March Magics: The Lives of Christopher Chant

Did I ever tell you that The Lives of Christopher Chant was the first Diana Wynne Jones novel I ever loved? And did I ever tell you that when the seventh Harry Potter came out and I was feeling disappointed in Dumbledore, I went back and read The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life and Witch Week and Conrad’s Fate to experience a non-disappointing omniscient wizard man?

March Magics is upon us, hosted by the wonderful Kristen at We Be Reading, and I am celebrating this week with a reread of the book that made me certain (at age, like, twelve) that Diana Wynne Jones was going to become one of my favorite authors.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is not the book you’re supposed to read first in the Chrestomanci series, but it’s possibly the one I would recommend you to read first. It’s this or Witch Week, for sure. Our hero, Christopher, who will one day grow up to be the Chrestomanci of maddening vagueness and extravagant dressing gowns, is a little kid who walks through the multiverse in his dreams. When his Uncle Ralph discovers this, he enlists Christopher to do some experiments for him, and Christopher — who worships Uncle Ralph — agrees.

The Lives of Christopher Chant

The Lives of Christopher Chant does this narrative trick to which Diana Wynne Jones is very prone, where the child protagonist fundamentally misunderstands important things about himself, the world around him, and the choices he’s making. Some of these things are clear to the reader: If it weren’t immediately obvious that Uncle Ralph is a bad person who is taking advantage of Christopher’s unique skills, we could figure it out from Tacroy, who guides Christopher on his journeys through the dream world / multiverse. But other revelations were as much of a surprise to my young self as they were to Christopher, and a reminder — Diana Wynne Jones excels at these — that the world we see isn’t the only world there is.

Also, if you are the sort of person who cares about this, The Lives of Christopher Chant features probably my favorite of the Diana Wynne Jones cat. His name is Throgmorton.

Ten (well, six) Books for Which My Feelings Have Changed

Happy Tuesday, friends! The Broke and the Bookish are, as ever, hosting a Top Ten Tuesday, and I love the question for this week:

Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed (less love, more love, complicated feelings, indifference, thought it was great in a genre until you became more well read in that genre etc.)

I couldn’t think of ten — my initial responses to most of the books I read continue to hold true on rereads — but here are six, anyway!

1. Emma, by Jane Austen – I think the problem here is that I saw Clueless, one of the world’s most perfect movies, long before I read Emma, and it left me unfit to enjoy the book. It wasn’t that I thought Emma was a dick (I love Emma actually, and I super-identify with her), it was just that I thought the book she was in was terminally boring. I finally read it during a slow day at my second-ever job1 and couldn’t figure out what my problem with it had ever been. It’s my favorite Jane Austen book now!

Emma

2. Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott – No, I know, I’m hitting all the absolute high points in contemporary fiction with this list. DEAL WITH IT. When I read Rose in Bloom as a kid, I thought it was super boring and I didn’t understand why Rose was ever into Charlie in the first place. Or Mac. What was her deal, I thought. Rereading it as an adult (this is true of An Old-Fashioned Girl too actually!), I’m surprised by the level of nuance Alcott gets into both of those relationships. Young Jenny missed it completely.

3. Angela and Diabola, Lynne Reid Banks – I loved this book when I was a kid. As an adult, I felt slightly smug that I was never that into the Indian in the Cupboard books in the first place, reserving my true love for Lynne Reid Banks’s lesser-known, unracist kids’ books, including this one and the apocalyptically terrifying The Fairy Rebel. What superb critical taste my younger self had, I thought.

the pride before which a fall goeth

I recently reread Angela and Diabola and it was a hella rude awakening. (The Fairy Rebel is still fine. That book rocks. Don’t read it right before bed though, or if you have wasps living near you.) The good twin has fair skin and golden hair, and the bad twin is darker-skinned with corkscrew curls. The corkscrew curls are mentioned a lot. It is — uncomfortable to read. Would not give to a child.2

4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson – When I lived in England, I checked this out of our library (which had a paternoster lift, see below for gif depiction) and thought I was going to die of boredom.

so called because you say a prayer when you get in it that you won’t die. Before you ask, yes, you can ride it over the top and down onto the other side

As with Emma, I don’t know what was going on in my head the first time I tried to read this book. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the furthest thing from boring, and I’m so glad book bloggers convinced me give Shirley Jackson another try. Thanks, bloggers!

5. Possession, A. S. Byatt – People who don’t do a lot of rereading often ask me if I worry that rereading a book will make me like it less. Yes, I think about that sometimes; but if what me and the book had was true love, not just a fling, it should stand the test of time. Possession is a rare but notable failure of rereading. When I first read this book I loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Called it the Arcadia of novels. Was baffled that I never got on with any of A. S. Byatt’s other books. Then I reread it and was like:

OH WELL. I guess it wasn’t true love.

6. Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones. Let me clarify something: My feelings for this book haven’t changed. I loved it when I first read it, I loved it every time I reread it, and I continue to love it with a fierce and abiding passion. What’s changed is that I realize now, in a way I didn’t as a teenager, how many legitimate truth bombs about morality and emotions and adulthood Diana Wynne Jones is dropping in this book. The example I always use is “being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel” — which, goddamn, that is the truest truth that maybe I have ever encountered in fiction. Standing up for what’s right does not actually have a stirring musical soundtrack. More like a soundtrack of chilly, uncomfortable, disapproving silence.

7. See also: The vast majority of Diana Wynne Jones books. I’ve disliked all but maybe four of her books, upon reading them for the first time. Not for nothing did they name Jenny’s Law after me: Diana Wynne Jones Is Better on a Reread.

What about you, friends? Are you a big rereader, or not so much? Do you generally stay true to your first impressions, or can you think of some books you’ve grown out of / into over the years?

  1. Shh, don’t tell my college bookstore.
  2. Just this last Christmas, by contrast, I gave The Fairy Rebel to a child of my acquaintance and she PROBABLY LOVED IT.

#BBAW: Introduce Yourself!

The time has come! The time is now! After a few years of lying fallow, Book Blogger Appreciation Week has returned! Huge, huge thanks to my co-hosts Heather, Andi, and Ana, and thanks to everyone who’s participating.

Day 1: Introduce yourself by telling us about five books that represent you as a person or your interests/lifestyle.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

I’m starting with an unoriginal one, I know! But Jane Eyre was the first book where I ever read the end before I read the middle. It gave me a taste for romance, for gothic novels, for crazypants plots where lunatics set things on fire, and for angry-girl heroines.

Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones

I mean, come on. I was never going to make this list without at least one Diana Wynne Jones book on it. Although Jenny’s Law states that Diana Wynne Jones is better on a reread, I have chosen one of the only DWJ books that I loved immediately. Fire and Hemlock is, nevertheless, everything I have ever loved about Diana Wynne Jones; in particular, the way that it’s packed full of adult truth bombs that gradually exploded as I’ve gotten older.

Also it left me with a great love of cellists.1

White Is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi is one of a very few writers whose books I will read purely for her writing. White Is for Witching is my favorite of her five so-far books. It is about, I swear, a xenophobic house and the family that lives in it. There are twins and pica and university examinations, and every one of the narrators is unreliable. (I LOVE UNRELIABLE NARRATORS.)

The Charioteer, Mary Renault

“Jenny, are you just including The Charioteer on your list because everyone you’ve ever recommended it to has thought it was super boring?”

Mary Renault has been a super formative author for me in my life, from when I read her Alexander the Great books in late middle school. The Charioteer is slightly atypical for her in that it has a modern (to Mary Renault! World War II!) setting, but it also requires the queer characters to speak to each other in a coded, roundabout, subtexty way. That she manages to make these unspoken relationships urgent is a testament to her powers as an author.2

The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason

The Lost Books of the Odyssey includes extensions of the Homer stories, alternate versions of them, stories that happen around the edges. It is stories, and it’s about stories, and I will read stories about stories every day until the heat death of the sun.

Happy first day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Head over to the Estella Society to link up your #BBAW posts.

  1. Jubilee on The Bachelor played the cello, yet Ben insanely sent her home. The other Ben from Kaitlyn’s season would never have done this.
  2. Mumsy, I forgive you for not loving this book. I mean, sort of. I mean, you did just make me cookies the other day.

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.

The story of the time I met Neil Gaiman and he said something extremely lovely to me

I have been reading to Social Sister for more than eighteen years now — off more than on, since we went to college, just as a function of our never being in the same place for very long, but still: Eighteen years. A whole person who can vote. She got brainwashed early into thinking this was a good form of entertainment, and I enjoy it because there is nothing quite like seeing someone else experience a book you love in real time.

Anyway, we just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I was reading for the first time while I was reading it to her. I’ve finally read it now!, and hence, I shall tell you about the time I met Neil Gaiman at an event pertaining to the 2013 release of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (No pictures, I’m afraid! They might have been allowed (I can’t remember, actually), but I hate pictures of myself too much to have even considered taking any.) There was a talk first, in which Neil Gaiman issued a rousing endorsement of semicolons, and then I did a thing I have never done, which was to stand in line to have a book signed.

I had brought Reflections on the Magic of Writing, a book of Diana Wynne Jones essays to which Neil Gaiman wrote a foreword. When I gave it to Neil Gaiman to sign and told him (though probably very incoherently) why I wanted him to sign it, he said, “I miss her. I wanted to give this book [The Ocean at the End of the Lane] to her when it was finished. I think it’s more like hers than others I’ve written.”

I wanted to say “Yes, it sounds like it is very her; her books are all about the way children understand things.” I said probably some very stammery incoherent version of that instead; and Neil Gaiman said, “I think it’s quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways.”

Fact about me: When someone mentions a lesser-known book of Diana Wynne Jones to me (such as Time of the Ghost), I lose all reason. Ask my friends if you don’t believe me. I did it this time too. I shrieked “I LOVE TIME OF THE GHOST I JUST READ TIME OF THE GHOST,” which is true and is what I would have said to anyone; but it was embarrassing because I wanted to be cool 100% of the time I was talking to Neil Gaiman and shrieky 0% of the time. So then I was embarrassed and I said thank you and left.

Oh well. You cannot be cool all the time, especially if you actually are not cool. I am pleased to know that Neil Gaiman thinks that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is quite like Time of the Ghost in some ways. It pleases me in the way that I am always pleased when somebody says something that displays the same affectionate and easy level of familiarity with Diana Wynne Jones’s oeuvre that 1) I have; and 2) is her due because she is an amazingly gifted writer and her books should be standard childhood books that all children read. Except it made me happier in this case than usual because it was an author I also love who was saying it.

And now I have told you about it (over a year later). And hopefully when you have read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (or before then!), you will think, “Oh, I am intrigued by the stated similarity to Time of the Ghost. I had better rush out and read Time of the Ghost, a book I now know is Neil Gaiman-endorsed.”

The end.

DWJ March: ALL MY BOOKS

Once again, the wonderful Kristen of We Be Reading is hosting Diana Wynne Jones March! She’s put together a fantastic schedule of events for the month. If you’re a Diana Wynne Jones fan or interested in becoming one, make sure to stop by her blog every day this month to see what she’s got going on over there.

To kick off the month, she’s asking people to post pictures of their collection of DWJ books. Fortunately, since I haven’t yet organized my books onto bookshelves in my new apartment, all of my Diana Wynne Jones books were pre-strewn about the floor. Here they all are:

DWJ books

Notes:

1. My big sister got me that copy of Changeover. Don’t you wish you had a big sister as good as mine?

2. That is the third copy of Fire and Hemlock I’ve owned. If (slash when) some publisher decides to reissue it with a better cover than the cover I’ve got, I will probably purchase that copy to replace this copy. This will continue until I own the One Best Copy, as is my constant goal for every book I have ever loved.

3. The most recent purchase by me is A Tale of Time City, which I only bought a year or two ago. It’s not my favorite of her books. You may post your arguments in its favor in the comments.

4. I bought that hardback copy of Howl’s Moving Castle at the thrift store when I was in college and gave it to my then-boyfriend, because I wanted him to love Diana Wynne Jones. When we broke up, there was a heated debate in my family as to whether it was acceptable for me to ask him to give it back to me. I did ask for it back in the end, not because I felt it would be okay by Emily Post standards, but just because I really, really, really, really wanted it. He was perfectly gracious about it because he is a nice person.

5. I don’t know where my copy of Unexpected Magic has gotten to, but I have not seen it in several years. I really want it back. What have I done with it? I want it back.

6. Those paperbacks of Deep Secret and A Sudden Wild Magic were acquired on my first-ever trip to London, in 2005. I have hated virtually ever cover Deep Secret has ever had, and I do not hate this one. Thanks, Waterstones!

7. Diana Wynne Jones wrote a lot of books. I wish she had written a hundred more, and given enough time, she could have. She was endlessly inventive, trying something new in every book she ever wrote. She’s been one of my favorite authors for more than a decade, and I wish I’d written to her when she was still alive to thank her for the many hours of happiness her books have given me.

Review: Changeover, Diana Wynne Jones (a book you will probably never read)

I get a lot of credit within my family for being a good gift-buyer. Which is fair. I am really good at gifts. However, I sometimes feel concerned that Legal Sister’s considerable gifting prowess is underappreciated. I am always trying to find Legal Sister presents that will blow her mindhole, and I never exactly feel like I’ve accomplished it. Meanwhile she gets me crazy good presents including, most recently, Diana Wynne Jones’s extremely rare, difficult-to-find, and now that I’m thinking about it I really hope Legal Sister did not spend a fortune acquiring it, first novel.

(You didn’t, did you, Legal Sister? No, right?)

Anyway! I got Changeover for Christmas, thanks Legal Sister!, and saved it for this very occasion because I knew-slash-hoped that Kristen was hosting DWJ March again. The edition I have includes a very sweet introduction by Diana Wynne Jones in which she explains that she wrote this book because she was living in a very cold, miserable house with a sick husband and sick kids and sick self, and Africa is hot and it cheered her up to write about a hot place; and also she wrote it because Britain was divesting itself at that time of all its colonies, and every other week they’d be declaring independence in yet another former British colony.

That…is fascinating to me. Mumsy reports that when Robert Kennedy was killed she was like, “Eh. Everyone gets assassinated.” Perhaps was it the same with the former British colonies in the same era? Where you’d just be like, “Eh. All the former colonies get independent.” Because, seriously, when the Sudan/South Sudan split happened, I was enthralled with the idea of a brand new entire country for the map, and sort of shocked that everybody else wasn’t comparably intrigued. (Like when Leap Year rolls around and everyone’s super blase about the fact that we get a free extra day’s worth of time.)

Oh, plus, she briefly mentions in this introduction — I’m sorry it’s taking me so long to get to the fireworks factory, but seriously this is so interesting and you probably want to know about it anyway, right? — that Ian Smith of Zimbabwe just declared independence there one day and Britain was like, “Hey, no, we haven’t agreed to that yet,” and Ian Smith was like, “Too bad! Unilateral Declaration of Independence!” and I loved how super-super-ballsy that was. But then I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that Ian Smith, eh, maybe he was not the greatest guy. He didn’t want the country to be governed by the will of the majority, which was black, because he was really into having it be governed by white people. This wasn’t racist! (he insisted) but was just because white people are smarter and better equipped to govern. Oh really, Ian Smith, really, IS THAT WHY?

(I know this is not History. It was all extremely recent. I just didn’t know about it before.)

Okay. Sorry. Digressions are over. Changeover is an excessively British book in the sense that it starts out with a small misunderstanding, and through many instances of incompetence, idiocy, timidity, insecurity, and intimidation on the part of every available character, it snowballs into a massive absurdist catastrophe. (See also: every episode ever of Fawlty Towers.) The misunderstanding occurs when a high-ranking colonial official mishears one of his aides and comes to believe that there is a person called Mark Changeover, and that person intends evil to the about-to-be-independent African country of Nmkwami.

(Nmkwami: Jokey spin-off word from numquam, Latin for never, as in, Neverland; as in, Diana Wynne Jones hated her whole life that year and was writing Changeover to escape from it.)

I don’t know what to say about this book, honestly, especially considering that you will probably never read it because it’s really rare and I own the only copy of it I’ve ever seen. It’s completely British. All the characters are running around the country in planes, cars, bikes, etc., bashing into each other literally and metaphorically, creating more and more ridiculous disturbance to themselves and those around them, until matters have reached such a fever pitch that the only available option is Revolution. There is some quiet commentary on racism and paternalism  and bureaucratic incompetence (very quiet indeed; the social criticism equivalent of scowling blackly at queue-jumpers), but really it’s mostly about everyone misunderstanding each other hilariously. If that is your cup of tea then you will like this book. It is my cup of tea except it makes me feel a little anxious if I can’t tell from context clues (or reading the end) that everything is going to turn out okay.

What’s particularly interesting to me — predictably — is the nascent Diana-Wynne-Jonesiness of it all. Like this:

[His] face was thin, with a lively sort of twist to it — the sort of twist men have who have been eccentrics from their boyhood on. He wore a tropical jacket-thing which did not fit him, with innumerable bulging pockets…Everything about him looked as if it had come from a junk shop, and over him hung a furtive smell of unpaid bills.

I submit to you this is the Diana-Wynne-Jonesiest sort of introduction a character can possibly have. Although she turned her talents to very different sorts of books than Changeover for the bulk of her career, the basic makeup of her writing is the same. It always has this matter-of-fact ruthless quality about it, whether she’s describing kids who’ve been shot to death (not in this book! in a different one!); or women who are realizing they tend to go for one particular sort of person and maybe should seek out some slightly different, nicer, sort; or just very common everyday things like new characters and their jackets.

I came away feeling, as I always do, that it’s lucky we got to have Diana Wynne Jones for 40 years. And also that 40 years isn’t nearly long enough for a writer as prodigiously talented and insightful and great as Diana Wynne Jones to have been writing books. 60 years would really not have been enough, or 100. I miss her.

2nd Annual DWJ March

More on this later, my dumplings, but for the moment I just wanted to alert those of you who don’t know: It is DWJ March once more! The lovely Kristen of We Be Reading is hosting. Readalongs of Howl’s Moving Castle and A Tale of Time City will be occurring in the first and second halves of March, respectively, so feel free to join in on that.

As for me, I will be doing the former but not the latter, because I have my copy of Howl’s Moving Castle with me in New York (duh, like I could ever live without Howl’s Moving Castle), while A Tale of Time City languishes in my parents’ house. Also because I don’t like A Tale of Time City that much.

(Yet, I’d like to say? But honestly, I think if I don’t love it by now I never will. Hexwood is the same. On the other hand, until 2010 I felt that way about The Time of the Ghost, which I’ve since reread a preposterous number of times to make sure it’s still good (it is).)

Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones

March has whizzed by in a whirlwind of cherry blossoms and other even lovelier events, doing me a great disservice by never letting me catch my breath long enough to schedule a post about a Diana Wynne Jones book for the Diana Wynne Jones March operated by the wonderful Kristen of We Be Reading. March has happened so fast I didn’t even remember to relish March 4th, the only day of the year that’s a command. Ordinarily I say “March forth!” with tedious frequency on that day, and this year I forgot. Sigh. March, you whirlwind vixen.

Archer’s Goon, fittingly enough in a post that began with a time gripe, is a book about the constraints of time. Howard’s father Quentin, a writer, has for years written 2000 words each month and sent them to a friend called Lovejoy as a way of keeping his creative juices flowing. This month, an enormous Goon turns up at the house demanding the 2000 words, which Quentin says he has already sent. The Goon says that Archer — apparently Lovejoy’s boss — hasn’t received the words and demands to have them. Howard’s family is gradually beseiged by a group of seven siblings (Archer, Dillian, Shine, Hathaway, Torquil, Erskine, and Venturus, and yes, I have read Archer’s Goon often enough that I know those names in order by heart) who run various aspects of the town, are confined to stay within the town limits, and inexplicably seem desperate to acquire Quentin’s 2000 words.

As with many Diana Wynne Jones books, Archer’s Goon did not immediately take its place in my heart as a DWJ favorite. Because I apparently can’t talk about Diana Wynne Jones without saying “She’s better on a reread,” I’ll say it again. There are never too many times to say it! Diana Wynne Jones is better on a reread. And Archer’s Goon particularly is better on a reread. The plot is fairly complicated, and because it takes a while for most of the basic questions to be resolved, I missed a lot of the small, fun stuff about Archer’s Goon.

And the small fun stuff is what makes it so great. The power-mad siblings persecute Quentin relentlessly to make him give in and send them the words, and the things they invent to do, within their own spheres of power, are really funny and terrible. It’s brilliant fun how Diana Wynne Jones gradually lets you see the dynamics between the siblings: that Archer hates Dillian and Dillian hates him right back, but Dillian and Torquil are sort of allies. Sibling dynamics are DWJ’s best thing, and the Archer’s Goon siblings are, if not my favorites, at least in my top two. It’s between them and the Dark Lord of Derkholm family.

Moreover, the end of Archer’s Goon is one of the best and most satisfying endings of any of her books. A common and true complain about DWJ is that her endings can feel a little rushed and confusing, but not with Archer’s Goon. The characters realize things that they’ve been building up to realizing all along. The questions that were raised at the beginning get resolved. The good guys put paid to the bad guys. And the climactic fight is just so, so funny. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that I can never read the scene without picturing Diana Wynne Jones at her typewriter giggling madly as she wrote it all out. It’s the best.

As many longtime readers know, I am the hugest Diana Wynne Jones fan. As you may also know, she died last year, in March. I am so grateful for all the books of hers that we do have, and I am terribly sad that there won’t be any new ones forthcoming. But if you haven’t read anything by her, you are in for a treat.

They also read it:

things mean a lot
Books Love Me

Review: A Curse as Dark as Gold, Elizabeth Bunce

Oh, the Once Upon a Time Challenge has returned to gladden our lives once again! I am delighted about this, as you may imagine, because it is making me get back into the swing of reviewing, which I completely fell out of while on vacation. Also because I love hearing about the books y’all are going to read, and also no. 2 because I have a girl-crush on Anne-Julie Aubry and rejoice in any excuse to display her beautiful art. I’ve decided I’m going to choose which banner to display based on which one I think matches the book in question better.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is my first Once Upon a Time Challenge read, a retelling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. After the death of her father, Charlotte Miller and her sister Rosie find themselves in financial difficulties as they work to keep their mill in operation. Working against them are an alleged curse on the mill, a mortgage that threatens to eat up all their profit, and a louche uncle who shows up to “help” them. Unwilling to lose the mill, Charlotte and Rosie call upon the services of one Jack Spinner, who claims to be able to spin straw into gold.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must say that I have never liked the girl in Rumpelstiltskin. Oh, yeah, go on and have my firstborn son, that’s totally fine, I’m sure I won’t care about the kid once I have it. Really, Rumpelstiltskin girl? Really? In a similar spirit I wanted to take Charlotte Miller and shake her until her teeth fell out of her head. Not sure what that would accomplish except I guess she would have to get dentures and I bet dentures weren’t very comfortable in pre-Industrial Revolution times. So, uh, take THAT, unsympathetic protagonist!

One of my big bookish pet peeves is when the protagonist’s big problem has an obvious solution and s/he refuses to take it for a reason that doesn’t really make any sense. Like when kids refuse to tell their parents/teachers/the cops about their problem because they don’t think their parents would believe them — this can be okay sometimes, but mostly it’s just a cheap way of keeping the plot up and running. Charlotte acquires a source of funding that would solve all her problems, particularly the problems that make her agree to the first-born-child thing (she doesn’t agree to it specifically; she says “Anything” but that’s obviously a stupid thing to say to a sketchy fairy man). But she just won’t use it. No genuinely good reason is given for this, and nobody ever says “What the hell, Charlotte?” about it later. Dislike. If you are going to have your protagonist behave badly, you should at least let her be taken to task.

The fantasy aspects of the book didn’t hang together terribly well either. Dire hints were dropped about a curse, but given wildly varying degrees of credibility, so when they start taking the curse seriously I still wasn’t sure if I should do the same. The book was a messy hodgepodge of village magic (corn dollies, things happening at crossroads), the occasional splodge of high fantasy language (people saying “gods” as an exclamation), and modernization clashing with tradition (banks with mortgages, more efficient mill tools).

Nevertheless, I am not giving up on Elizabeth Bunce! I never wanted to read A Curse as Dark as Gold in the first place. I always wanted Starcrossed, and A Curse as Dark as Gold has not put me off wanting to read Starcrossed.

Review:

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In other news, Diana Wynne Jones has died. If you have been reading for a while, you probably know that I adore Diana Wynne Jones. I am crushed. I wanted her to live forever. She wrote magic.