Monday, February 09, 2009

Recent Reading: Hexwood

by Diana Wynne Jones

I'm not on an Arthuriana kick at the moment, honestly. This book didn't even admit to being Arthuriana until half way through.

Unlike a lot of people I know, I've only read bits and pieces of Diana Wynne Jones's work. For the benefit of those who've read even less of her than that, I should note that she's classified as a children's author - one of many who was doing rather good magical fantasy for kids years before J.K.Rowling first hit the coffee shops - but that she has a significant adult readership. I've quite liked most of her stuff that I have read, but I've never felt the urge to be systematic about it. However, Hexwood finally came to my hand the other day.

It turned out to be a bit of an oddity, to put it mildly. It's structured as a conventional children's fantasy in some ways, with a child protagonist observing strange goings-on in her vicinity and entering the nearby woods to discover more, but it's presumably intended for slightly older readers; aside from the very discreet references to sexuality, the structure very soon turns rather weird. The wood which our heroine observes, and the power which turns out to be playing a godgame with everyone involved, generate a wildly achronological plotline, with the people who our heroine meets appearing at different points in what seems to be a process of childhood, youth, and education when she visits at different times over a period of a couple of days. If I'd tried reading this when I was young, I think that I'd have found the repetition and lack of strong chronology very off-putting.

Anyway - things eventually expand, and turn more linear again. From past reading, I get the impression that Jones has a weakness for throwing in numerous new characters whenever she thinks that a plot needs some jazzing up, and here, we get a shift to a realm of galactic commercial politics, complete with a batch of sleazy corporate/palace villains who flail around trying to work out what to do about the problem that's developing on Earth. There are also lumps of backstory, much of it solid but some of it sadly underdeveloped, and the growing mass of Arthurian imagery, which for a while looks like it might, say, be an incidental by-product of the imaginative influence of a minor character, but turns out to be fairly crucial. (Although actually, the Arthurian imagery of many of the plot incidents is pretty much unconnected to the Arthurian elements in the backstory.) Then our plucky child heroine, who'd seemed likeable enough if underdeveloped as a character, turns out to have been just an aspect of an adult heroine who wanders in from a bunch of minor offstage jokes. (Having the heroine turn out to be a princess is all very well, but, well, honestly...) Then we get some dragons, with little apparent justification except that the book's godgame-playing grail seems to be capable of almost anything and is doing whatever will drive the plot in order to educate the lead characters, in a way that I'd only expect from the plotting of far less respectable children's authors.

I dunno. Maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe a lot. But Hexwood seems like a lot of under-digested ideas, cobbled together and rushed out. Fortunately, I do know that Diana Wynne Jones is capable of better.

1 comment:

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