Story summary: Multiple universes! Missing emperors! Beautiful centaurs! Scifi/fantasy conventions!
- See the story summary, basically. What a lovely list of awesome things.
- Also: Characters with faults who are still endearing! Intricate plotting! Humour and romance and magic!
- If you're looking for explicitly stated rules for the magic system, that are easily figured out and explicitly stated, you won't find that here.
- And if you're looking for a story that realistic enough to not have all the chaotic plot points tied up together nicely by the end, you won't find that either. Connected plots are DWJ's specialty.
- And if you're looking for a typical Diana Wynne Jones story with only the subtlest of references to adult situations--again, you won't find that here. This is an adult story, though written in DWJ's typical fantastical style.
For some reason I can't think of anything else to say about it, however. So instead I'm going to be lazy and give up and go on a long, unimportant ramble about how I came to read this book.
Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors. I have loved almost everything she's written, and her death was one of the only celebrity deaths that really hit me. So it was strange that I waited so long to read this book. It wasn't out of a desire to save it for a special rainy day or something. It was that I actually thought I might not like it very much. I think this strange feeling originated from the fact that it is one of her few adult books. I tried to read her other primary adult book once (A Sudden Wild Magic) and didn't like it, probably just because I was too young at the time, but it threw me off for a long time. Till one day I saw it sitting in the scifi section at Chapters and it looked so pretty1 and I had to buy it. But it still sat on my shelf, waiting for the day when the prettiness of the cover could overcome the fear of disliking it.
And then! Then I found this book review which compared the main male character (Rupert Venables) to one of my favourite characters of all time: Ronald Eustace Psmith ("the 'p' is silent, as in pshrimp").2 Which shot this book from somewhere like 137th in my TBR pile to 1st.
In the end, I'm not sure I entirely agree. They have some similar outward appearances--the over-formality in dress, the first name (Psmith was called Rupert in the first books, though not in the last), and more--but I think at their heart they are rather different. Venables is just too...flustered...I suppose. And lacking in Psmith's unflappable curiosity. There's an attitude like the Doctor3 in Psmith, of "There's something that doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick"4, of impersonating Canadian poets and taking jobs one is completely unqualified for, just for the sake of seeing what happens (or possibly pursuing a girl). Psmith, when hit by chaos, absorbs it and runs with it, and it was one of my favourite aspects of him. Venables gets overwhelmed, although manages to do quite well considering.
This may be sounding like I don't like Venables. I do, in fact. He was great. Just not sure how much like Psmith he is. And considering I expected a book with a second Psmith, I was a little bit disappointed.
- The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer: In many ways this is quite different, being a historical Romance and not at all a contemporary SciFi. But the end had a very similar feel of planned chaos, complete with unexplainable fowl. Friday's Child and several other Heyers would be other recommendations for similar reasons.
- And despite all my differentiation of the two main characters above, Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse is a good rec. It's that cozy chaos factor again! Plus LitP has "one of the greatest predawn flower-pot-throwing scenes in literature"5.
- And it feels weird that I don't have any recs based off the magic system and world building. There should be some sort of scifi/fantasy rec. Problem is, not many people's magic feels like DWJ's does. So I'm going to leave it at this. If one day someone reads this and thinks of the perfect recommendation, let me know!
2. From the books by P. G. Wodehouse. I wish I could explain to you how awesome Psmith is, but he's beyond my capacity at the moment. Suffice it to say, I have rather a lot of hero-worship towards him.
3. Doctor Who, of course.
4. Spoken by 11 in "Amy's Choice".
5. From The Funniest Books in English, The Wall Street Journal.