Most of Diana Wynne-Jones' fantasy adventures are solid, self-enclosed stories all by themselves. "Wild Robert" is a charming, interesting fantasy adventure, but it never quite figures out where to go or what to be. It's an entertaining novella, but not Jones' best.
Heather lives at Castlemaine, where her parents are the curators. But Heather hates the tourists and the lack of privacy. Then one day, she climbs onto an old mound and wishes that the legendary Wild Robert would come help her get rid of the tourists. Then she hears a voice: "Did someone call?"
It turns out that Wild Robert has been trapped in the mound for over three hundred years, because he studied the magic arts. Now he's just as ticked off as Heather is about the tourists -- but unlike Heather, he has no problem using his magic to help drive them away...
Diana Wynne-Jones seems to specialize in stories about the fantastical intruding on everyday people. And "Wild Robert" is one of those books. It's only a short novella (or long short story), but Jones manages to keep the storyline interesting and original (such as the feud of the old paintings).
Jones' customary sense of humor carries the story along, with the background about medieval witchcraft, magic, and the clash with modern-day tourists (who can be pretty obnoxious). The problem is that there isn't much of a plot -- Wild Robert visits, works magic, and weird things happen. At the end of the book, the story is clearly ongoing. Nothing changes, except that Wild Robert is hanging around.
Heather and Wild Robert are the principal characters in this book, and they are the only ones who get much development. Heather is a fairly typical Jones heroine, gutsy and willing to believe the unbelievable. It's Wild Robert himself who steals the show, with his tragic past and distinctly odd sense of humor.
"Wild Robert" is an entertaining light read, with a likable half-living hero and plenty of supernatural hijinks, but at the end you wish that Jones had expanded it into a fuller book.
I thought this book was excellent. Although the length and style of the story aim it at probably the 10-12 age range, the characters are strong and it should appeal to her older readers as well, my only problems with it were that it is too short and I want a sequel! A lively magical adventure, as fans of her writing have come to expect from her stories.
I have to agree with other reviewers - this is a wonderful, imaginative start to a story, which left me feeling I had read the first few chapters of a book the rest of which was yet to be written. What happens next? Does she call him back? Do scary things happen? Can he change? Can they reunite him with his "treasure"? It is almost a sketch for an idea worked out in more detail in Seven days of Luke, but I wish I knew how this story ended.
This author has written children's stories for a range of ages and this is perfect for younger readers just starting out on chapter books. A gentle tale with some sadness and some humour slightly obviously set in the 1980s for those of us who lived through it although I don't think children would notice.