As with every one of Diana Wynne Jones' book, within the first chapter of this novel I was powerfully invested in all of the characters. I have no idea how she can make me feel so affectionate towards a group of fictitious constructs within just a few paragraphs, she just has a gift for getting the reader to identify with characters very easily. This novel is the sequel to her semi-parody 'The Dark Lord of Derkholm', and it does help to have read the preceding novel first. Some of the characters return here, although most in minor roles only, and Wynne Jones introduces a large and varied cast of new ones.
The action is set at the Wizard's University, and echoes of Harry Potter are unavoidable, but this is a much more grown up novel. It is not aimed at children, although it would be enjoyed by and suitable for teenagers. The head of the university, vain and selfish wizard Corkoran, has handpicked the six most interesting sounding first year students to be in his tutor group. They certainly are interesting, but not necessarily in the way that Corkoran had hoped. Soon they gel together as a group of friends and it is this group and the relationships between them that form the warm heart of the novel and keep you reading compulsively.
As you'd expect from a Wynne Jones novel, there's plenty of magic and action. Her stories are always eventful and flow nicely, with clever little twists and connections between different events. But it's deeper than just a lot of set pieces - there are underlying themes about the value of friendship and about the need to innovate and challenge the status quo when in education. The university's ethos of turning out middling, 'good enough' wizards who can provide a steadying influence as their country is rebuilt, is challenged by the new students at the suggestion of Derk (hero of the first novel). The resulting story is exciting, funny and occasionally sad, but never dull.
Sometimes things get too frenetic, with so many plot lines and characters that it feels a bit rushed and muddled. Whilst I admire brevity in writing in most cases, more could have been included here without any detriment to the story. The ending is my biggest frustration - Wynne Jones has a tendency to rush her endings, especially in her later books. Her background as a children's writer shows through as she ties up all the loose ends and finishes things just a bit too neatly - and I found it frustrating that in a book which included themes of empowerment and not doing what is expected by society, that most of the characters were paired off in the final pages, as though that was the only acceptable resolution. Some of them were ridiculously fast pairings - are we really to assume that characters who've been shown to be level headed and sensible would suddenly agree to marry someone they'd never even spoken to simply because they'd exchanged a glance across a courtyard?
That aside, I really enjoyed the book and found it hard to put down. Anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction will like this, and it would be a good book for teenage readers who've moved on from Harry Potter and are entering the world of more grown up fantasy. I would recommend reading the prequel first, and also the parody book 'the Tough Guide to Fantasyland', from which the original novel developed - and a book that made me literally weep with laughter. I would also suggest reading 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings' first, as many of the elements parodied in the earlier books (not so much here) come from them and therefore you will get the joke better.
This follows on from The Dark Lord Of Derkholm which, while not being my favourite Diana Wynne Jones book, was still highly readable. This story takes place some years later, following the story of Elda, one of the griffin children, as she goes to university. There are some fabulous comic moments involving the awful tutors at the university, and you get the feeling that Diana Wynne Jones had a low opinion of academics! Some cameo appearances for other members of the Derk clan, plus some new and interesting characters. It wasn't as good as some of the others, but is worth reading nevertheless. Some of the romantic connections seemed a bit forced to me.
Amazing book, sequel to the dark lord of derkholm but everything is explained so it works fine as a stand alone book. As usual, Diana Wynne Jones has wonderfully real relatable characters facing real problems in a fantastic world that engrosses you completely till the end. And after that you wish there was more! Have read it at least 3 times already. It's sad DWJ didn't get as much recognition as she deserved in her lifetime. Brilliant book, would recommend to anyone who enjoyed any of her other books or books by other writers like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Terry Pratchett's discworld series.
I love all the Diana Wynne Jones books and this one is just full of clever, magical, feel-good wonderfulness. It is a sequel to The Dark Lord of Derkholm, which makes the characters immediately familiar, but can be read alone.