Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Enchanted Glass

O frabjous day when Diana Wynne Jones publishes a new book! She is one of the few writers remaining (Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Richard Peck are the only others who come to mind) who published books when I was a kid and who is still writing today. And she is one of my absolute, tip-top favorites.

Despite the tingles of anticipation and the soaring expectations, I am never disappointed when I open one of her books, and this latest novel is certainly no exception. I would like to know, however, why the UK always scores the most appealing covers! I love the cover below. I don't mind the first one, but I find the second one more visually appealing - plus it illustrates an aspect of the book that only becomes clear as the story progresses. I like when book covers do that. When I canvased my daughters, though, one liked one cover, and one liked the other - typical!

At any rate, the book is about Andrew, a young man who inherits his grandfather's estate. His grandfather was apparently some sort of powerful wizard, and his property must be cared for in a particular way. Andrew, who spent wonderful summers at his grandfather's house when he was a child, has vague memories about it, but he can't quite remember exactly what his grandfather did. Along with the property, Andrew has inherited a gardener and a housekeeper (Mr. and Mrs. Stock - but they are unrelated and very much at odds with each other), and they do their best to keep Andrew in line. Andrew is an easygoing guy, but luckily, he is no pushover.

When an orphaned boy named Aiden shows up on his doorstep, Andrew isn't sure what to do. Aiden's grandmother, who recently died, had told him that, should he ever be in trouble, he should go to Andrew's grandfather for help. When Andrew hears that there are shadowy creatures who have been pursuing Aiden, he knows instinctively that the protections around his house will keep the boy safe, and Aiden is immensely relieved that he can stay there for a while.

Trouble is definitely brewing, however, and it soon becomes evident that Aiden has some powerful enemies indeed. Luckily Andrew has some staunch allies, including a one-legged former jockey; his daughter, a lovely young woman who is a computer whiz, and a rather slow-witted boy who is, somehow, a mechanical genius. With twists, turns, and delightful surprises, the narrative is captivating from beginning to end.

The story alternates between Andrew's and Aiden's points of view, which gives the reader a whole picture of the situation and increases the suspense of the story. There are so many magical and fascinating things about this world which is much like ours, except for the magical elements. I love how the magic is presented - there are no long, explanatory passages. It is presented as it is, and while we're never exactly clear how it works, it feels perfectly understandable and believable.

I find it interesting that a book for children should have an adult as a substantial point-of-view character - and it works incredibly well, for without Andrews thoughts and insights, the book would not be nearly as strong. I loved that the parts seen through Aiden's eyes were so authentically from a child's point of view, and that the way he describes things also tells us a lot about him. For example, here is when he meets Stashe for the first time:
Aiden was astonished a third time, by Tarquin O'Connor's daughter. She was beautiful. She had one of those faces with delicate high cheekbones and slightly slanting eyes that he had only seen before on the covers of glossy magazines. Her eyes were green, too, like someone's in a fairy story, and she really was as slender as a wand. Aiden wondered how someone as gnomelike as Tarquin could be the father of a lady so lovely. The only family likeness was that they were both small.

Stashe came striding in with her fair hair flopping on her shoulders and a smile for everyone - even for Aiden and Mrs. Stock - and a look at her father that said, Are you all right in that chair, Dad? She seemed to bring with her all the feelings that had to do with being human and warm-blooded. Her character was clearly not at all fairylike. She was in jeans and a body warmer and wellies. No,
not a fairytale person, Aiden thought.
Diana Wynne Jones writes books that are perpetually thrilling, full of a magical sense of wonder, that never fail to surprise me. She often draws from mythology and folklore for her stories, and she does for this one as well. I love the places she takes me in her books, her clever sense of humor, and the characters that are eccentric and quirky, yet somehow real, ordinary, believable people.

I can only hope for another book by Diana Wynne Jones to be published in a year or two - but in the meantime, I feel so blessed to already have a treasure trove of her books on my shelves. I've been having a lovely time reading them aloud to my children - although I must admit I could not wait to finish our current read-aloud (The Graveyard Book) and went ahead and read this one on my own. I know I'll be happy to reread it to them later on!

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, 2010)

Source: public library

Also reviewed at:
Book Aunt: "While I have to admit that I've liked the plots of some of her previous titles better, I thoroughly enjoyed this new book by one of my three favorite children's fantasy writers. Anyone who's read the Chrestomanci books and other wonderful works by Jones will be glad to get their hands on Enchanted Glass."
Eva's Book Addiction: "Despite a plot that sounds rich with menace and thrills, this is more a pleasant and even relaxing stroll through a land imbued with magic, peopled by the kind of eccentric villagers that fans of British fiction relish - the stubborn and crotchety gardener, the opinionated and crotchety housekeeper, and so on."
Skunk Cat Book Reviews: "The story is fast-paced and fun, with Jones's trademark humor and interesting minor characters. Her descriptions of the countryside are masterful, and the climax of the book is satisfying."

Reviews of other books by Diana Wynne Jones:
Charmed Life
The Game
Dark Lord of Derkholm
Deep Secret
House of Many Ways
The Merlin Conspiracy
The Pinhoe Egg
Witch Week

5 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this one lots too! And I do hope that DWJ manages to get better (dunno if you know that she's fighting cancer right now) both for her own sake, of course, and for the sake of more books to come...

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  2. Yay, I'm glad her new book is good! I haven't read it yet because I've been trying to decide whether to use a B&N gift card and get the American version, or shell out actual money to the Book Depository and get the copy with the cover I like. The UK does have better covers for DWJ's books, nearly every time!

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  3. Charlotte - I just found out about the cancer battle yesterday - what terrible news! I do hope she gets better quickly.

    Jenny - I got mine from the library, but I may have to shell out the money myself for that lovely UK version. I'll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts once you've read this.

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  4. If you like whimsical fun books, try "Eyes Like Stars" by Lisa Mantchev. The fairies from Midsummer's Nights Dream are a riot! And they have thinking caps that are red and pointy. :) I can't read this book on the train because I laugh too much.

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  5. Erin - I'm so glad to hear you say that - I have Eyes Like Stars on my TBR list, and I'm hoping to get to it soon. Looks like I'll have to bump it up, given your recommendation! I LOVE funny books, so anything that you can't read on the train sounds perfect for me. :-)

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