[A retelling of Tam-Lin]
Have you ever had a feeling of deja vu when reading yet another fantasy? Diana Wynne Jones provides a witty and sardonic "guide" to all those clichés beloved of modern fantasy authors. Fantasyland is run by The Management for Tourists, and is full of recurring people and events, situated in an illogical and unphysical landscape.
This book is best enjoyed by dipping into it, and following the cross-references for a while, rather than reading straight through. Not all items are funny in isolation; it's often the combination that provides the laughs. Then later, dip somewhere else, and follow a different thread (a Web version would be ideal).
Beware: after reading this, you won't suffer deja vu when reading generic fantasies, just fits of giggles!
Rupert Venables, most junior of the magids on Earth, is tasked with finding the next in line when his mentor Stan dies. The problem is, everyone on his list of five possible candidates seems impossible to track down, and to cap it all, he's having problems with establishing the succession in the Koryfonic Empire. He decides the only thing to do is weave the fate lines to bring all the candidates together for testing, and this requires being at the place of a magic node, at Easter time. But the node lies in a hotel, and it is completely booked at Easter for a fantasy convention...
DWJ is clearly having fun with the convention setting, which is lovingly painted in an only slightly over the top manner. (Although since I've never been to a fantasy convention, maybe it's spot on?) In particular, the bewildering geometry of the hotel reminds me of that of several labyrinthine SF convention hotels that I have wandered around in confusion. It's not all laughter and parody, however. This is a clever and intriguing tale, combining the surreal fun with some spooky landscapes, and some rather dark moments. I found the structure of the denouement rather strange, with a scene from the middle held over until the end, which rather diffused the tension for me. But a good story, worth reading.
The mages of Arth are watching otherworld, stealing its ideas, and even causing problems there just to provoke new ideas. But otherworld is our Earth, and the secret mages here have just noticed what is going on. They decide to send a minibus full of volunteers, along with a magic-virus, to stop the incursions. But there is a wild magic unknown to either side, and so very little goes according to plan, anyone's plan.
Having documented all the clichés of Fantasy allows Jones to fall into none of them. This is fresh and original, with lots of surprising twists and turns. I found it difficult, with the large cast of characters, to get inside any of them -- but they are all distinct individuals, with no chance of being unable to distinguish one from another. The plot mixes humour and darkness well, and, after a slightly slow start, rips along in several unexpected directions.
A collection of fantasy stories, ranging from light and funny to deep and serious, but all well written and affecting.
Jamie is an ordinary 12-year-old boy, interested in football and not interested in school. Until the day he discovers the game They are playing with his world, and They cast him out of the game, condemned to wander the Bounds forever, unless he can find his way Home. He wanders hundreds of worlds, meeting and parting from other Homeward Bounders, until he finds out at last the true depth of the cruel trick They have played.
This is a powerful tale of loneliness, persistence, and the longing for home. The characters Jamie meets along the way are varied and interesting, and there is a constant feeling of unreality from the shadow the game casts over the whole tale. The ending is completely unexpected, and very satisfying.
It's time again for Mr Chesney's hated "Pilgrims Parties" to experience all the trappings of fantasy land: pirates, leathery-winged avians, Evil Enchatresses, Dark Lords, the lot. But the people of the land are fed up with all the chaos and misery all these tours bring to their lives. So, despite Mr Chesney's demon-plated contract, they ask the Oracles for help. The answer: get the Wizard Derk to play this year's Dark Lord. But Derk's not a particularly skilled wizard, and has problems of his own, anyway.
This manages to weave many of the Tough Guide fantasy cliches in, without being at all cliched: the people of the "real" fantasy world have to work very hard to make it look anything like the cliched Pilgrims' Tour. The contrast between the two makes for a relatively light read, but it's trying to be a bit deeper and grittier than that. For example, people die, there's a rape, and one of the good guys is forced into a situation where he has to kill innocents as a punishment for enjoying the staged battles too much (a bit tough on the innocents, that). Yet these traumatic events are handled with the same light style, and so leave a slightly bad taste in the mouth. I'm also not at all sure about the unexplored morality of Derk's animal experiments.
However, it's an interesting bit of world-building, so I'll probably read the sequel, to see if any of these moral dilemmas are tackled there.