Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011) spent her childhood in Essex and began writing fantasy novels for children in the 1970s. With her unique combination of magic, humour and imagination, she enthralled generations of children and adults with her work. She won the Guardian Award in 1977 with Charmed Life, was runner-up for the Children's Book Award in 1981 and was twice runner-up for the Carnegie Medal.
Gr 6-9-Futuristic, virtual-reality technology melds with the realm of Faerie to liberate the galaxy from the corrupt Reigners who have controlled it for the past 1,000 years. Set in an English village in 1992, the novel's web of events is catalyzed by a bored employee of Hexwood Farm, a secret outpost of the interplanetary rulers. He tampers with the Reigners' old, computerlike machine, the Bannus, hoping it will cough up a hobbit-and-dragon role-playing game. But the Bannus's game is for real, and it sucks the players it chooses-including transcendental souls like Arthur, Merlin, and Fitela-into its field of influence and forces them to act (without changing their natures) within its own scenarios. Unleashed in the Wood (which has power of its own, being a part of the eternal, enchanted forest), the machine is able to stage a battle to dethrone the unrightful Reigners and to choose the best possible new ones. The battlefield the Bannus and the Wood create is Arthurian, complete with castle, sorcery, knights, and dragons. The characters' ages and physical forms often change, though not so fast that readers will lose track of what's going on. Time, too, is fluid. Jones's knife-sharp prose delves with psychedelic clarity into the shared subconscious of humankind. The book is humorous as well, with lines that call Douglas Adams, Monty Python, and James Bond to mind. A wide range of readers will find it marvelously mind-stretching. They may even be tempted to read it twice.- Vanessa Elder, School Library Journal
"...Her hallmarks include laugh-aloud humour, plenty of magic
and imaginative array of alternate worlds. Yet, at the same time, a
great seriousness is present in all of her novels, a sense of
urgency that links Jones's most outrageous plots to her readers'
hopes and fears..."
Somewhere in the middle of this rather bewildering novel, its heroine, Ann, realizes that she is not--as she and the reader had thought--the 12-year-old daughter of suburban London grocers, but is in fact a 20-something rebel from another galaxy. Ann (whose name is really Vierran) has come to earth as the unwilling handmaiden of the evil Reigner Three who, along with four other Reigners, controls most of the known universe. An ancient and powerful machine known as the Bannus has been reactivated and poses a threat to the Reigners' rule. Vierran must join forces with Mordion, the Reigner Servant, in order to keep from becoming a pawn in Reigner One's dastardly scheme to breed future Servants. These are just a few of the plot-lines that come together in a confusing finale that invokes the legends of King Arthur as well as the gods and heroes of Northern Europe. Certain moments in the muddled narrative will reward the persevering reader: Mordion's long-repressed recollection of his sad and brutal childhood possesses a spine-chilling intensity. But on the whole, Jones is not at her bewitching best. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)