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The balance of magic
on 16 September 2011
There are so many things that I usually love about Diana Wynne Jones' books and while there is plenty to be marvelled at in "The Merlin Conspiracy", I have to say it isn't a book that I would read again.
The enjoyable parts are that the multi-world universe, the magical and mythological descriptions are beautifully-written. The plot itself; the balance of entire worlds being threatened by a conspiracy in the Isle of Blest is an interesting idea. The world building is so believable that you feel you could almost get there by turning the next page. I loved the descriptions of the magical folk, the great powers and the personification of entire cities in Blest. The details of weather, houses, animals and landscape are also wonderfully atmospheric.
With the vast imagination on display it really is a bit of a shame that I couldn't like all of it.
The biggest problem is really to do with the characters. *The next part of the review does include a spoiler*.
Nick Mallory is certainly the best of the bunch, he is written as a conscientious boy with a thoughtful and practical mind. Even he gets a little tedious with his unrequited crush on Roddy though. As a lead character Roddy (Arianrhod) Hyde is a disappointment. She comes across as snobbish and patronising much of the time and then given to bursting into tears when she is under pressure. One particular scene that almost made me give up reading is the discovery that Roddy has been manipulated by a friend. There are several problems with this; her reaction is to run off, have a good cry on Nick's shoulder and feel bad about herself. Given Roddy's temperamental nature it would have been a redeeming moment to give the friend a hard thwack with some of her vast array of spells but, alas no, it doesn't happen. It's also rather irritating that the scene comes rather late in the book. Roddy has already been in a dozen situations where this could've been spotted.
I just couldn't take to the female characters in this book. Most of them appear either meek and anxious mousey types or arrogant, self-centred, hysterical harridans who are not very intelligent. The female villain is scarcely credible (for a lead conspirator) as her intelligence seems to be equal with a piece of boiled string. You won't find as scintillating a figure as The Witch of the Waste (from Howl's Moving Castle) here.
I still very much like other DWJ books and this is worth a read for the incredible world-building. However, be prepared in case you find the lead characters to be mostly unlikeable.