Don't you love it when you discover that there's a book by a favorite author that you think you've read, but then it turns out you never did? That happened with this book by Diana Wynne Jones, one of my top five favorite authors - and it turned out to be the sequel to Deep Secret, which I'd reread fairly recently, so that was serendipitous!
The book alternates between the viewpoints of two characters: Nick (whom we met in Deep Secret) - a young man who yearns to learn magic and to be a Magid one day - and Roddy, a young woman in an alternate world who has lived her entire life traveling across the land with the Royal Progress. Nick has reluctantly agreed to accompany his adopted father, a famous mystery writer, to a writers' conference in London. From there Nick is suddenly whisked away into an alternate universe.
Meanwhile, Roddy and her best friend, Grundo, discover a conspiracy surrounding the new Merlin (here Merlin is a position, the leading wizard of the nation who stands at the ruler's right hand) - a conspiracy that threatens not just the king, but the very essence of their land and its magic. Only no one believes them (which make sense, because part of the conspiracy involves a spell that confounds all the members of the Royal Progress). Roddy doesn't know where to turn - and in an attempt to find help, she meets up with Nick, who is blundering around trying to find his way back home.
This is a complex tale with all the twists, turns and delightful surprises that are to be expected in Diana Wynne Jones's books, and I very much enjoyed it. It does stand alone as a novel, but without the background from Deep Secret, I believe most readers would suspect they were missing part of the story - and personally, I hate feeling that way. I loved the development of the characters and their relationships with each other - and the fact that just when you think you have things sorted out, something shifts and you need to re-examine the book in a different light. The dialog is wonderful, revealing character and providing many laugh-out-loud moments, and there are plenty of memorable characters to love (my particular favorite is Mini the elephant) and intriguing places to visit. This is a complex, intelligent, delightful fantasy novel, and I highly recommend it.
Books in the Merlin Cycle:
1. Deep Secret
2. The Merlin Conspiracy
The Merlin Conspiracy (#2 in the Merlin Cycle) by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, 2003)
Also reviewed at:
Someone's Read It Already: "The story’s a bit complex, and it’s got a strong dose of adults-ignoring-children’s-warnings going on, so if you enjoy that aspect of the Harry Potter books, I’d say this is the Diana Wynne Jones book for you."