#DWJMarch 2020 Wrap-up

What a crazy month! I didn’t realize we would all get banished to our homes, but if I had, Diana Wynne Jones is probably still the author I would have turned to.

Here’s what I read this month, with links to respective blog posts:

I also read Fire and Hemlock, and listened to Year of the Griffin. Fire and Hemlock is always better than I remember it (albeit very disturbing) and Year of the Griffin is one of the most perfect books I have read. Ever.

Marie-Alice Harel/Folio Society 


#DWJMarch: Hexwood

Jacket Blurb: When Controller Borasus receives a strange letter from Earth he is both curious and alarmed. Someone has activated an ancient machine and is using it for most trivial purposes. Surely no one would dare to tamper with Reigner seals in this way? Yet the effects of such interference resonate throughout the universe, so he decides to go to Hexwood Farm to investigate…

On Hexwood Estate, Ann watches the mysterious comings and goings with interest. She knows something deadly is going on – or is Hexwood simply altering her too?

If you were cooking up stories and experimenting with mixing recipes, and for some reason you used both fantasy and science fiction, mixed in some Arthurian legends, bits of dystopia and portal fantasy, a pinch of Norse mythology, and then gave it a nice thick glaze of escape rooms, you would wind up with something very like Hexwood.

Yes, I love it.

Some Tips on Reading Hexwood

  • Keep a character list as you go along. A lot of characters have more than one name, nicknames, or are going under a fake name.
  • Keep track of timelines??? I mean it’s pretty much impossible, but make a list of anything weird or contradictory you notice about how time is passing, how different characters remember (or don’t remember) certain events, etc.
  • Don’t trust any of the characters. Pretty much all of the characters in this novel are supremely confident that they know what’s going on and what’s real. Most of them are wrong at least once.

Of course, you can ignore all of the above tips and still enjoy the book, so if you would rather do that, go for it! The first time I read Hexwood I had no idea what was happening most of the time, and it still became one of my favorite books. Peeling back the layers of what’s going on, both in the plot and with the characters, is really well-paced and structured and it just MAKES ME REALLY HAPPY, OKAY?

Also did you know you could rebel against tyranny by keeping everyone well-stocked on thrift clothes? Hexwood will show you how!

Truly Horrifying Hexwood Covers


That one with Mordion in the red coat will give me nightmares.

#DWJMarch: Howl’s Moving Castle

I’ve read Howl’s Moving Castle at least twenty times, but this time it was on audiobook! Now it’s my new favorite way to reread this book too many times.

Jacket Blurb: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

I haven’t heard this narrator, Jenny Sterlin, before, but she did an outstanding job. When I read this book I usually hear the voices from the Ghibli film (even though that makes no sense) but Sterlin’s voices for Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer especially were spot-on based on their descriptions in the book.

I was absurdly pleased by Howl’s Welsh accent, even though obviously he should have a Welsh accent and if he didn’t it would be INCORRECT. Concept: Welsh Howell Jenkins reading the dictionary. We could make billions. 

The other standout audio moment was when Sophie is yelling “Be daffodils!” in a rage (Sometimes you just have to work out your anger through botanical experiments resulting in weedkiller). Sterlin’s delivery cracked me up.

I’ve talked about my favorite quotes from this book in another post. “What a stupid way to treat a building!” is my current favorite exclamation. But there are just so many good one-liners that it’s ridiculous, and hearing them was so much fun.


In other March Magics news, I’ve started listening to Year of the Griffin and I’ve started rereading Fire and Hemlock, but I’m not sure if I’ll finish either/both of them this month. I’ll most likely do another post later this week on Hexwood (which I finished) but I’m not sure what, if anything, else.

#DWJMarch: Dark Lord of Derkholm

Happy Day 9 of Social Distancing. The locals are very restless, but Diana Wynne Jones’ books are keeping them from rioting. For now.

Kit is looking fine.

I listened to the audiobook of Dark Lord of Derkholm, thanks to hoopla, narrated by Gildart Jackson. I’ve previously listened to Dracula by the same narrator, so that was a little jarring at first, but I really like his narration and voices.

The only exceptions were some of his creature voices. The narrator chose a sort of nasal, bird-like voice for the griffins, which I understand in principle, but in practice it can be unpleasant to listen to after a while. He gave the dragons and demons very gravelly, scrape-y voices, so those could be a little tiring too.

Jacket blurb: Everyone – wizards, soldiers, farmers, elves, dragons, kings and queens alike – is fed up with Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties: groups of tourists from the world next door who descend en masse every year to take the Grand Tour. What they expect are all the trappings of a grand fantasy adventure, including the Evil Enchantress, Wizard Guides, the Dark Lord, Winged Minions, and all. And every year different people are chosen to play these parts. But now they’ve had enough: Mr Chesney may be backed by a very powerful demon, but the Oracles have spoken. Now it’s up to the Wizard Derk and his son Blade, this year’s Dark Lord and Wizard Guide, not to mention Blade’s griffin brothers and sisters, to save the world from Mr Chesney’s depredations.

I know I keep saying this about all the DWJ books I’ve read this month, but it’s been a few years since I first read and loved this one, too. The most surprising parts for me this time were how Dark it is (even though that’s literally in the title) and how upsetting the Derk/Mara subplot is! Fortunately, all works out in the end. Sort of. Except for all the bodies. There are a lot of bodies.

I honestly can’t believe how MUCH is packed into this book. It’s simultaneously a) deconstructing the entire post-Tolkien epic fantasy genre; b) introducing at least 8 main characters; c) giving each of those characters subplot growth arcs; d) introducing and explaining all of the different fantasy races and their subplots; e) satirizing the modern world and modern colonialism; f) criticizing modern habits like the glorification of violence, subjugation of peoples for their own good, racism, classism, etc etc etc.

Somehow Dark Lord of Derkholm succeeds juggling all of its many balls. And it’s fun and magical, too.


I hope March Magics is going well for you all!

I’m currently listening to Howl’s Moving Castle (via Library2Go), and then I’m going to listen to Derkholm’s sequel, Year of the Griffin (back to hoopla).

#DWJMarch: wandering through Hexwood and other bits and bobs

I’m rereading Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones for the first time in years. I’m about a hundred pages in and trying to a. remember everyone of importance that’s been mentioned, and b. figure out all the other people they are.


So far this reading is making more sense than previous readings, but we’ll see how it goes. I know there’s layers and layers of shenanigans and I’m only on the top layer.

How is March Magics going for you all? I’m on a social media break so I’m sure I haven’t seen lots of fun DWJ-related things, but I recommend this Howl’s Moving Castle-inspired poem by krobats. I also found this thoughtful post from Emerald City Book Review on A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett and The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones.

#DWJMarch: Everard’s Ride

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.

#DWJMarch: Eight Days of Luke

Reasons Eight Days of Luke is the best Loki story ever:

  • shapeshifting to make life more convenient
  • mortals are much more reasonable than gods
  • or do i mean more adorable
  • fire is pretty
  • woden is the smartest dumb person
  • what is gender
  • exploitation goes in all directions
  • unintentional consequences because i was distracted by the fire
  • amoral doesn’t equal evil
  • it doesn’t equal good either
  • yay fire
  • this escalated quickly

I am not taking questions at this time.

#DWJMarch: The Islands of Chaldea

“But I’m so short,” I said. “Riannan’s nearly as tall as you.”

“Quite a beanpole,” Ogo said impatiently. “If you’re determined to think of yourself as an ugly midget, go ahead. But don’t expect me to sympathize.”

I finished the Islands of Chaldea, by Diana and Ursula! This was my first time reading it, and I found it delightful. I was half-expecting a DWJ version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but I was both wrong and incorrect in that expectation. The Islands of Chaldea was very much its own thing and very Diana.

I am very curious about where Ursula took over the story. Her afterword explains that the manuscript broke off partway through, and Diana never kept notes for her stories, so Ursula had to just figure it out and make it happen. My tentative guess is that Ursula started writing around chapter XI, because at that point the story starts getting a little too tidy and the different open threads start gathering themselves up a little too easily. Diana’s stories always seem chaotic and messy until the very end, where you realize everything was inevitable all along, so the tidiness of the last few chapters of this book stood out to me.

(If any of you have read this book and have a theory on where Ursula started writing, let’s chat because I love hearing opinions on this.)

18107099In Diana’s stories, a lot of the real magical work is always left up to the children, and so there’s often a high number of bad and/or incompetent adults. This was still the case in the Islands of Chaldea, but there was actually more than one good adult, too! I especially loved Aunt Beck. She reminded me of an older, somewhat more arrogant and bitter Sophie Hatter (the story explains why by the end). I could definitely picture Sophie acting like this and making these choices, if she were in this situation. Finn the monk was another good adult character and I loved his pure observations on everything. He did not get distracted by drama.

I never expect romance in Diana’s books, and then I’m always surprised if/when there is one. No spoilers but the romance in this book was freaking cute, and I loved Aileen’s “Ah yes, I have chosen him to be my husband, it is known, let it be thus” attitude.

There’s a good sense of the history and mythology of Chaldea, thanks to the main characters essentially taking a walking tour of the islands. I would love some more stories about this world, especially about the bards of Gallis and the Guardians of the islands. And the Land of Lone! The set-up is good enough for another quartet like Dalemark. Alas.

Overall, I was surprised by how coherent this book was (since it was an unplanned collaboration), and pleased with how much magic, humor, and fun was smashed into one small book.


Next up: Eight Days of Luke! It’s been years since I’ve read this one but it’s a favorite.

#DWJMarch: Reflections on Reflections

Happy Diana Wynne Jones March! #DWJMarch and #MarchMagics are hosted by WeBeReading.

51Hz1ep8qyL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I cheated a little bit and reread Reflections, Diana’s collection of essays, last month. I encourage you to read it if you like her work, if you’re a writer, or if you’re a reader of fantasy. There is a big variety of topics in the book, but most of the pieces are focused on writing, Diana’s life, and books/reading.

If you want to learn about Diana herself, my favorites in this collection are:

• Something About the Author
• The Girl Jones
• Halloween Worms
• A Day Visiting Schools

They have lots of humorous anecdotes (and not-so-humorous) about her childhood and about her professional life. You can spot a lot of connections to things in her stories, too (especially Time of the Ghost!).

If you’re a writer or you want to know more about Diana’s process, my favorites in this collection are:

• The Heroic Ideal: A Personal Odyssey
• A Talk About Rules
• Answers to Some Questions
• Two Kinds of Writing?
• Writing for Children: A Matter of Responsibility

“The Heroic Ideal” goes into detail on the structure of Fire and Hemlock, which I find one of her most perplexing books. I always think of it as the “Tam Lin” book but as she explains, she drew from a LOT of stories as well as her personal life to write this one. “A Talk About Rules” and “Answers to Some Questions” are just fabulous insights on how to tell a good story and craft it. “Two Kinds of Writing?” and “Writing for Children” explain why she mostly wrote for children, and discusses how formative childhood books are and why that’s both amazing and dangerous.

In addition, I really enjoyed these two essays, which are directed specifically toward young writers:

• Our Hidden Gifts
• Characterization: Advice for Young Writers

They’re helpful for older writers too! She’s sneaky like that.

Last but not least, if you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings you absolutely have to read:

• The Shape of the Narrative in the Lord of the Rings

It’s one of the best structural analyses of these books, and it’s fun to read because Diana is both respectful of Tolkien’s genius and critical of his weaknesses.

The ones I’ve listed above are only a smattering of the pieces in this collection, and it’s well worth reading all the way through.


As a more general #DWJMarch update, I’ve begun reading the Islands of Chaldea and it is, unsurprisingly, delightful.