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.