We’re almost at the end of the Diana Wynne Jones books I wrote recommendations for; this is the last but one. (The final title is Eight Days of Luke, which is also a favorite, but it’s sort of a first-and-a-halfth tier favorite, along with Archer’s Goon and The Power of Three and maybe some others, too.)
So that link has the plot summary and so on. Here, outside the spoiler cut, I’ll say that the only DWJ novel that has ever seemed to me at all similar to this one (and vice versa) is Fire and Hemlock, though I’ve heard people talk about a few others in a way that makes me think I may change that evaluation, once I remind myself of what those others are like. Partly it’s the role of real-world folklore — though in this case the components are easy to spot, since many of them are named in the opening paragraph. The Wandering Jew. The Flying Dutchman (whose ship is on the cover of my edition). Him, whom I won’t name here because this is the non-spoiler part of the discussion, but those of you who have read the book know who I’m talking about. Then again, there may well be other layers that aren’t so obvious to spot.
But really, what makes this one feel akin to Fire and Hemlock is the way it sort of slantwise approaches some really thorny things before turning to look at them directly, without flinching. Neither of these books is precisely happy. They both end on a note of hope, but it’s tempered with some real sorrow, the victory coming at a fair bit of cost. I’m really sort of startled this counts as a kids’ book, even if the protagonist is twelve. But kids need stories of this kind too, I suppose — even if it leaves me, at the age of thirty, feeling like somebody has stomped on my heart.
I think that’s all I can say that’s non-spoilery. Follow me behind the cut for the rest.
So the silly note first: somebody out there has to have written a crossover between this and The Lives of Christopher Chant. The splintering of worlds, both before and after They start their game, could easily be mapped onto the creation of the Related Worlds, especially given that Jamie and the others more than once go through sets that seem quite closely related. Handwave some reason why Chrestomanci hasn’t figured out yet that this is going on (or come up with a story in which he deals with it), and you’re set.
Less silly notes: my god, that last sentence. It kicks me in the gut every time. The fate Jamie shackles himself to . . . and hell, before that. After he gets flung out of the Real Place, and cracks his head on the statue. Going around the city, and then back to the Macreadys’ house. The conversation with Adam and Vanessa’s parents. I can hear perfectly in my head the way Jamie’s voice starts dithering about, because it’s exactly what would happen to mine if I tried to read that out loud. I don’t think I would be able to get through it without getting sniffly. Home at last — but it’s too late. Home is gone the moment you get discarded.
Unlike Fire and Hemlock, the metaphorical logic behind this one clicks together perfectly in my head. I get it; I have always gotten it. Heck, I’ve had a few echoes of the hope thing show up in my stories from time to time, once with an RPG character of mine (Ree, for those who knew her and might be curious) and once, in passing, with Dead Rick (for those who might remember this by the time With Fate Conspire comes out.) Probably some others I’m not thinking of right now.
Other parallelism between books: Helen, of course, calls to mind the Goddess from Lives. Jamie’s life, however, is kind of like the sucktastic inversion of Christopher’s.
Helen. I love Helen. I love her fierceness, the way she refuses to ever explain most of her eccentricities. I love Joris, because I love competent characters, and he really is — even if he isn’t fully trained yet. I love the Flying Dutchman’s resignation, and his one outburst of fist-shaking, before he goes back to pessimistic gloom. I love Ahasuerus’ ranting, and the way Prometheus retains his humanity (so to speak) despite aeons of being chained to that rock, having his liver pecked out.
The only character in this that I don’t love is Adam, and I think it’s largely because I don’t buy — interesting choice of words, there — his attempt to sell Vanessa to Konstam. Gloating over the thought of how much his sister would be worth, sure. But actually trying to sell her? It’s a step too far, for me. I can seen an outside chance that my reaction is a cultural thing, the legacy of being an American and having slavery be the Giant Evil our society still hasn’t gotten over; Britain’s relationship with that subject is different, though far from perfect. But I don’t think that explains it. However nicely Joris talks about Konstam, it’s too weird for me that Adam actually tries to follow through on the idea.
(Konstam. Hee. I can’t think of him without seeing Adam do the hand high/hand low thing. Not ten feet tall, no sirree.)
My one teeny quibble on a plot front is that I wish Adam’s surname hadn’t been given so soon. It would have been mildly hard to avoid while the boys were around, seeing as how that kind of group always refer to each other by surname, but it maybe could have been done. I’m not sure if it would have seemed too much out of left field for Jamie to guess that the woman in the photo was Elsie, but I don’t think so. And for an alert reader, the name “Macready” is a giant red flag; we’ve had it established that people who look really similar happen from world to world, but not a repetition of names. I don’t remember what I thought of it as a kid, but reading the book now, I wish that clue didn’t get tipped so early.
But I do love this one, even if it depresses the hell out of me at the end.
That’s it for April. I’m still open to requests; at the moment, Dogsbody is up near the top of my queue, but I’ll take others if people have titles they particularly want to hear discussed sooner rather than later. (Alternatively, if you think I would benefit from making a timely comparison between any of the books I’ve already read and one I haven’t gotten to yet, let me know.)