by Dianne Wynne Jones
From the same fertile imagination that brought us The Time of the Ghost
The Ogre Downstairs
, and Witch's Business
comes this deliciously weird,
madcap modern fantasy about a town run by a squabbling family of seven
wizards. One "farms" power, another law enforcement, still
another.crime; a third farms entertainment, a fourth sanitation, a fifth
education, and so on. "Farm" here apparently means that each wizard has
power over a particular area, and profits from it as well. It was an
arrangement made long ago, only something has gone wrong.
Some of the siblings want to spread out and take over the world...but
they find that they can't leave the city limits. This is because one
member of the family-no one seems to know who-has connived against the
others. It has something to do with a pudgy writer named Quentin Sykes,
who for the past thirteen years has kept up a quarterly assignment of
typing a two-thousand-word story and handing it over to a bank manager.
Only no one, least of all Sykes, can say what his quarterly four pages
of typewritten drivel is good for.
Then comes a day when one of Sykes' quarterly offerings goes astray.
That day a seven-foot-tall, brawny, slightly daft Goon takes up
residence in the Sykes home, filling the kitchen with his enormous legs,
and claiming that Archer-the oldest of the wizard siblings-sent him to
collect Mr. Sykes' quarterly two thousand. If that isn't enough, the
other wizards who secretly run the town put in demands for
two-thousand-word stories of their own. Not liking to be pushed around,
and even less willing after he finds out that Archer wants to rule the
world, Mr. Sykes puts his foot down.
So he and his family soon find out how inconvenient it can be when the
seven wizards who run the town are upset with you. The Goon moves in to
stay for an indefinite period. Public services and roads are disrupted.
Police harrassment, criminal harrassment, musical harrassment, and a
series of spectacular family rows ensue, as 13-year-old Howard and his
younger sister, appropriately nicknamed Awful, try to solve the mystery
of who has been taking their father's words and why.
I've gone about explaining this story backward. It really begins with
Howard and Awful coming home to find the Goon in their kitchen, and
unfolds irresistably from there. I just wanted to give you an idea of
the clever, original idea behind this tale. Full of humor, family drama,
romance, an intriguing mixture of magic and technology, a puzzling
mystery, staggering surprises, and an ending that is equally astounding
and hilarious, it also features a priceless character named Awful, who
at one point says: "I'm going to be bad. I may scream. I feel it coming
Recommended Age: 12+
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