by Diana Wynne Jones
Published by TOR Books
375 pages, 2002
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
The Starscape series, of which Deep Secret is a part, has been reprinting children's and young adult novels, some long out of print, for a new generation of young readers, though recently there was an announcement that new novels would soon be published in the series.
The idea is a good one. Though there are some wonderful novels being written right now, it seems a shame for children and teens to miss out on the classics. Start them off on the good stuff from the past, get them hooked and then produce new books.
This particular one isn't that old -- the copyright date is 1997. But British writer Diana Wynne Jones has been writing and editing both for children and adults for a very long time. Adults might remember her very funny Tough Guide To Fairyland, which has fun with the clichés of fantasy epics (there are a few novelists for whom this should be required reading). Some of us might remember the Chrestomanci series. I remember reading the first Harry Potter novel and thinking, "Hang on, I've seen this story before..." I was remembering The Lives of Christopher Chant, also about a boy wizard studying magic at boarding school, but not enough alike for complaints of plagiarism, being set in an alternative Victorian Britain. (The publishers also saw the resemblance, it seems, and have reprinted the lot!)
The pleasure of a Diana Wynne Jones novel is that even when it's being serious there is enough humor to leaven any grimness. She just can't seem to write anything that doesn't make you grin at least a few times, if not outright laugh.
Deep Secret is no exception. Rupert Venables is a Magid, one of an order of sorcerers responsible for keeping balance in certain worlds in a multiverse of planets that are Ayewards (magic-using) or Naywards (strictly technology). Earth, of course, is Naywards, though not so far that you can't use magic as long as you are on a node on the ley lines. Rupert, a computer programmer who creates games, has a number of problems. The Emperor of the Koryfos Empire has been blown up and was paranoiac enough to hide his heirs where no one, including his supporters, could find them. The Empire is being torn apart and meanwhile, back on Earth, Rupert's mentor and senior has died and has to be replaced. He has to be replaced with someone gifted, but the list of potential candidates is scattered. What better place to gather them and choose than a science fiction convention being held in a hotel on a node?
Trouble is, someone is trying to stop him, and dispose of potential Imperial heirs. And all the Magid candidates seem to be total nutters...
If you've ever been at a science fiction convention, you'll have a lot of fun with the scenes in the hotel, including the way hotels always seem to be rabbit warrens with room numbering making absolutely no sense (in this novel, there is a good reason for it) and the backstabbing going on among guests of honor. Even if you haven't, the picture presented is fairly accurate, if tongue-in-cheek. Fans are not savaged, only sent up gently and affectionately by someone who clearly likes them.
Interesting, too, if you are literary, as there is a reference to the journey of the soul to the afterlife, in the early English song "The Lyke-Wake Dirge" and certain nursery rhymes take on a very different meaning.
Though you can see the ending coming, it works quite well. A young adult novel that most adults will enjoy, as well, Deep Secret is highly recommended. | March 2003
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.