What, only five? How? Which?
Rapidly writing down the first that come to mind without thinking about it: Howl’s Moving Castle, Archer’s Goon, Deep Secret, Conrad’s Fate . . . Tale of Time City. Or maybe Lives of Christopher Chant. Or Hexwood . . . Or . . .
It’s impossible to describe the genius of DWJ’s writing and do it justice. I tried in a non-fiction book once. Here, I’m just going to give an emotional reaction. Suffice it to say, Jones is a master of effortless characterization, her plots (ohhhh, her plots) are intricate and unpredictable, her worldbuilding infinite in its wonders, and the subtle psychological dramas that underlie it all are awe-inspiring. I don’t think there’s a single one of her fantasies that I haven’t read at least twice; most I’ve read so many times I’ve lost count. Sometimes I need this book or that like it’s an essential nutrient I’ve been starved of, and when that happens, I always find something new in it.
I need to be Sophie. I want to be Howl. One of my all-time favourite books. (I also love Castle in the Air.)
“Howard was glad he did not intend to be a writer. Designing rocket ships seemed much easier.” (That’s quoted from memory, so it may not be exact.) Howard’s journey through the baffling reality of his modern English town, ruled by gangster-wizards, is thorough, glorious fun, and unendingly surprising.
An adult book, though the sequel, The Merlin Conspiracy, is YA. I wish she’d written more of the magids, and more of Maree in particular. Maree — I love her. She keeps fighting. She endures upright under what should smother her. The Thornlady and what it does to Maree is such a powerful metaphor. Every now and then I need to reread this. This book is also one of DWJ’s best for showing people from both their own and other characters’ perspectives, and the behaviour of Kees in the final battle of magics at the con is a really useful thing to keep in mind while observing the goings-on of social media.
In which a teenage Christopher Chant cosplays Psmith? The penultimately-written of the Related Worlds books and a delight; DWJ dances with Wodehouse, while at the same time, the way Conrad’s life — and his sense of himself — is so nearly shaped to tragedy by his uncle’s manipulation is chilling. Nice to see a teenage Millie too, at a point in her life in-between the Goddess and the ever-cool and collected adult of Charmed Life and The Pinhoe Egg.
Great characters, and as with Hexwood, which is almost in my top five, a convoluted plot that just gets more awe-inspiring on repeated readings. Also, is there a lactose-free version of the butter-pie? I defy you to read this without wanting to try one.
And there you go. What are your favorite Diana Wynne Jones books? Let us know in the comments!
K.V. Johansen is an sf/f author and literary critic. Her work includes the Marakand series (The Leopard and The Lady), Blackdog, and Gods of Nabban from Pyr. She is also the author of The Warlocks of Talverdin series (Orca Book Publishers), and a two short story collections, The Storyteller and Other Tales (Sybertooth) and Serpent Bride (Thistledown Press). You can find out more about her on her website and on Twitter.