At last he heard murmurs of “The Prince,” “His Highness, the Prince,” “Your Highness,” and looked up at the dais. The boy he had fought on the island was standing there, with his hands on his hips, looking down at him in astonishment.
“You again,” the Prince said. He had the most beautiful black eye. Or rather, by this time it was not black any longer, but blue and purple and yellow, with red around the edges. “My goodness,” Alex thought, “I did hit him perfectly.” Most of his fear and embarrassment vanished. He was so pleased with that eye that he smiled broadly, and put his hands on his hips too. “Yes,” he said. “Me again.”
“Good!” said the Prince. “Good.” To Cecilia he sounded quite murderous. He stared at Alex in a dreadful, satisfied way, which turned Cecilia cold and faint. Alex stared back, admiring that black eye, cocking his head sideways, almost as if he had painted it on the Prince’s face with the finest of brushes.
The Count of Gairne stepped up onto the dais and interrupted their looking at one another. “Your Highness, these people were discovered riding about the countryside in direct contravention of your decree.”
Diana Wynne Jones writes a lot of portal fantasy. She grabs children from our world and time and drags them into some other fantastical world, where they are forced to save themselves by doing some magic or starting a revolution or saving Time.
Everard’s Ride is one of these, although a lesser-known Diana Wynne Jones novella. It often feels like a much older book than it is, and it reminds me very much of The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (1974), which does a beautiful mix of historical fiction, Faerie, and intense claustrophobia. Everard’s Ride is vaguely historical, vaguely Faerie, and all of the characters are extremely trapped, whether it’s physical imprisonment, class differences, or something else that is limiting their autonomy.
Everard’s Ride feels like even more of a throwback to portal fantasy like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because the kids are from Victorian England rather than our own time, and the rules are sometimes confusing (rather than systematically laid out as in current portal fantasy). When they go to the island, where are they? WHEN are they? What exactly keeps people from going back and forth? Why is harming Outsiders so taboo?
Additionally, many of DWJ’s most-used tropes aren’t present. For example, the weirdest part for me is the lack of a terrifying matriarch (whether good or evil). The closest we get is the mother of our outlaw hero Robert, and although she is a Countess, she is trapped more than any of the other characters. The timeline (TIME ZONES) can be tricky to figure out, but not anywhere close to the thorny tangle of, say, Hexwood.
This novella is one of Diana’s darker stories, too, with a lot of blood shed before it’s through. Most of the characters who suffer the most in this book don’t deserve it (although the villains certainly get their comeuppance), and while injustice is a very common theme in DWJ, it is more brutal in this story than some of her others. Honor/dishonor is the big binary between the villains and heroes here, but it takes some time to figure out who is behaving with honor, because SURPRISE motivations are complicated. it takes a while for the heroes to find each other and connect, because of the lens each of them is bringing to bear on the situation, and none of them have the full vision of what’s going on.
Not to worry, there is still plenty to keep us entertained in spite of the darker bits. Both the children from England and the children from the island are likable, empathetic characters, and the suspense over their fates is well-paced. There’s a romance, and a bromance, and Hugo Arbard’s subplot in this book is the perfect mix of hilarity, horror, and relief that Diana does so well.
This was my second time reading Everard’s Ride, and while it isn’t as classically Diana as some, it didn’t let me down and is a really fun ride in its own right.