Jones, Diana Wynne: Deep Secret

After the Bryson, I re-read Diana Wynne Jones’s Deep Secret, partly in preparation for the new book in that world (The Merlin Conspiracy), and partly because I just really like it. I have had decidedly mixed reactions to Jones’s works overall (e.g., Howl’s Moving Castle), which may make me an anomaly, as I know many people who seems to like basically everything by Jones. Deep Secret is one I had a positive reaction to: it’s great fun, solidly done, and manages some very tricky tone shifts with remarkable aplomb.

Deep Secret is a multiverse book, in which worlds are arranged in the sign of infinity. Worlds to Ayewards have more magic; worlds to Naywards have less; and Magids are charged with keeping worlds from drifting too far from their place, smoothing the workings of the worlds, and gradually releasing the Deep Secrets into common knowledge. One of Earth’s Magids passes away at the beginning of the story, and Rupert Venables, Earth’s newest Magid, must find a replacement. In the meantime, the Koryfonic Empire, a set of worlds to Ayewards and also Rupert’s responsibility, is rapidly going to hell in a handbasket, as the assassinated Emperor had very carefully and paranoidly hidden all of his heirs. Things come to a head at a science fiction convention to which Rupert has drawn his Magid candidates—resulting in glorious moments such as a centaur from the Koryfonic Empire being congratulated on his excellent costume by con members.

The book is told in multiple first person. Rupert begins the novel, of course, but we-the-readers get a big hint as to the next Magid when one of the candidates, Maree Mallory, gets her own narrative thread. The narrations are nicely balanced, clearly conveying the good and bad traits of the characters. Rupert, for instance, is something of a prat, and Maree is gloomy and defiantly odd—but they’re also strong, lively, and likeable people.

The book is also an affectionate look at cons, though I think some things must be features of British fandom (or else I’m going to a different sort of con). Though the oddities and occasional unpleasantness of fandom are present (I believe I was nearly trapped by Tansy-Ann Fisk’s cousin at Readercon, for instance), the book also captures the friendly, welcoming enthusiasm of fandom at its best. And, as a bonus, there’s a positively hysterical scene of Nick, Maree’s cousin, waking up, that I have heard is a lovingly-observed portrait of Neil Gaiman in the morning; it has to be read to be believed.

As this might suggest, the plot elements set in the con sometimes approach farce. The portions touching on the Koryfonic Empire and a trip into one of the Deep Secrets, however, have a distinctly more serious tone; the Deep Secret is a venture into the mythic that shouldn’t work when put with the con bits, but does somehow.

I really enjoy this book; it’s become one of my comfort books, in fact. So far I’m enjoying The Merlin Conspiracy as well, and we’ll see if it also attains the same status.

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  1. Not a unique anomaly, anyway. Some of Jones’s books are among my favorite books in the world (and Fire and Hemlock is on my desert island shortlist), but others just do nothing for me. Jones is one of my “read before buying” authors.

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