There are multiverses, and this never seemed to matter very much, until a mage who is also very good at computers discovers that all – well, many – of the bad things that happened in our world, from the world wars to the great depression and even global warming, were a result of our world being toyed around with by wizards in another universe. Basically, the mages of Arth put us into situations where we would have to invent things or solve certain problems, after which they would steal the ideas for their own world.
Mark, the mage who discovers all this, went to Gladys, the wisest (and kookiest) witch he knew. And somehow this all led to a group of witches being sent to Arth and sabotage the evil otherworld mages with, among other things, kamikaze sex.
Er… maybe I should back up a bit.
This is a Diana Wynne Jones novel, yes, but this is not a children’s or YA fantasy.
After Changeover (the debut novel I probably won’t ever get to read), all of the published DWJs were for children/teens… until 1992, when A Sudden Wild Magic was published. Of course, even before I started this book, I thought of DWJ’s essay “Two Kinds of Writing?” in which she wrote about some unspoken assumptions about grown-up vs. children’s/teen fiction:
I found myself thinking as I wrote, “These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.” Now this is something I never have to think when I write for younger readers.
Starting on the first chapter, this was what I noticed the most – longer explanations about everything. I showed the first page to Kit, whose desk is next to mine at work, and she said it gave her a headache. I found A Sudden Wild Magic to be a bit weird, but still somehow, very Diana Wynne Jones. There’s the protagonist that doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of themselves, but everyone who knew them seem to admire, until they slowly become aware of their own inner strength. There’s the mention of bad, horrible parents, and in this book, on how that could go on to influence the kind of adult you became. There’s the wordplay and sly jokes and things that are fun buy may not make much sense in terms of the plot until you get to the end and all the pieces just fit together perfectly. I also thought that this particular novel reminded me a lot of Doctor Who, a feeling that I didn’t get with her other novels. And when I reread “Two Kinds of Writing?”, I saw that DWJ mentioned that “anyone who can follow Dr. Who can follow this in their sleep.”
So. This book has “sex, violence, politics, and the arcane skulduggery of science or magecraft”, which, as mentioned in her essay, were also apparent in DWJ’s children’s books, only not spelled out loud with 100% more explanation and more Doctor Who vibes. All of which spells “perfectly good read” to me, even if it won’t be in my top ten favourite DWJs. I dragged out my reading for as long as I could, gleefully savouring the feeling of reading a “brand new” Diana Wynne Jones, and finished it with the sober realisation that this was the last novel in my “reread” list that I had to read for the first time. I could always reread it, of course, and the whole point of my DWJ reread is that every read brings out something new, but still. Not counting Changeover, there are no new worlds from her for me to discover. That made me sad, and I kind of dread reaching Chaldea in my rereads, even though I know that after that, I could always start all over again.
(Happy Friday the 13th! Also, Zillah Green is probably in my list of top ten favourite DWJ characters. But I’ll write more on that one day, when I reread this book.)