Deep Secret, Diana Wynne Jones

Note: I received this — and here comes some important information, so pay attention — NEWLY REISSUED EDITION OF DEEP SECRET from the publisher for review consideration.

I led with the most important information, but I’ll mention it again, just in case: The speculative fiction publisher Tor has put Deep Secret back in print for the first time in years! And for the first time in even longer, we have an American edition of this book that doesn’t take out all the swear words! Huzzah! If you are one of the (gloriously many!) people who has asked me what Diana Wynne Jones book you should read next, this one’s not a bad bet. Plus who knows how long it’ll stay in print this time?

Deep Secret is the Diana Wynne Jones book that is set at a con (the kind you attend when you are a geek, not the kind you pull when you are a crook). The book starts off in typical Diana Wynne Jones fashion, with unabashed weirdness and more made-up words and concepts than I would accept in the first chapter of a novel by absolutely any other author. Rupert Venables is a Magid who works in a Naywards world and now he’s traveling off to the Koryfonic Empire to adjudicate a trial — and look, when you are at this bit and feeling annoyed, just remember that your pal Jenny urged you to keep moving forward. Pretty quickly you will know what all the words mean; and more importantly, pretty quickly all the characters will be at a con at Hotel Babylon in Wantchester.

Having never (yet!) been to a con myself, I can’t speak to the accuracy of Diana Wynne Jones’s depiction of what it is like to be at one. But it sounds completely delightful. Over the course of the novel, a number of truly magical things take place at the con, including but not limited to one magic-worker defeating another; hotel corridors with more right angles than would be geometrically possible; several attempted assassinations; and the spectacularly dramatic entrance of a centaur from another world. The charm of this novel (to me–some of the characters feel differently) is how plausible it seems for the convention-goers to take all of these matters in stride.

Thurless was not placated. In the end, Rick hurried him outside and the door banged on Thurless shouting, “I don’t care! I insist on a taxi!”

 

“That was Mervin Thurless,” said the blond, glossy man gravely.

 

The audience, to my surprise, clapped and cheered. A lot of people laughed. They were like that, the people at this convention — surprisingly good-humoured and in a holiday mood: as if they had come to enjoy themselves as much as listen to writers talk about books. . . . I know what really struck me: the hall was full of people I’d like to get to know. An unusual feeling for sulky, solitary me.

Their response to seeing real magic is exactly like their response to Mervin Thurless acting like a prat in the middle of a panel: a default, good-natured acceptance of everything that comes their way. In a sense, this is the half of the book that belongs to the book’s second narrator, Maree Mallory, whom Rupert’s mentor has identified as one of five possible students for Rupert to take on. Maree is broke, miserable, and crossed in love, and it’s the convention that reminds her that there are places in this world where she belongs and is valued.

The other half of the book, set in the disastrously regimented Koryfonic Empire a few worlds away from earth, belongs to Rupert Venables. If Maree is not at her best due to misery, Rupert is not at his best due to stress. He’s simultaneously working to identify the student who’s to become the second Magid of Earth, and fighting to prevent the Koryfonic Empire from imploding in a violent mess of a succession crisis; and he’s thwarted in both of these goals at every possible turn.

All of this madness–the people at the con, the Empire’s succession crisis, Maree’s bad dreams, the hunt for a new Magic, the horrible decorations on Nick’s mother’s sweaters–comes together in a series of mad climaxes such as you get in British books that deal with the supremely British topic of Everything Going Utterly to Hell. Deep Secret is Diana Wynne Jones’s funniest book, and now that it’s back in print, there’s no reason for you not to be reading it.

Writing swear words in the margins (Review: Deep Secret, Diana Wynne Jones)

I was trying to figure out, earlier today, what year it would have been that I started reading to my little sister.  I have read her scads of books over the years, but I’m pretty sure the first one was Half Magic, and I’m pretty sure that after finishing it, we went straight on to Magic by the Lake, which means I must have had them both at the time.  I have definite proof that I got Magic by the Lake for Christmas of 1995.

Let’s say I started reading to Social Sister early in 1996.  That was fourteen years ago now.  We read a lot of books together.  I mean we shared a room in our childhood!  It’s not like either of us had to make any big effort to get together and do some reading.  Plus, my family had a big car trip every summer to Maine, which meant three solid days of driving to get there, and three solid days of driving to get back.  That is a lot of time to read.  There are times when we got strapped for books to read next.

I mention this because I wouldn’t have bought Deep Secret if I had had some easy alternative of what to read Social Sister instead.  I had decided to read it to her in the time between finally deciding I liked it, and actually buying a copy.  I liked it easily well enough to buy it, but the one they had in the YA section at Bongs & Noodles had a stupid-looking cover:

The back cover blurb is stupid too!  I didn’t want to buy that stupid book.  I was just going to read to Social Sister from our oldest sister Anna’s copy, but there were pages missing out of the front of that copy.  So I sighed heavily to make sure Anna knew how severely she was inconveniencing me by having a damaged book; and also to impress upon Social Sister the painful and difficult nature of the sacrifices I had to make on her behalf; and I bought the stupid copy of Deep Secret and resigned myself.

(I always wanted Social Sister to be pretty clear on how kind I was being to read to her at all.  When I finished a chapter, and was willing to go on and read another chapter, I would start to close the book very slowly while keeping my place with my finger, and I’d say, “And maybe next time—” which was Social Sister’s cue to start howling and begging for me to continue.  She’d screech and plead and grovel, and after several minutes of this I’d sigh and say grudgingly, “Well – okay”.  It was sort of control-freaky.  I AM NOT PROUD.)

It turned out that in addition to having a stupid cover and a back-cover blurb made out of fail, this copy of Deep Secret had been censored to make it more kid-friendly.  All the swear words had been changed into less sweary words (except the ones that hadn’t – it was very inconsistent), and anything that would have implied that anyone, anywhere, was thinking about having sex (mind you, this book is set at a fantasy fiction convention) had also been removed.  They left in all the violence though – some pretty violent violence!  It was an idiotic way of doing it.

I didn’t appreciate it.  I so much didn’t appreciate it that I read out of the stupid copy to Social Sister with a pen and Anna’s old copy in my other hand, and I checked the versions against each other and made corrections in the margins of the stupid copy.  I did it straight through.  Here is a sample (I chose these pages as an extreme example – in most of the book it’s just a few swear words here and there) (and sorry about the fuzzy edges – I was trying to scan these without cracking the book’s spine):

So reading it was sort of like this:

I apologized – (Brace yourself, Social Sister, there’s a bother coming up, and I suspect not naturally).  One of the six said, Bother – oh, for heaven’s sake!  Bother!  I mean they didn’t mind us seeing that kid get executed at the beginning, or all the business with the sticky drippy blood a little while ago, but they can’t bear the idea that we might read the word Damn in a book marked as appropriate for ages 12 and up.  Social Sister, don’t you feel that a majority of kids ages 12 and up know the word Damn already?  There, I’ve fixed it.  One of the six said Damn, and Social Sister, let’s be clear, one of the six said damn, damn, damn, and before that they said damn the convention and damn the centaur-”

“I like the centaur,” said Social Sister.

“Nobody cares what you like!” I howled.  “I am on a mission to restore the smut to desmutted books!  And this part says, One of the six said Damn, and everyone is having an orgy in the stairwell, and if they didn’t like the way she wrote the damn book in the first place then they shouldn’t have published it!  This asinine bowdlerization is an insult to the intelligence of every person ages twelve and up!”

Luckily there was a heat wave in London when I was there in 2005, which forced me to spend all my time in the air-conditioned bookshops on Charing Cross Road, and while I was there, I found an undesmutted copy of Deep Secret with, moreover, a rather cool and understated cover that does not embarrass me when I am out in public with it.

So I need never worry about that ridiculous copy again.  I have given it to Social Sister, who professes to be madly fond of it.

I have posted this pocket drama of sisterhood and smuttiness rather than reviewing Deep Secret because – well, mostly because I think it is funny.  Also because if you do not believe me by now that Diana Wynne Jones is an amazing writer, indeed that she is just everything that is great about being great, then you never will.  If you do believe me, and just haven’t read Deep Secret, I highly recommend it.  It starts out a bit boring, and you don’t think you’re going to love the characters, but if you push past that, the characters all end up at a fantasy convention and are totally lovable.  WORTH IT.

(The Guardian and Orson Scott Card both rhapsodize rhapsodically about Diana Wynne Jones and her varied ways of being amazing.)

Do you choose your reading material for public places (trains, waiting rooms, classes at university) based on how unembarrassing the covers are?  I’d like to say that I don’t but honesty compels me to admit that it is a consideration.

Reviews of Deep Secret:

Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
Books and Other Thoughts
Bart’s Bookshelf

Tell me if I missed yours!