Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Sudden Wildl Magic by Diana Wynne Jones, a book review

I enjoyed A Sudden Wild Magic more than I expected, but not as much as I love most Diana Wynne Jones books.  Part of this  may be because this is the first time I've read the book and, as Jenny remarks, most of Wynne Jones books are better the second time around, but I suspect it never will be one of my favorite books. I don't like the basic premise.

As with many Wynne Jones books of late,  it has multiple protagonists and a single plot with many interlocking branches.  The basic premise is that Earth has an alternate, Arth, which has been using Earth as a laboratory for sometime. They cause problems and watch to see how the "primitive" peoples here solve them, then use the solutions for their own difficulties. They have both caused and stopped wars, were responsible for Chernobyl, and have recently taken to dabbling in Global Warming.  Our Earth, though not immediately aware of their meddling, has a group of highly trained magic-users, mostly centered in England, though the network is spreading, who have defused these problems. Finally aware that someone is causing them, they send a crew over to Arth with instructions to stop the experiments. Arth, meanwhile has its own problems--we're not solving global warming fast enough for them for one thing, and there are a number of interpersonal struggles going on.

My problems with the book start with its central premise: Someone Else is causing our problems, magically, and they can be dealt with magically. I can believe six impossible things before breakfast, but not that the meltdown in Chernobyl was caused by outside, magical meddling and contained partly through inside magical meddling. This is not a problem solely with A Sudden Wild Magic; a lot of urban fantasy loses me with this type of premise. I wish Wynne Jones had chosen something less immediate and problematic for her sampling of problems.

Tucking that aside--and it was a big tuck--I liked the book well enough. The plot was intricate enough to hold my attention, there was a lot of "and then what?" to contend with, and I mostly liked the characters, or else didn't like them for reasons that made sense. I appreciated the fact that the people of Arth were not, by and large, terrible monsters. They respond humanely to the approach of the Earth-people's craft, save their lives, and do their best to help the "lost" travelers return to their homes.

But I also quibble with the method the all-woman crew of the invasion force uses to disrupt matters. Surely the woman who scorned the notion that "nunneries are for sacking" should not have written a book with the premise that "monks are for seducing"?

There was, I will admit, also some first-class cooking and a conga line involved, and that last was definitely a high point.

So--interesting enough, but not Jones' best.


  1. This has never become one of my favorite Jones books, but it--I mean, not to sound like a broken record and I know that I do--it has grown on me over several rereadings. It's not her best, but it's much better than I initially thought it was, and my initial reaction was nearly identical to yours.

  2. Yes. It is possible I'll like it more later--I remember hating Deep Secret initially, after all, and now I cannot for the life of me fathom why.

    OTOH, my objections to the basic premise here run deeper, and there are sooo many good DWJ books to read, I'm not sure I'll ever get around to tryign this one again.