When Andrew Hope's magician grandfather dies, he leaves his house and field-of-care to his grandson who spent much of his childhood at the house. Andrew has forgotten much of this, but he remembers the very strong-minded staff and the fact that his grandfather used to put the inedibly large vegetables on the roof of the shed, where they'd have vanished in the morning. He also remembers the very colourful stained glass window in the kitchen door, which he knows it is important to protect.
Into this mix comes young Aidan Cain, who turns up from the orphanage asking for safety. Exactly who he is and why he's there is unclear, but a strong connection between the two becomes apparent.
There is a mystery to be solved, and nothing is as it appears to be. But nobody can solve the mystery until they find out exactly what it is!
I came late to Diana Wynne Jones. I'll spare you the ins and outs of that delightful discovery, but the long and short of the story is: Neil Gaiman said she was awesome. And so she was.
Actually, perhaps I should explain.
This was right around the time Harry Potter was getting to be a big thing. Seemed like everyone who was anyone was filing suit against J. K. Rowling back then, for stealing their ideas or some such nonsense. Someone had asked Neil, through his blog I do believe, back in the early days, about The Books of Magic, whose central character - was it Tim? - shared a certain few similarities with the aforementioned Hogwarts inductee. Someone was asking whether Neil meant to jump on the bandwagon too.
He did not. Wise beyond his years even then, before he had quite so many, he pointed to another novel, by an author of his acquaintance - Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, none other - and insisted her work bore rather more of a resemblance to early Potter than anything in The Books of Magic, and Diana wasn't fixing to do anything about it, so he'd be holding off on the lawyers too, thank you very much.
Several Chrestomanci books later, I found Howl's Moving Castle, and from then on - perhaps even before - I was in like Flynn. As they say.
Maybe I'm embellishing a little, but that's how I remember it happening. In any event, in Diana Wynne Jones I found a quintessentially British fantasy author whose work has never since failed to move me. Jones seems to write in a state of controlled delirium, building character and narrative so naturally and with such ease you'd be forgiven for thinking it was all a happy accident, yet there is a practiced delicacy about her prose, a predilection towards little flourishes that makes all the difference, and such boundless enthusiasm, such spirit, warmth, and generosity.
Diana Wynne Jones died last week.
I found out about that through Neil Gaiman, too.
I was hours wandering about with a lump in my throat, at the thought. Never did I meet the woman, and in truth it's been a few years since I last read her, but by no means had I left her behind, for from the first she'd won a precious place in my heart alongside all my other childhood favourites: Roald Dahl, Brian Jacques, Christopher Pike... and Diana Wynne Jones.
So when I heard the tragic news, rather than go on moping about her death - which I very much doubt she'd approve of - I resolved to do the only thing I could to celebrate her life: read some Diana Wynne Jones. Was it by some magical happenstance that I happened to have a copy of her latest to hand? Let's say it was.
Enchanted Glass is a short, sweet, sugar-coated treat of a story about Andrew Hope, a teacher - not a professor! - who moves into Melstone House following the death of his grandfather, a powerful magician. Andrew, however, finds he has inherited more than mere property; so too are the responsibilities of his grandfather's field-of-care now under his purview. If only Andrew knew what a field-of-care was...
More pressing is the care and attention young Aidan Cain requires of Andrew. A runaway, but not from his parents, Aidan's on the lam from an army of shadowy creatures that seem to mean him harm, so when he turns up at Melstone House seeking safe-haven, Andrew takes the wee waif in. Together, they hope to overcome the troubles before them - but first they'll have to figure out exactly what their troubles are.
Enchanted Glass whips by like nobody's business. I read it in a single sitting, and I'm a meticulous (read: rather slow) reader. The narrative is no great shakes, in the end; the lay of the land here is a known quantity, if only to us - indeed its familiarity feels reassuring. Think The Sorcerer's House meets The BFG. What raises Enchanted Glass itself up beyond the humdrum is its cast of characters. A curious pair, Andrew and Aidan quickly establish a wonderful rapport with one another, and their banter is frank, lively and refreshing. The household staff, however, steal the show: in particular Mrs Stock with her compulsion to arrange the sitting room furniture just so and Mr Stock - no relation - with his prize vegetable punishments.
There is some cartoonishness to Enchanted Glass I could have done without, and when all the crazy comes to head during the climactic fete things get a little confusing, but whatever. Reading Enchanted Glass felt to me like coming home. A few years from now, I'll read it again, and then, perhaps, it will be.
It breaks my heart that Diana Wynne Jones is dead, but if there's any justice in the world, any goodness - and if Enchanted Glass is anything to go by, there is - her work at least will live on for a long time to come.
Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones
UK Publication: January 2010, HarperCollins Children's Books US Publication: April 2010, Green Willow Books