You would think, since I like Diana Wynne Jones so much, that I would have read more of her books. I was in the middle of Deep Secret (which Other Jenny heavily recommended to me years ago and I have finally just got round to getting a copy of) and almost wriggling in delight because of how totally wonderful and satisfying it is, and I looked up her bibliography, thinking perhaps this was something I could tackle. Lordy May! She wrote about sixty books, not counting all the short stories and some essays. There’s no way in this world I will ever get to them all. But I think I’ve only read eight or nine! I can do better than that.
So. Deep Secret is about Rupert Venables, a Magid. Magids work on several worlds at a time to manage big currents of right and wrong, to push a world in the direction it should go. They manage politics, yes, but more a sort of ethic: is the world going generally right or generally wrong? There are directives from an Upper Room that Magids must follow strictly, but how they accomplish them has some latitude.
Rupert’s fellow Magid on this world, Stan, has recently died, and he has to find a replacement. He’s got a list, but all the people on it seem to be either on vacation or completely unsuitable — like Maree Mallory (the book’s delightful second narrator) who is stubborn and willful. And he’s also dealing with another world, where the Emperor has suddenly died and the heirs are absolutely unfindable. He’s got too much on his hands and nothing is cooperating. Rupert is somewhat fussy and detail-oriented (something I expect you want in a Magid) but entirely endearing; he works hard and gets frustrated and messes up and tries again and changes his mind when he needs to. He’s a terrific character.
Rupert decides to draw all his candidates for Magid together at a science fiction/fantasy convention in the town of Wantchester. DWJ spends a lovely part of the book here, lampooning SFF cons, which as far as I can tell have only changed in the amount of superhero cosplay they contain. The hotel turns out to be an Escher-like Hotel Babylon, placed on a strong magical node, and Rupert (and Maree, who rises strongly in Rupert’s opinion) have much, much more to deal with than they thought they would. It’s utter chaos, including quite a bit of crossover from the Emperor’s world (but no one notices, because centaurs are just par for the course at a convention), and the way to set everything right includes salt, grain, wool, ancient nursery rhymes, and a hard journey.
Deep Secret is unusual for DWJ because it is marketed to adults rather than to young adults or children, and its protagonists are mostly youngish (20-ish) adults as well. The interplay between Maree and Rupert, and the complexity of the magic, is more adult than some of her books, but honestly there’s nothing here a teenager can’t read. And I absolutely loved it. It was funny and poignant and utterly satisfying — all the threads got picked up exactly the way I wished they would, in such a clever way. All the characters were toe-curlingly fun to be around (except the villains, and even they were marvelously well-drawn.) This is the kind of book I need more of in my life.