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November's recommendation: The Homeward Bounders, by Diana Wynne Jones.



This book has, as far as I'm concerned, the best opening of any Diana Wynne Jones book ever.

Have you heard of the Flying Dutchman? No? Nor of the Wandering Jew? Well, it doesn't matter. I'll tell you about them in the right place; and about Helen and Joris, Adam and Konstam, and Vanessa, the sister Adam wanted to sell as a slave. They were all Homeward Bounders like me. And I'll tell about Them too, who made us that way.

Who are They? I won't answer that question fully, because of course it's an important part of the story. But what you know from early on is that They play games with the world; They play games with many worlds. Literally. They move people and trigger events in a giant game of Civilization, essentially, competing against one another for their entertainment. But every so often someone catches them at it, and sometimes that person, that "random factor," can't just be re-inserted as a corpse, so instead They discard him to walk the Bounds between worlds. He may not enter play in any world, but if he finds himself Home again, he may re-enter play as normal.

That's how They phrase it, anyway. To the random factor in question, it means this: he's exiled from his own world, forced to move constantly between other, alien planes of existence, never able to stay or make a place for himself anywhere he goes. He's a Homeward Bounder, one of many, and none of them ever seem to make it Home.

It's an odd story, and for some reason stands out in my head as being different from the other DWJ novels I've read and loved. You could point out any number of similarities -- a relatively young protagonist (Jamie), travel between worlds, use of real-world mythology, etc. -- but it's always held a unique place in my head. I don't know if it's my favorite. Fire and Hemlock and Howl's Moving Castle compete with it, each of them in a totally different way. But Helen and Joris, Adam and Konstam, and Vanessa, the sister Adam wanted to sell as a slave -- the characters are vivid and flawed, and the battles they fight have power on a subconscious level I don't think DWJ has equaled, at least for me, in any other book.

And then, of course, there's Them. Who never get any other name. And the other one, too -- the one whose name Jamie never learns, though most readers will recognize him the moment he appears.

I've recommended one DWJ book each of the five years I've been doing this, and now, at last, I've reached the end of the five at the top of my list. There are others I like, and I may get to them someday: Archer's Goon, Power of Three, Deep Secret, and more. We should all be so lucky as to write so many good books. But this is a good set to begin with, and thus we bring an end to five years of fiction recommendations.