by Diana Wynne Jones
Here's a book that tells an interesting story about how it was written, in addition to the story
it tells on the surface. A lot of the magical Sci Fi-Fantasy adventure takes place at a
convention for fans, writers, and publishers of Sci Fi and Fantasy. Particularly Fantasy,
actually. And in passing it gives you glimpses of writers' minds at work, or at least, writers
talking about what they do.
I was at the end of the book, which stands on its own quite well, before I realized that it's
part of a whole set of books called "Starscape" written by a bunch of different authors, which
are all apparently related in terms of the way reality (within the stories) is set up. My guess
is that a bunch of fantasy writers got together at a convention like PhantasmaCon in the book,
and dreamed up a scheme to write their own kinds of story within the same framework, or starting
from the same premises. I've actually heard of some of the other stories in the Starscape catalog,
including Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and some of them sound quite interesting,
such as The Cockatrice Boys
and The Whispering Mountain, both by Joan Aiken, and
The Garden Behind the Moon by Howard Pyle. There's also a book in the series called
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, and you need only imagine how my eyebrow raised at that.
Anyway, the one I've read is Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones, and for now I'll have to
be satisfied with that. Deep Secret is a big, complicated, involving story-probably best read by
an adult-which, like so many of Jones's books, is hard to describe without giving away too much.
Most of it is narrated by one Rupert Venables, who by day is a finicky, well-heeled, very proper-
British designer of computer games, and who by night (to oversimply a bit) is a Magid, which
means...well, you spend half the book finding out what it means, actually.
In short, he is a sort of civil servant, under strict rules and orders from a shadowy "Upper
Room," who uses influence and (usually subtle) magic to make sure history stays on its proper
course in the worlds under his jurisdiction. Magids are doing the same stuff on an infinite
number of worlds, which are sort of like parallel-dimension Earths, only Magids can walk between
them if they're very careful. Rupert's department is Earth and the neighboring Koryfonic Empire,
which is having a major succession crisis and is tottering on the brink of civil war.
Rupert is the most junior Magid of all, which is why he's stuck with this undesirable assignment,
and just as all Hades breaks loose his Magid mentor, Stan, dies and, again as the most junior
Magid, it falls to Rupert to find someone to fill the vacancy. What with one thing and another,
he ends up pulling the fate-lines of his five candidates so they all end up together at
PhantasmaCon, the Fantasy fiction writers/fans/publishers convention.
What follows is a week of pure chaos, in which (as Rupert admits at the end) he makes every
mistake that he could possibly make, and probably invents some new ones. Plus the fate-lines he
has so expertly drawn together, besides being attached to some really obnoxious people, get
tangled up with several other people's who, to his knowledge, should not be involved at all. The
result is a scary, dangerous, heart-pounding, romantic, and often very weird chase between
several dimensions to save not only the throne of Koryfos, but also several innocent people's
lives. The climax is a couple of dramatic magical duels which, in my opinion, confirm Jones as a
wizard at creating climactic wizard duels. (For more evidence, see
The Magicians of Caprona.)
Besides, you can get emotionally involved with her characters, and their adventures can leave you
breathless from suspense and excitement. And she always seems to invent a world with totally
unheard-of rules that you come to accept and believe in and understand as the story goes on. I
like the way Deep Secret doesn't stop in its tracks and patiently explain things to you,
it sort of assumes you understand certain things and carries on while you pick up what you need
to know along the way. I guess it's the kind of book that assumes the reader is intelligent,
open-minded, and patient enough to wait and find out. But the reward for the extra effort is that
you get to enter a fictional world that is so much more realistic for not having improbable
signposts conveniently set along the way. I wish I could write stuff like that.
Recommended Age: 16+
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