My pick this week is Diana Wynne Jones’ The Merlin Conspiracy. The book is a fantasy featuring an alternate universe, strange magic, crazy relatives and Arthurian myths all topped off with a large dose of the hilarious and inventive.
In college I did two different study abroad experiences: one in Viña del Mar, Chile, and the other in Sevilla, Spain. I loved different aspects of both. In Chile I was impressed by the warmth of the people and was constantly learning from my host family. In Spain I appreciated the history, architecture and cuisine of an amazing region, while not personally connecting with anyone. Whilst living in Sevilla I experienced a difficult living situation, and I spent quite a bit of time on my own for a couple of months.
How did I cope? I found every bookshop within a three-mile radius of my host family’s house, and raided their meager English-language sections. Immersing myself for an hour or two in a book really cheered me up a couple of times, and made it possible for me to call home and not break down in tears while I talked to my mom. Having said that, I want to stress that the experience was positive. But on the occasional bad day, English-language books really saved the bacon. One of the books I found in a musty, empty shop along a back street in the old quarter was this novel by Diana Wynne Jones.
I DEVOURED The Merlin Conspiracy. I remember finding it and a couple of other selections, which I bought (rather greedily, as I recall) and took over to a nearby café. The other books were fine, I think, but this one was a perfect fit. I dove in and completely lived the adventure and action and fantasy of it all for a couple of hours, and then when I’d finished it, I read it all over again. I must have looked quite the picture: American girl reading English-language book and ignoring authentic Spanish culture passing by.
But oh, was it worth it! I smiled for days after thinking about plot twists and dialogue and characters. Later on I sent it to my brother as a gift, and now the same copy has somehow wormed its way back into my possessions…I pulled it out of a box shipped from Atlanta just the other day. Basically, it’s awesome, and anyone with even the slightest appreciation of fantasy should enjoy it. And if you read it and don’t/didn’t, please let me live in ignorant bliss!
Master fantasist Diana Wynne Jones authors this absorbing tale of magic and courtly intrigue told in two voices. In the world called Islands of the Blest, Roddy is a young page who has grown up traveling with her family in the King’s Progress, a constant journey around the kingdom. Just after she and her younger friend Grundo spot a growing conspiracy to overthrow the King and change the balance of magic, they are whisked away to visit Roddy’s grim and silent grandfather; when they return the Progress has moved on without them.
Meanwhile in another world, Nick Mallory, 14, blunders into a dreamlike adventure that leads him to the powerful wizard Romanov and involves him in Roddy’s mission to save the worlds from the upset planned by the conspiracy. The story moves through several precariously linked worlds in vividly imagined episodes told alternately by Roddy and Nick, as their journeys begin to mesh. Part of the fun for the reader is sorting out Roddy’s many wizardly relatives from the double perspective and clicking them into place in the plot. This complex, fast-moving fantasy features not only 34 characters, but also a panther, a goat, a dragon, and an extremely charming elephant.
In other words, you MUST love it. Go. Enjoy!