Cybils nominations open today!!! Go read the rules and nominate a favorite book! I’d be particularly happy if you nominate a middle grade speculative fiction book for me to read!
But moving on to what I’ve already read… I have read and loved quite a few books by Diana Wynne Jones, but happily for me she was prolific enough that there are still many I haven’t read. This one I won in a giveaway run by Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, the difficult choice of which of many wonderful-sounding books I hadn’t yet read decided by going for the one that wasn’t readily available from the public library. Bonus: this is the version with the beautiful, newly redesigned cover.
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones. HarperCollins UK, 2013. Originally published by Victor Gollancz, 1997.
Rupert Venables is the youngest Magid from Earth, working to resolve magical problems around the universe from a non-magic-friendly planet. As the story opens, he’s called to witness a trial in the very unfriendly Koryfos Empire, one which ends in a way that leaves him shaken and wanting nothing more to do with Koryfos. His life gets more complicated when his mentor Stan dies, leaving Stan’s ghost to help Rupert track down the next Magid. He has a list of potential candidates, each of them seeming more odious than the last. And as the hunt heats up, the Koryforian Empire falls apart, leaving them begging Rupert for help putting things back together again.
The most unlikely of the candidates is Maree Mallory – a mutual loathing develops between Rupert and Maree the first time they meet. Maree knows she’s adopted, but is still a loving caretaker to her somewhat younger cousin Nick, in the face of his neglectful parents, hateful mother Janine in her ugly fancy sweaters and a preoccupied author father. Maree has come off a bad break-up and temporarily dropped out of university to avoid seeing the ex, deliberately neglecting herself to make herself more odious to Nick’s mother Janine.
Rupert, much more concerned about appearance, is horrified by Maree and desperate to find a better candidate. (To be fair, he has a lot more reasonable grounds for frustration with Maree than her looks.) His solution is to bring everyone together at a favorable place – which winds up being the Hotel Babylon, at the same time as a large sci-fi/fantasy con. Somehow, though Rupert doesn’t understand how, his somewhat absent-minded next-door neighbor ends up coming along as well.
In classic Jones style, all the plots come crashing together, sparks crashing and dust flying, and when everything has settles, all the disparate plots have come together and fit just perfectly. Deep secrets are hidden in nursery rhymes; and Maree turns out, to the delight of both Rupert and the reader, to be a really fantastic character, making a place for herself despite odds that turn out to be even more formidable than they first appear. There is also the complex world-building that I expect from DWJ, which I’m not going to get into here, but which I was happy to find easier to comprehend that the set-up in some of her other books. In short, this was highly enjoyable. I passed it right on to my mother, and would likely be looking for the next book in the duology were it not for the pile of potential Cybils reading now crowding my shelf. Thank you so much for giving this to me, Brandy!