Deep Secret

deep secretYou 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.

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16 Responses to Deep Secret

  1. bwcarey says:

    sounds like a book i need to read, there are so many things changing, thanks for the post, i must check out her books, thanks

  2. I thought I had read everything DWJ had written, including the essays but this doesn’t sound familiar. I am off to look for a copy immediately. Thank you.

    • Jenny says:

      Perhaps you haven’t heard of it because it is (I think) out of print and was marketed to adults? Anyway, Reading The End Jenny introduced it to me and I’m so glad I read it.

  3. Swistle says:

    I can hardly believe it, but I can’t find this book anywhere in my library’s system. I have ordered a used hardcover copy from Amazon and will donate it to them when I’m done with it. This sounds right up my alley.

    • Jenny says:

      I didn’t know you enjoyed books with magic in them! DWJ is fantastic. My favorite of hers is Fire and Hemlock, but everything I’ve read of hers is original and great.

  4. I don’t think you should give up on the possibility of reading all of DWJ’s novels. I think there are really only about 40 of them. (The rest of the sixty must be combos or short story collections or picture books or something – her publishers are always coming up with stuff like that.) And they’re quick to read!

    Anyway, I have all the “proper” novels sitting right here on my bookshelf, and I’ve read them multiple times with tremendous pleasure. But if you have really limited time, here are my top ten: Charmed Life (first one I ever read), Power of Three, The Spellcoats, Witch Week, Archer’s Goon, The Homeward Bounders, Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, Deep Secret (you can check that one off), Year of the Griffin. Enjoy!

    • Jenny says:

      The first one I read, with something like bewildered awe, was The Homeward Bounders, and then Dogsbody, sometime in 8th grade (which would be… let’s see… 1985.) I’ve read six or seven others since, and not a dud among them. By the way, I think you’re right about the short story collections and the picture books, but those still count as books, don’t they?

  5. Cara says:

    My hands down favorite DWJ book is Tale of Time City. After that I love the chrestomanci books.

  6. Kristen M. says:

    The partner book to this is The Merlin Conspiracy and I adore it! I just reread both in April and already want to reread them again.

  7. I am impossibly thrilled that you loved this book. Isn’t it extraordinary? It took me three or so tries to fall in love with it, but now it’s one of my favorite DWJ books. Gosh, and if you ever need guidance about what one of her books to read next, I’d be happy to help you out. Which eight or nine have you read? I HAVE READ THEM ALL.

    • Jenny says:

      It is extraORdinary. I did love it. Thank you — I wouldn’t have read it next but for you.

      Let’s see. I’ve read: This one, obviously. The Ogre Downstairs, Black Maria/Aunt Maria, Dogsbody, The Homeward Bounders, Fire and Hemlock (probably always going to be my favorite and I’ve read it about ten or twelve times at least), Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, Dark Lord of Derkholm, Year of the Griffin, Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

      Gee, I’ve read more than I thought. But obvs none of the series. Mostly the standalones. I will say that Eight Days of Luke and Tale of Time City look absolutely wonderful.

      I will read whichever you say, next. Have you really read them all?

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