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Deep Secret
Diana Wynne Jones
Tor Books, 384 pages

Julie Bell
Deep Secret
Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones was born in London, England. At an early age, she began writing stories for herself and her sisters. She received her Bachelor of Arts at St. Annes' College in Oxford and went on to to write full-time in 1965. She has won many awards and honours including the Carnegie Commendation for Dogsbody, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award twice, and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
Diana Wynne Jones Tribute Site
SF Site Review: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Seldom recently have I simply enjoyed reading a book as much as I enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones' Deep Secret. Jones employs a mixture of engaging characters, interesting fantasy concepts, and a light touch with serious undertones, to create a novel that is infectious and absorbing. This is not new with her: I just discovered her work last year, and the YA novels Howl's Moving Castle and Charmed Life (which has certain similarities to Deep Secret) affected me in similar ways. Deep Secret, I should say, is not a YA novel, although I would imagine it would be appreciated by younger readers. (And to be sure, Jones' YA novels are certainly good fare for adults.)

Right from the beginning we know something is up, as narrator Rupert Venables is called away to the Koryfonic Empire, to give his stamp of approval as a Magid to a legal proceeding there. Koryfonic Empire? Magid? We are told that the Multiverse consists of worlds arranged in a sort of infinity figure, with one half (including Earth), negative magically (this is the Naywards half). These worlds tend not to believe in magic, and magic is harder to do there. The other (Ayewards) half are positive magically: for instance, creatures such as centaurs can exist there. The Koryfonic Empire is very important, as it occupies the exact middle of the infinity sign. And Magids are a variety of wizard, with the duty to subtly influence events on whatever worlds they are responsible for in the appropriate direction. Rupert is Earth's junior Magid, and he is fresh from helping out in Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland, when he gets sent to the Empire.

Rupert is soon engaged in two succession problems. His mentor has died, and he must select a new Magid from among several human candidates. In addition, the Koryfonic Emperor is assassinated, and Rupert has to try to track down the proper heir -- a process complicated by the previous Emperor's paranoia, which caused him to hide away his heirs so they wouldn't try to take over before their time. Even so, Rupert has an unexpectedly hard time tracking down the various Magid candidates. Even the young Englishwoman, Maree Mallory, who should be easy to find, is surprisingly difficult to get in touch with. And when Rupert finally does meet her, he doesn't like her at all, and crosses her off his list.

An alternate narrative path starts to follow Maree, which ought to be a clue to any reader that Rupert may have a harder time avoiding her in the long run than he thinks. Maree's father has cancer, and she's gone to live with her Uncle, a fantasy writer. But her Aunt and she don't get along at all. Plus her boyfriend has dumped her, which complicates her veterinary studies. (He's another student.) And then she gets these annoying letters from Rupert...

Rupert finally decides to weave a spell (a working) to bring the various candidates (except Maree, whom he thinks he's already rejected) together, where he can find and interview them. The real world result of this is that they are all brought to a Science Fiction convention. (It seems to be an Eastercon, actually.) A convention at which (you guessed it), Maree's uncle is to be Guest-of-Honour.

As we should expect, the convention, the interviewing of the Magid candidates, and the question of the Koryfonic succession are all intertwined. Much of the action is superficially light in tone, including some funny bits involving the difficulty of navigating the hotel's corridors. But at the same time the concerns are deadly serious, and Jones doesn't cheat us there: real mistakes are made, people are really hurt and killed. So it's not just a light-hearted romp, and though it's often funny, Deep Secret is not a comedy.

What it is, is a thoroughly involving book. Jones is one of those natural storytellers: her books compel reading. The characters are real, and very likable. The plot is exciting, and resolved logically. The magical system is lightly sketched, but what we see is interesting and well drawn. The resolution is largely what we expect, but it also involves satisfying surprises. This book kept me up late at night, and made me eager for each chance to read another chapter.

It's not perfect: the overall setup, although interesting, is a bit strained, and a bit too lightly sketched, which reduced the immediacy of some of the events. And structurally there is a slight burp: the book ends, more or less, followed by an odd sort of coda, which fills us in on an earlier event that was missed in the main narrative. But Jones finds a way to round up that coda nicely, without causing too muffled an end to things. And I came away from this book a satisfied customer. Highly recommended. And hopefully, the publication of this novel in the United States is a harbinger of more Diana Wynne Jones to come, since her earlier works are not so easy to find in the New World.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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