I absolutely adore Diana Wynne Jones. As far as I’m concerned, she may be the very best writer of fantasy for children and young adults that there is. Fire and Hemlock stands out as one of my all-time favorite YA books (based on the ballad of Tam Lin), and her Homeward Bounders, Dogsbody, Howl’s Moving Castle, Archer’s Goon, Dalemark Quartet and Chrestomanci Chronicles simply cannot be beat. Whenever I see one of her books I haven’t read (and they are numerous — she’s been prolific, bless her writer’s heart), I pick it up. And that’s how I found The Game, a wonderful, intricate, thoroughly satisfying novella written in 2007.
Hayley’s parents are missing, and she has been raised by her extremely strict grandparents for as long as she can remember. As the book opens, however, she is in disgrace: she’s done something wrong, something dreadful she doesn’t quite understand, and she’s been sent to live with an enormous family of aunts and cousins she’s never met in Ireland. At first, Hayley is shocked and overwhelmed, but this soon gives way to belonging and delight, especially when her cousin Harmony introduces her to The Game.
This is where the story really takes off. Hayley’s family, it seems, can live in more than one dimension: ours, but also the mythosphere, a dimension made up of all the strands of myth and belief and story from our world. You could follow the apple strand, for instance, and find yourself in Eden or the Hesperides or watching the Apple of Discord being thrown; follow the hunter strand and see Orion and Actaeus and Nimrod and Gilgamesh. The Game, then, is a kind of mythological scavenger hunt. Find a roc’s egg. Get a slice from the witch’s gingerbread house. Bring a teacup from Alice’s mad tea party. The players must navigate the mythosphere, and they must do it in secret, lest their frightening Uncle Jolyon find out and stop the Game for good.
The story unfolds and unfolds, as it gradually becomes clear who these cousins and aunts and grandparents really are, and indeed who Hayley herself is, and what she can transform into. Every page contains obvious and covert references to myth and story — I’m sure it would take three readings at least to catch them all — and it’s so delicately balanced that the ending, though satisfyingly clear, is still a surprise. There’s a note at the end about the characters, to which I referred several times so I didn’t have to Google my mythology, but if you’re up on yours, you’ll love this slim volume even more. Wonderful fantasy, highly recommended.