones
Harper Collins, 2010
I haven't read any Diana Wynne Jones in a long time (evidence: she shows up nowhere on this blog) and I didn't read any of hers as a kid, when I probably would have loved them the most. As an adult, I enjoy her books very much, but I always feel a little wistful after reading something by her, like I have missed something truly wonderful by reading them so late and with an adult point of view. Something akin, perhaps, to the people who read L'Engle's Time Quartet as adults and realize, kind of sadly, that they have totally missed the point when they should have read those books. They see there's something there, but it's out of their reach.
It's not as pronounced as that, for me, here. But some authors really, truly write for kids without talking down to them, but in such a way that there is a point at which it becomes difficult for an adult to access the book. I don't think this is a bad thing, by the way -- authors who can do that are very, very special. It's just a matter of getting to the book at the right time.
Part of it may be that I find her books, and Enchanted Glass especially, to be a little... brief? I am not sure of the right word. It's hard, because I'm not sure I feel like this with any other books for kids, and I'm not sure why I do with this one. It's like I skip across the surface of her books lightly and easily, enjoying the trip as a tourist would, but knowing I will never be one of the locals. I desperately want to get deeper, to move into the courtyards and wear the appropriate clothes and eat the food, but I am stuck in the tour bus looking out, appreciating the view. It leaves me feeling a little wistful.
Anyway! On to this book specifically. My teeny tiny book club of 9 - 12 year-olds picked this one unanimously from a pile of suggestions I had. I'm glad they picked it, because I've wanted to read it since Darla did. In a world similar to our own, but steeped deeply in magic, a man by the name of Jocelyn Brandon dies. When he does, his grandson Andrew, an academic at a local university, inherits Brandon's house, grounds, and his field-of-care -- that is, a special magical place to be protected and cared for in a particular way. Andrew does know magic, but he has a hard time remembering much of what his grandfather taught him as a boy -- and he wants to work on his book, anyway. However, his plans are being constantly derailed by Mr. Stock, his groundskeeper, and Mrs. Stock, his housekeeper (completely unrelated, and barely even civil to each other). His poor book gets left aside completely when Aiden Cain, a twelve-year-old orphan boy shows up in rather dire straits on his doorstep.
The cast of characters is diverse and, as always, one of Jones' strengths. Not everyone is completely likeable or dislikeable, though there are some clear black-and-white characters too. No matter whether they are strongly on the side of right or wrong, they each make mistakes (some more than others) and they each have their strengths, and they are all somewhat quirky and eccentric in a way that I thoroughly enjoy. The perspective swings back and forth easily between Andrew and Aiden, often between paragraphs, which can be somewhat confusing if one is reading too fast. Both are excellent main characters. And I like that in a children's book, we get an adult as a main character, and even see events from his perspective. That doesn't happen very often, and I thought it was a great touch.
I also really enjoyed the magic, and the fact that Jones leaves so much to the imagination. She doesn't explain everything for us, and I think I've probably over-harped on how I don't like everything explained to me. I think it can have a detrimental effect on the world-building and authenticity. Even some plot points are left somewhat unexplained, leaving the reader to think for themselves, and I like this very much. I'll be interested to see if some of the more literal-minded kids in the group are as enamoured with this strategy as I am.
Overall, a light and original fantasy, a great romp really. I enjoyed it quite a bit, even if I spent most of my time feeling like I was somehow on the outside looking in. Recommended for all fantasy fans, but especially the younger ones.