Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Unlike most boys, David is not excited about the holidays. You wouldn’t be either, if you had to go stay with an odious great-uncle and his family, eat awful food, wear clothes that make you feel like you’re smothering–and then be told you should be grateful for it all! This holiday, David is so frustrated by everything that he starts spouting nonsense in private, pretending to put a curse on his abhorrent relatives. Of course, nothing happens. Or so he thinks . . . but then, the garden wall’s all torn up, and this boy calling himself Luke comes along, saying David released him from a long imprisonment. David is less than convinced, but he’s certainly in need of a friend, and Luke seems a likely candidate. And the more he’s around Luke, the more David’s life gets interesting–maybe even better. He even finds that he has an unexpected ally in his relatives’ home!
As with all of Diana Wynne Jones’s books, Eight Days of Luke is an engaging, unique fantasy. Definitely super fun! For a greater part of the story, there’s a more slice-of-life feel to it, even though there are clearly fantasy–or shall we say mythological–elements at play. I can’t recall the story specifically stating the country it’s placed in, but it certainly feels Scandinavian. Which fits, considering the mythology woven into the story. And may I just say, it’s woven in expertly. There are enough clues scattered throughout the story that the informed and attentive reader could probably pick out who the characters are supposed to be . . . although I personally was oblivious until the end. I think it would be fun to figure out along the way, but it’s also completely enjoyable to read as just a story. Oddly enough, while this story is absolutely Jones’s to the core, it reminds me somewhat of Roald Dahl’s writing as well–partially setting, partially basic plot elements, and partially characters. I think the characters in this story are particularly human; they show an incredible awareness of the quirks, moods, and tendencies present in all of us as well as an amusing grasp of the odd ways in which those tendencies present themselves in various individuals. Expertly done, for sure. Eight Days of Luke is definitely a book that I would recommend highly to just about anyone, and particularly to those who love fantasy stories and/or Norse mythology.
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Wizard Howl’s evil ways are so rampant that word of them reaches even to the back room in the hat shop where young Sophie Hatter spends her days making hats (which may or may not be magical). It is said he eats the hearts of young girls! But when Sophie accidentally falls afoul of the determinedly evil Witch of the Waste–who turns her into an old woman who can’t tell anyone she’s under a curse–Sophie wanders into the hills where Howl’s castle magically roams. And upon encountering this magical castle, Sophie lets herself in and befriends/bullies Howl’s fire demon, Calcifer, much to the chagrin of Howl’s assistant Michael. Surprisingly, wizard Howl doesn’t oust her from the castle the moment he returns home–although he doesn’t exactly give her a warm welcome either–so Sophie sets herself up as a long-term house guest and cleaning lady. It turns out that all those rumors about Howl eating hearts are just that–rumors spread by Michael to keep townsfolk from bothering Howl. Sophie quickly finds out that Howl isn’t actually evil at all . . . just selfish and vain and noncommittal as can be. How vexing!
How could anyone not love Howl’s Moving Castle? It’s one of my absolute favorite books ever. The concepts behind it are fascinating: a castle magically powered to wander the hill country, a door that opens to different places at different times, a curse you can’t talk about. Plus the delightful way Jones weaves all the different threads of the story together so that they fit just right in the end but are an enigma throughout the story. And of course, this tale is full to bursting with strong (temperamental) characters: Sophie with her nosy, opinionated ways–and her tendency to be a bit of a bully. Howl in all his vanity and womanizing and slithering out of situations–transformed from a sick, sad character into a wondrous one by his insight, kindness, and incredible skill. (You know, Howl reminds me remarkably of the Doctor now that I think about it. Odd.) Then there’s Calcifer with his tricksy cleverness–somehow you can’t help but like him. And nearly buried under these incredible characters are any number of other excellently developed individuals that you only really notice on a second or third reading: Sophie’s creative, determined sisters; Howl’s assistant Michael, who is actually a really nice guy with a lot of character when you get around to actually noticing him; and any number of others as well. Seriously, read Howl’s Moving Castle. Then go back and read it again, because as great as it is the first time around, it might just be even better the third and fourth time.
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Like many other children in 1939, Vivian Smith is on her way to the countryside to stay with her cousin while the bombing is going on in London. Only, she never quite makes it to meet her cousin. At the train station in the country, she is abducted by two boys who snatch her away (through a wall in the train station, no less) into what might as well be another world: Time City, a place set apart from time and ordained to govern over it. Only, things are going wrong, and the two boys, Jonathan and Sam, heard rumor that the Lady of the City–Vivian Smith–was going to be at that train station in 1939, so the went to get her. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that they have the wrong Vivian Smith. But they can’t just take our Vivian back to her own time, not now that she’s seen the City. So Jonathan, who thinks himself very clever, thinks up a plan to pass her off as a cousin of his, visiting from history (i.e., every time that isn’t Time City). Which is all a bit much, but Vivian’s quick to adapt. Unfortunately, they’re still left with that small, nagging problem of all Time coming to pieces around them. . . .
I love stories about time travel, and I absolutely adore Diana Wynne Jones’s writing, so I suppose I was pretty much fated to enjoy A Tale of Time City. It’s wonderful! And I don’t just mean that in the sense of it’s being “great” or “amazing”–it’s full of all sorts of wonders that surprise the reader at every turn. If I could do so and return safely home, I would love to get to tour Time City myself. I’d love to meet Vivian, too. She’s the perfect balance of a credible but remarkably spunky girl. Not to mention inordinately adaptable! She would stand out more but for the fact that the whole book is just full of lively, interesting people. And, as is so typical with Jones’s books, the plot is intriguing from beginning to end. The pacing is excellent, drawing the reader along comfortably but with enough ease to enjoy the setting and the characters as you go. And there are certainly surprises at the end, but ones that just seem to fit perfectly once you encounter them, like they were inevitably but you just never realized it. I would give A Tale of Time City high recommendations, especially to those who love a good fantasy and to those who are intrigued by the idea of time itself–because it’s just fascinating, isn’t it?
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Howard and his little sister (known to one and all simply as “Awful”) wander into their kitchen after school one day to find Fifi (the student who stays in the house to help out) as usual–as well as something most unusual: an enormous, and not particularly clean, man sitting in the middle of the room, taking up almost the whole of the kitchen floor space. Their bafflement increases as it becomes clear that this man, this “goon”, intends to stay right where he is until he can speak with their father, Quentin. The goon’s message, when Quentin does arrive home is even stranger: Archer’s waiting for his two thousand words that Quentin was supposed to write. As it turns out, for the past thirteen years, Quentin has been regularly mailing off random rubbish he’s typed . . . without knowing to whom or for what reason he was doing it. And while this “Archer”, whoever he is, claims to be the root of it all, Howard isn’t convinced; he’s determined to figure this out, especially when his dad goes stubborn (refusing to write anything) and Archer starts making all sorts of trouble, what with the Goon still parking in their house and the lights not always working and such.
I’ve said it before, but anything by Diana Wynne Jones is pretty much guaranteed to be amazing; if you haven’t read her books, you should totally start now. Having said that, Archer’s Goon probably isn’t the best book for someone unfamiliar with her writing to start out with, just because it’s a bit more gradual in its development. But it’s perfect that way. I absolutely loved the vague sense of unease, the way in which the strangeness just seemed to ooze out gradually, getting weirder and weirder. Yet somehow making sense, once you got to the root of it all. I swear, I have never read anyone with more imagination–or the courage to actually write the crazy stuff Jones has and pull it off. I think the slower pacing of the plot is supported–and still very interesting–because of the excellent cast. Howard seems fairly normal, sort of imaginative in a science-y sort of way, dreaming of rocketships and such. Awful lives up to her name with aplomb, which is actually kind of awesome; she’d be terrible to actually be around, but she’s got a stubborn streak and loads of ingenuity and cleverness in employing her loud and obnoxious little girl voice. It’s actually pretty useful, sometimes. I appreciated that their parents were present and involved in their lives . . . but human and distracted enough to be full and complete characters themselves. And let’s face it, no human, even a very responsible adult, would be completely pulled together in the circumstances they were facing. Truly, I think I have rarely, if ever, read a book as colorful and mesmerizing as Archer’s Goon; I would give it the highest recommendations without hesitation.
Author: Sage Blackwood
Jinx, vol. 2
My rating: 4 of 5
The wizard Simon and his apprentice Jinx have temporarily defeated the evil wizard Bonemaster, but they know it’s only a matter of time until he breaks out of the wards they have set around his castle. Simon has begun visiting every witch and wizard he can find in the Urwald forest, attempting to get them to help reinforce the wards on the Bonemaster until he can figure out a way to defeat him for good. . . . Unfortunately, no one wants to get caught up in this matter at all. Meanwhile, Jinx accompanies his companions Elfwyn and Reven to the edge of the Urwald and the kingdom of Keyland where Reven intends to make his claim to the throne–being, it’s supposed, the rightful king, although he can’t say so because of a curse placed on him long ago. And as if he didn’t have enough to deal with, Jinx finds himself wrestling with unclear rumors passed on by the trees of the Urwald and a niggling sense that there’s something he’s supposed to remember–something important.
I hugely enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Jinx, and was very excited to find the sequel, Jinx’s Magic. This was definitely a fun, exciting children’s fantasy, much in the spirit of the first volume. The writing style–as with Jinx–reminds me of a mix of Diana Wynne Jones’s and Tamora Pierce’s styles; it’s creative and fun and easy to read. I love the characters, many of them reappearing from the first volume. Several of them have what would typically be referred to as strong personalities. Or you could just say they’re stubborn. Jinx himself is an interesting character, particularly as he grows through the story–although in this particular volume, I feel like he grows more in skills and understanding of his place in the world than he necessarily does in character. The stylistic descriptions of magic and of Jinx’s perceptions of things like people’s thoughts and emotions (as colored clouds) is probably one of the most original and interesting facets of the story aside from the characters themselves. As for the plot, it is definitely exciting and interesting, but I do feel this is where things fell apart just a bit for this book (the only reason I gave it a 4 instead of a 5 rating). I felt like there was just too much going on and too much that was left unresolved at the end of the book. I realize this is setup for the final volume, and I’m very excited to read that; however, it just seemed a little loose in my opinion. Still, I enjoyed Jinx’s Magic, would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first volume (and yes, you really do need to read Jinx first), and fully intend to read the final volume in the trilogy when I get a chance.
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Illustrator: Ros Asquith
I think the Weasley twins would be proud. In The Skiver’s Guide, renowned author Diana Wynne Jones crafts a witty how-to book on avoiding unnecessary work in all aspects of life. It covers everything from general techniques like acting dreamy or becoming ill to specifics like tips for avoiding homework or dealing with specific family members. This book is delightfully multi-layered. On the one hand, it is written in an extremely straightforward manner–and could be taken quite seriously. Actually, there probably are tips in it that you could put to good use. On the other hand, there’s definitely a tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole thing–you could read it as one big gag (I did). Either way, I think you’ll find The Skiver’s Guide to be an interesting and intelligent little volume.
Authors: Diana Wynne Jones & Ursula Jones
Aileen was supposed to be a magic-working Wise Woman, just like her aunt Beck with whom she has lived for years. But she manages to mess up the initiation ceremony so royally she can’t even tell Beck what really happened. To make matters worse, before they can repeat the ceremony, they get sent off on a super-secret, super-dangerous mission to fulfill a prophesy, break a magical barrier that’s currently shielding an entire country, and rescue the crown prince. Joining Beck and Aileen are prince Ivar (Aileen’s crush–very cute, but honestly pretty stupid) and his servant Ogo (a foreign kid who got left behind when the magical barrier went up–and a kid that no one actually takes particularly seriously). Their travels through the Chaldean Isles will include wondrous landscapes, dangerous escapades, mysteriously intelligent (and sometimes invisible) animals, and more surprises that Aileen has ever had before in her life. She might even discover some surprising things about herself.
Have I mentioned that I adore Diana Wynne Jones’ books? Well, I do–for good reason. The Islands of Chaldea is no exception, although I admit to a bit of trepidation when picking it up. This is her only posthumous publication, to my knowledge, and it was completed after her death by her sister, Ursula Jones. All I can say is, her sister is also an excellent writer and must have known her very well–I honestly can’t tell where Diana Wynne Jones’ writing stops and Ursula Jones’ takes over. The entire story is full of the quirky, wonderful, and surprising characters and plot twists that I’ve come to expect and love. As with all of Jones’ stories, this one is full of delightful little hints that you don’t even notice until they come to fruition–and then you’re just like, “oh yeah, that’s what needs to happen.” The characters in this story are amazing, especially Ogo (well, and the cat). Ogo, as seen in first-person through Aileen’s eyes, is initially rather bucolic and stupid–but she’s seeing him while “in love” with Ivar the idiot. When she finally starts really seeing him, you get a completely different picture; the development is wonderful. I could gush for ages, but let’s just say that The Islands of Chaldea is highly recommended, period.