June 3rd, 2002

The Early(ish) Morning Review: Hexwood - Diana Wynne Jones

If there's one good thing to be said for the Harry Potter hype, it's that it's brought Diana Wynne Jones' literate and intelligent fantasies to the attention of a wider world. Best known for her young adult works, Diana has recently written several adult novels. While not explicitly one of these, Hexwood is a transitional novel, bridging the more conventional YA fanatsies with the more complex themes of her adult novels.

There's a common theme in many of Diana Wynne Jones' novels: the world we live in is more complex than we can possibly know, and we are being protected from those complexities. Sometimes, as in the Chrestomanci stories, that protection is beign. In others, such as Hexwood, there is something more sinister at foot. Her novels unfold those deeper secrets, as her characters grow and change. Yes, this is metaphor for the transition from childhood to the adult world, but it is also the story of our adult lives as well, as we move from day to day, changing to meet the demands of the world.

Hexwood begins as the story of a sick girl solving a mystery. It rapidly turns into a story of a galaxy ruled by malignant overlords (Doctor Who fans will probably see them as Time Lords gone bad) who are threatened by an out of control machine stored on an out of the way world. Events in a mysterious wood and in an Arthurian castle soon become crucial to a 4000 year old power struggle, and the relationship between ruler and ruled.

More than a YA novel, Hexwood is an entertaining and literate novel, that takes the structure of a grail quest, mixes it with a story of sexual awakening and misuse of power, to give us something uniquely Diana Wynne Jones. If you've not read Deep Secret (with its delightful depiction of an Eastercon at the Adelphi) or A Sudden Wild Magic, then this is an excellent place to start. Oh, and don't forget The Tough Guide To Fantasy Land, one of the most humourous deconstructions of doorstop fantasies around...
  • Current Music
    Talk Talk - The Colour Of Spring - Life's What You Make It

Pastoral Picnicery

This weekend is an exceedingly long one. The country is in the midst of a Royalist fervour as it celebrates the 50 years of Elizabeth II in the shape of the Golden Jubilee. And so we get two days of holiday. So while I've been spending time writing my regular Internet development column for Application Development Advisor on building a site description in RSS and RDF, I've also been out touring the countryside in the early summer warmth.

Saturday, after picking up the iBook from DJ, marypcb and I raided a SavaCentre hypermarket for various picnic items. Salads, breads, cheeses, fizzy drinks - even clotted cream, jam and scones - all filled our trolley (along with a 20 litre bag of cat litter for the mogs). We then headed south, ending up on a lovely meadow on the site of a lost royal palace: Nonesuch (or Nonsuch) Park. Some of the meadows in the park have already been mown, but we were able to lay down our blanket in the middle of unmown flowers and grasses. It wasn't difficult to imagine we were miles from the heart of the city - even though we could here the regular thunder of jets making their approach to Heathrow and the rumble of passing trains.

Sunday, we went further afield, out past Godalming, to Winkworth Arboretum. This is a 20th Century landscaped garden, full of trees from all over the world, with a couple of Victorian lakes in the valley. The curves of the hills hide little dells and copses, and paths disappear up ridges and around exotic trees. We found a meadow on one side of the lake that looked up a slope of red-leaved Japanese acers and fresh green European trees, dotted about with the bright flashes of the last of the spring azaleas. Fish were jumping, while ducklings paddled across the water, all leaping for the passing midges that rose as the sun set behind the hill.

And of course both times I'd left the digicam at home...
  • Current Music
    Prefab Sprout - The Gunman and Other Stories - Farmyard Cat