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The Merlin Conspiracy
Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow, 468 pages

The Merlin Conspiracy
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
SF Site Review:Year of the Griffin
SF Site Review: Deep Secret
SF Site Review: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
Diana Wynne Jones Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Diana Wynne Jones has been publishing wonderful fantasy novels for over 30 years. Most of her work has been aimed nominally at "young adults", but definitely holds appeal for adults of any age. Back in 1997, she published Deep Secret, a delightful novel (nominally for adults), about the Multiverse, where magic works to various degrees and in various ways among the different universes (including our own, a low magic place), arranged in an infinity shape. (As it happens, Deep Secret was one of the earliest books I reviewed here at SF Site.) Her new novel, The Merlin Conspiracy, is set in the same Multiverse as Deep Secret, and it features Nick Mallory, a character from the earlier book, but it is an independent story. (It is also nominally marketed to young adults, just as Deep Secret was marketed to adults, but in all truth either book in appropriate for either category.)

The Merlin Conspiracy follows two characters. Arianhrod ("Roddy") Hyde is the daughter of a weather magician at the Court of the King of Blest, the England-analogue in her universe. She and her young friend Grundo discover a plot involving Grundo's unpleasant mother and her new boyfriend as well as the new Merlin of Blest. The rest of her family becomes enchanted in various ways and unable to move against this plot. Roddy and Grundo become separated from the Progress of the Court (the King cannot stay in any one place for long) and they gad across Blest, looking for help from Roddy's two powerful Grandfathers, and her eccentric Grandmother. Along the way she inherits the magical knowledge of a long-dead Welsh woman, and she summons a wizard to help her.

This wizard turns out to be Nick Mallory, who is the adopted son of an Earth writer, but who really comes from another part of the Multiverse, and who aspires to wizardry but hasn't actually learned much. Somewhat by accident, he has ended up lost in another universe, from which he wanders to some additional ones, after a threat from a powerful wizard named Romanov. Nick follows Romanov to his strange island, in several universes at once, and there he meets an elephant named Mini. He is also contacted by Roddy, and it becomes clear that he is supposed to help her, and also that he is very attracted to her.

Eventually all the principals end up in Blest, where things are getting worse and worse. The conspiracy seems on the verge of succeeding, and the two young people, with help from a few others they've gathered along the way, must risk the balance of Magic in the entire Multiverse by Raising the Land, in hopes of foiling the conspirators.

The Merlin Conspiracy is a fine novel, but not quite Jones at her very best. (I rate Deep Secret a bit higher, for example, though as that was my first DWJ novel I may be a bit partial to it.) Jones's magical imagination is delightful as ever, but at times things do seem a bit arbitrary. And the plot, though in the end worked out pretty nicely, also seems arbitrary for long stretches. Finally, the inspired wit that drives much of her novels, even the darker ones, while still present here isn't quite as consistently appealing. But even if not her best work, the book is very good. Nick and Roddy are interesting characters, and well-portrayed, with real and believable problems and shortcomings. Many of the minor characters are delights as well -- particularly the elephant Mini. The plot is, in the end, intricately put together and interestingly resolved. Recommended.

Copyright © 2003 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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