on 8 March 2002
A very fast read and clever plot it reminded me in many ways of A Wrinkle in Time.
A group of 'normal' British people are actually part of a magical web who protect earth from attack.
It has some wonderfully funny scenes and underlying gags, the dam, dam-witches requested by the toddler who gets dragged unwittingly into the plot and causes complete chaos in a male run bastion has become a household joke.
I thoroughly recommend it - I've re-read it several times and several friends have bought others of her books after I foisted it on them!
on 23 August 2005
As an adult fantasy, this book doesn't quite live up to the standards Diana Wynne Jones has set with her children's books. The book contains several surprising twists, a lot of baby language and kamikaze sex, amongst other things.
The complicated plot revolves around a mage named Mark Lister, whose life is less than satisfactory. As one of the mages who heads The Ring - a secret society of witches who work to keep Britain, and more ultimately the World, safe from destruction - it becomes his duty to consult fellow witch Gladys when he discovers something is tampering in Earth's affairs. A visit to a badly injured girl in a local hospital reveals that another Universe has been creating disasters, in order to steal the ideas that the Ring come up with to save the Earth.
A bus full of witches is sent to the other universe to deal with the problem. The trouble starts when Mark's ex-lover stows away with them, taking her toddler, Marcus.
If you love Diana Wynne Jones's books, this is a good one to add to your collection. If you haven't tried her before, it may be better to start with Howl's Moving Castle, or Deep Secret.
on 4 January 2001
An absolutely fantastic book, and one that should not be missed by anyone with a sense of humour and a taste for fantasy. The story is well crafted and pleasantly written and the characters are colourfully portrayed, ranging from perfectly charming and deeply amusing (Tod), to pathetic, to spirited, to foolish, to creepy, to downright evil. The ending is totally unexpected, which is always a pleasant surprise and all in all I wish I could wipe my memory of it so I could read it all over again.
on 20 February 2011
Very little that Diana Wynne Jones writes is less than well-crafted, but I think that she has never quite hit her stride with books aimed at an adult audience. It's almost as though she is writing about adults, and with an adult audience in mind, but with the range of characters and plots and language which have served her so well in writing for the "Young Adult" market. The bright toddler, who has got to the language stage where he makes sense to his mother, but not anyone else, is a case in point. The humour resonates with parents and grandparents, but the range of emotion with that of those who haven't strayed into parenthood.
Having said that, she still tells a good story. If you've read and enjoyed "The Merlin Conspiracy" or one of her other more recent books, then this is for you. If you're new to Diana Wynne Jones, then some of her other books are a better place to start. Try "Archer's Goon" (the blurb says it was made into a BBC series - when it that coming out on DVD?) if you don't object to the "YA" tag, or "Fire and Hemlock" for more difficult emotional issues. Best of all the wonderful "Homeward Bounders".
on 13 June 2005
This is another great book by Diana Wynne Jones, featuring other worlds, quirky characters and plenty of twists and turns. Not as humorous as the excellent "Deep Secret", but with a magical sprinkling of her special style.
If you enjoy the likes of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, but fancy a little less horror/regurgitated jokes, then this is a great fantasy book to try. You'll certainly never view pylons in the same way again!
Some adult themes but suitable for most mature readers age 12+.
on 4 August 2001
I did enjoy reading this book, as I do all DWJs books, but it did dissapoint me. I think because there were too many charachters and I didn't really feel as if I got to know any of them so I couldn't really care what they did by the end. The plot was interesting and original though, and the ideas she has, like Zillahs piece of magic to escape on the spacebus thing, always make me wonder how she comes up with such different but logical ideas.
on 22 January 2014
This is one of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones novels, second only to the wonderful Deep Secret. In common with many of her other works, it is heavily themed around impersonation, deception, multiple universes and the rightful and wrongful uses of magick. The pagan / Wiccan themes are unmissable; the hat worn by Mark as a nod to the Tarot Magus, and the mother/maiden/crone triple of Amanda, Zillah and Gladys, to name the most obvious. In this DWJ universe, the practise of witchcraft, though concealed from mainstream society, is portrayed as an utterly natural activity that takes place alongside the everyday. DWJ is a master of the art of `showing, not telling' aspects of her magickal universe - for example, you never find an explicit explanation of what the Wheel is, or what a Gualdian might be, but somehow these are made very clear in context.
Multiple universes in particular are a perennial DWJ staple (Dark Lord of Derkholm, the Chrestomanci series), and the plot here turns upon another, more magical pocket universe, Arth, spying on Earth and using it as a laboratory to test various environmental weapons that cause global warming in order to solve their own similar problems. Centaurs and mages with various gifts and degrees of magical ability join forces with the Earth characters - each outcasts in their own way - who travel to Arth aboard a space-bus to battle the evil that is poisoning both worlds, while a love story unfolds between two difficult, isolated characters who both turn out to have powerful hidden aspects.
The characters and their relationships are convincing and well-drawn, and the sexuality overt but very gently handled - putting the novel clearly in the young adult range without the text ever becoming vulgar, explicit or gratuitous. The coven of Earth witches who travel to Arth pit their wits against its austere and celibate order of mages using their own natural subversiveness, rather than magick, in the battle to stop them destroying Earth, and a far greater evil is revealed in a neighbouring universe that threatens both Earth and Arth. The battle between this evil force comes to a climax in the final pages when true identities are revealed, and the Earth and Arth characters join forces to reunite the lovers and defeat the evil creature from the Hellband spoke of the Wheel.
The plot is intricate, astonishingly imaginative and finely written, with some wonderful descriptions of the alien universe, especially of its angelic guardians and gods, the strange parallel ether-world in the Wheel, the blue fortress of Arth and the Fiveirs of the Orthe, as well as the mundane aspects of alien life including food (a running gag that pokes fun at the monkish austerity of Arth, versus the fertility and abundance of the universes' ruling Goddess), flash cars and marriage. The quotidian and the supernatural are blended with extraordinary fluidity and skill, and the tone throughout is a strange mix of the utterly otherworldly and the thoroughly familiar and believable.
While there are many similarities between DWJ's novels for children and young adults as described above, what is really surprising is her ability to consistently create worlds that `feel real' which share these themes, worlds where appearances cannot be trusted and where revelation enables a balance to be restored at the end, but which are each completely different, with a different mythopoeic base. Strongly recommended for those who enjoy Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Joan Aitken, Susan Cooper, Madeleine l'Engle and John Masefield - a sparkling and playful twist on the traditional British magickal fantasy genre.
on 12 June 1999
This was the first ever book I had read by Diana Wynne Jones. It focuses on a band of magical characters, an ancient secret society who try to solve all the problems of Earth. It is humourous as well as highly inventive, and its use of parallel worlds is funny, clever, and wry. Without revealing the ending, this one has a real twist in the tail...
on 15 January 2015
I love Diana Wynne Jones but I found this novel a little dated in it's presentation of women, and it did rehash themes from other novels - but I understand it is one of her earlier works. I never think she is quite as convincing when writing for adults as when writing for children, and I found the endless couplings in Arth a little ridiculous. The characterisation was thin, and despite moments of humour I found the story vaguely unsatisfying. Her baddies are well-painted, however. Too many repetitions of jokes that weren't that funny to start with such as the toddler's inability to speak clearly. I found I didn't like many of the women and didn't believe in many of the men. Some lovely Wynne Jones touches though such as the sinister walking pylons.