It’s Diana Wynne Jones week this week, and I’ve been taking my time in deciding how best to celebrate this fact, and which book to review. My friend Jane has already reviewed Fire & Hemlock, my all time favourite Diana Wynne Jones book – and indeed my all time favourite book full stop – and I can’t really better such a brilliant review. Jane has already reviewed another (or be it recent) favourite, in Deep Secret. Here then lies the tale.
Fire & Hemlock was the first of Diana Wynne Jones’ books that I read. I still have the battered and well-thumbed, much-loved Methuen Teens edition with that smokey and evocative, chalk cover illustration. I devoured Tom and Polly’s story completely. This was back in 1989 – my friend Simon recommended the book to me in Geography class at school. I went on to seek out all of her other books over the next few years devoured them all. I remember my brother thinking that there were two authors of the same name, confused as he was by Diana’s ability to write for both young children and older teenagers.
Charmed Life stands out as a book I really enjoyed and I did like many of the early Chrestomanci novels including The Lives of Christopher Chant and Witch Week but for me Charmed Life cannot be one of my favourite books simply because (unlike many) I don’t count the Chrestomanci books as a whole as Diana Wynne Jones at her best. As a series I do not find them as successful as her stand-alone novels. I also have a preference for her real-world fantasy which is why I like Tom and Polly’s story so much. It is firmly set in the Here and Now (or nowhere I guess…) and there is a reasonable explanation for almost everything fantastical that happens.
It is perhaps fitting that my second-favourite Diana Wynne Jones novel is the last one that I have read. Deep Secret is another real-world fantasy with wonderful similarities to all that I liked best in Fire & Hemlock; a will-they-won’t they relationship between the main characters; the sci-fi convention that echoes the fair scene in Fire & Hemlock.
Another favourite is Tale of Time City, which I think, really might be due a re-read. I wonder if Jane will pick this story up for one of her remaining reviews of the week?