I'm going to use the might of my media arm here - and I'm going to do it shamelessly. If you don't like dripping praise, skip this one.
I love Diana Wynne Jones. Simple as that.
I first discovered her about three years ago, when someone in my family bought me the whole Dalemark Quartet, in one volume, in a half-priced bookstore because, he said, he "thought he had heard of her somewhere and thought I might like it." Next thing I knew, I was bounding along like a husky through the snow, as Ann Lamott says about writing (not), and I found myself laughing aloud at how great the storytelling was. In particular, there was a magical quality to Drowned Ammet which captivated me but which I still can't put my finger on.
The best thing was, when I looked at the list in the front pages, I was gobsmacked to discover that she had written over thirty books. It was like discovering treasure. This woman was clearly a Grande Dame of British fantasy.
Since then I have read every one I could put my hands on - or read them to my kids - and while they are not all as good as Drowned Ammett was for me the first time, they are, for the most part, remarkable feats of storytelling. True, they are technically "young adult", but I don't see how they have to be only young adult, as the stories are interesting to everyone. She has a deft hand with point-of-view, letting us see things but not necessarily understand them, while the characters are frustratingly naive or unwilling to interact with adults who could explain things, but therein often lies some of the tension. Personally, I admire her sheer innovativeness, which is hard to parallel. And best of all, she manages to write fantasy without cardboard cutout characters or shorthand scenery, or all those annoying things we think of when we're feeling tired of "fantasy" as a genre; her stories are grounded in place - meaning they tend to take place in one very-carefully thought out place - and well crafted. When magic happens, it is experienced by the character: it exists not as an action, but as a feeling.
There! It may not be Cabinet-worthy, and you may have all heard of her before, but I wanted to do it. And now I have.
* * *
For an interesting analysis of her writing, check out this well-written review, thanks to Strange Horizons, of Farah Mendlesohn's excellent creative criticism work on DWJ, which you can buy in book form at relatively high cost (I'm asking for it for my birthday). She has a good eye, does Ms. Mendlesohn.
My personal favorites, to get newbies started:
- Chrestomancy books
- Dark Lord of Derkholm, which is screamingly funny
- Castle in the Air (a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, which she also wrote - not to be confused with Castle in the Sky, the movie)
- The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a "guide", to all the pitfalls of cheesy fantasy-writing. Well done, hilarious, and easy to keep by your bed or elsewhere to pick up in odd moments
- and the Dalemark Quartet, of course.