When Andrew Hope’s grandfather dies, he leaves Andrew in charge of his magical field-of-care — with very little instruction as to what to do with it. And when a boy named Aidan Cain shows up on Andrew’s doorstep, looking for safety from the inhuman things chasing him, the two of them have to work together to sort out just what is happening in the village of Melstone.
This is one of Jones’ newest books, surpassed only by Earwig and the Witch, which is one of the only things of hers I haven’t read at all. It’s a splendid example of two of the things Jones did beautifully well, which are vivid characterization coupled with a dry wit. The opening pages, which describe Andrew trying to cope with the housekeeper and gardener for Melstone House, are just hilarious: slightly larger-than-life (quite literally, in the case of the vegetables Mr. Stock keeps dumping in the kitchen as punishment), but still grounded in something very real. And both of the protagonists, Andrew and Aidan, are the kind of sensible people I have always loved in her books. (It makes me wonder, in fact, how much of my preference for sensible characters stems from reading her work. Not all of it — Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons deserves some credit, too — but I suspect quite a bit.) First reading this book when I was thirty instead of thirteen means those characters will never occupy the deep place in my heart some of her others have, but I have very little to quibble with, where they’re concerned.
My quibbles have to do with the world, which hints at all kinds of fascinating things, but never goes into enough detail to satisfy me. For an explanation of that, follow me behind the cut.
The glass, of course, is the major part of it. Where the hell did it come from? What does it connect to? Why is it there? The only identification we get for the power behind the glass is when the oak tree uproots itself and steps in at the Fete — which, given how elegantly Jones handles such matters in other books, leaves me feeling like the hidden layer here is much too thoroughly hidden. I wanted more. I feel like it should be the thread that ties together Oberon and Melstone, making their juxtaposition more than just random happenstance; it could be random, but it would be more compelling to me if it weren’t, and so that hint and then lack leaves me a touch frustrated.
I’m likewise frustrated by the note Oberon sends Andrew at the end. I can’t quite decide if I’m supposed to take seriously the claim that Aidan isn’t his son. If I am, it strikes me as a) too pat and b) an undercutting of the tension that drove Aidan’s half of the book. If I’m not, then I’m fairly convinced the comment about the resemblance between Aidan and Andrew is actually meant as an indication of Andrew’s parentage being other than he believes — but then that feels like a giant dangling thread, that again makes me want more.
The slightly under-developed feel here and there makes the ending a bit underwhelming. Andrew drawing on the power of his field-of-care through the glass would mean more to me if I knew what the source of that power really was, and where the glass had come from. As it stands, it feels a bit like arbor ex machina; a tree comes to save him, and I don’t know why. And the confrontation with Oberon and the others would feel more important if Aidan’s role weren’t retroactively made ambiguous (or possibly a mistake).
The one other thread I’m a little dissatisfied by is the deal with counterparts. Okay, they’re all connected with fairies; that part I get. I’m not sure why, though. And more importantly, I’m not sure what it means when the fairies withdraw. It seems clear that the exceptional talents which pop up in Melstone are a result of that leakage; does its removal mean the talents go away? Or just that no new talents will crop up in the same way? Either option bugs me a little: the special people are special because of something outside themselves, and without that something, ordinariness reigns. (That’s kind of how it feels, anyway, which may partly be an artifact of my own personal red buttons as a reader.)
(I’ll tell you, though: the first time I read this book, I expected 90% of the village to be changelings. It’s because of the name Stock: that’s one of the terms for the thing left behind in the cradle when the fairies take a child away.)
It’s easier to talk in these posts about the things that don’t quite work for me, rather than the things that do, which makes it sound like I’m much more negative on them than I really am. I do like Enchanted Glass, though; as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of her most successful later books, up there with The Pinhoe Egg and Year of the Griffin. Andrew reminds me of Derk and (as I said in describing Derk) Erg, but I find him the most sympathetic of the three — a combination of me being most inclined to understand a desire to retreat into writing a book, and him not trying quite so hard to retreat as Derk does. His way of doing magic also tickles me pink, starting with when he gets his car out of the ditch. I find the characters in general to be fabulous; the various Stocks, and Tarquin, and Stashe, and so on. I just wish the worldbuilding felt fully baked, because I bet it would have been delicious.
Er, that metaphor may have gone a bit too far, there. I think I need something to eat. 🙂
The Game is up next (which, like this book, I first read in January 2011), and I may or may not finish off Unexpected Magic before the month’s end. Then I get to read the rest of my second tier of favorites: Archer’s Goon, Power of Three, and A Tale of Time City. I’m looking forward to them!