After reading Howl’s Moving Castle two years ago, and then Fire and Hemlock early in 2012, I went on a bit of a Diana Wynne Jones binge. Four other titles were added to the list of books I’ve read by her between April and September: The Game, Earwig and the Witch, Enchanted Glass, and Charmed Life. I think we can safely say that I’ve found a new author I like very much. And yes, she will be added to that ever-growing list of “must read everything” authors. Below you find mini-reviews of three of the books mentioned above. As so often happens with books I like very much, I postponed writing about them for forever, which means I do not recall all the details perfectly anymore.
One of the things I enjoy most about Diana Wynne Jones’ books is that she always takes magic for granted in the story she creates. And so the characters don’t go around explaining the fact that it is there to each other and to the reader. Instead, they might have to find out how it works, or what to do with it. This is what happens in Earwig and the Witch.
Earwig does not want to leave the orphanage, because she is able to convince everyone to do things her way. So when a pair of visitors come to look for someone to adopt, she tries her hardest not to look attractive. Unfortunately, she is picked out by Bella Yaga, who lives with a demon and a cat. Once she leaves the orphanage and has to go live with what soon turns out to be a witch, Earwig needs to figure out a way to set things to her hand again.
Earwig and the Witch is a very funny story for younger children. There is nothing truly scary in there, though there are many “eek” moments when Earwig learns about the ingredients for some of the spells she tries. I can just imagine the fun you might have reading these passages to children. Of course, there is very little that makes Earwig endearing per se. But her strongmindedness is funny and enjoyable, which leaves the reader rooting for Earwig despite knowing that in the “real world” she might be considered to be a little spoiled and ill-behaved. Really, the fact that Earwig is allowed to act out is half the fun of this small little book.
Andrew Hope has inherited his late grandfather’s home: Melstone House. However, he missed seeing his grandfather one last time before his death, which means that he is unaware of the particular details involved with his grandfather’s property. With the house comes a “field of care”, but what does this mean? And how come he can feel someone stealing power from his field?
At the same time, Aiden Cain has fled his orphanage because otherworldly creatures are chasing him and want him dead. Chased by these creatures, Aiden arrives on the doorstep of Melstone House. Will Andrew be able to help Aiden? Or is Aiden really helping Andrew? And are their problems interconnected?
This feels so much like a perfect example of a Diana Wynne Jones book. And because by now I had become rather familiar with her style, I felt myself enjoying the journey where things might have left me puzzled before. I enjoyed the gradual build-up; I enjoyed the manner in which Andrew and Aiden accept the supernatural and yet have to figure out ways to deal with it; I enjoyed the faerie’s, whose appearance I for once anticipated instead of being startled by them; I even accepted the rather fast-paced ending after the slow-paced world-building, having come to terms with the fact that this is part and parcel of Jones’ books (even though I sometimes might have liked a little bit more breathing space to figure things out).
Another thing that made this book so lovely was the fact that almost each and every one of the characters that make an appearance (and there are quite a lot) are well-rounded, never perfect, but perfectly charming. There are moments where this book is incredibly funny, and there are moments when things are happening and you just want to continue reading non-stop. There is a wonderful wonderful theme in the book regarding different worldviews and perspectives and the magic that can come of them, portrayed through the recurring appearance of glasses (as in eyewear) and a window pane.
This is a definite reread, and a definite recommended read for all those who would like to get acquainted with Diana Wynne Jones’ books.
Other Opinions: The Speculative Scotsman, Charlotte’s Library, Vulpes Libris, Confessions of a Bibliovore, Jenny’s Books, My Favourite Books, Tales of the Marvelous, Skunk Cat Book Reviews, Bookwyrme, Cecelia Bedelia, between a rock and a hardcover, Creativity’s Corner, Becky’s Book Reviews, The Written World, We Be Reading, Yours?
Whereas I think Enchanted Glass has one of the prettiest covers ever, Charmed Life is another example of covers that would have never convinced me to pick up the book, would I not have known Diana Wynne Jones, or the fact that this is the first book in one of her best-loved series.
In Charmed Life Cat and Gwendolen are two orphans, having lost their parents in a boat crash. Cat lives in his sister’s shadow, who is a promising witch. When sister and brother are summoned to live at Chrestomanci Castle, their lives change. Chrestomanci is a castle where strange things seem to happen. The castle functions as a school for magic, but Gwendolen is refused further education in magic before her regular school topics are up to par. But Gwendolen is not one to back down, and Cat subsequently becomes torn between starting to enjoy his life at the castle and his loyalty to his sister and her schemes of sabotage.
There is a rather odd pull in reading about Cat and Gwendolyn, which I think might not be for every one. Gwendolyn is not sympathetic, at all. Rather, she treats her brother like dirt. However, Cat always remains loyal to her. For the first half of the story, I was left feeling confused who I should feel sympathy for, and whether this was supposed to be the story of Cat or Gwendolyn. I can say that things become clearer in the second half of the book, but I cannot say anything besides that without giving too much of the plot away.
For me, the dynamic and the development of the story did not bother me. Rather, they fascinated me. Charmed Life is another example of Diana Wynne Jones daring to go against the grain by playing with the idea that childhood equals innocence, and having Gwendolyn treat her brother horribly without her experiencing any consequences for it at first. I like that Jones dares to go there, and that she is very unapologetic about it.
But more than anything I loved Cat, his background story, and the potential for a series (this is the first book in the Chrestomanci series) that I hope revolves around him and the Chrestomanci castle.
I read Charmed Life as part of R.I.P. VII. Admittedly, it is definitely a light read for this event, but considering the otherworldly occurences and the appearance of ghosts in the story, I am still counting it towards the challenge. In the same vein, Earwig and the Witch fits RIP season as well. Readers Imbibing Peril is hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Click over to the RIP Review Site for more reads with a autumnal feel.