Wednesday, 11 April 2012

More on Diana Wynne Jones

Following up from my earlier "J" post, a quick run down of some of Diana's books.

Virtually all of her books can be read and enjoyed as stand alone novels, but she does have some recurring characters and settings.  The jokes are funnier if you know a bit about some of her characters, but with few exceptions, there isn't really a suggested reading order.

Here we go: 

Dalemark Quartet
These four books are set in Dalemark - a kind of northern slightly steampunkish Europe.  They can be read in any order, but chronologically they go like this -
The Spellcoats - set in the far past of Dalemark and telling the story of the mythic first family from the perspective of Tanaqui (a member of that family).  In common with a lot of Diana's work, the story uses a first person perspective, so for a lot of the book, Tanaqui is unaware of how important she and her siblings are.

Cart and Cwidder - centuries later (possibly thousands of years, it's been a while since I read it).  Travelling minstrel's son finds an artifact from the earlier age.

Drowned Ammet - set slightly after Cart and Cwidder and deals with an uprising seen through the eyes of Mitt.  He also appears in The Crown of Dalemark.

The Crown of Dalemark  is set in modern Dalemark but takes its heroine back to Mitt's time two centuries before.  It links all the four books together and makes better sense read that way, but stands as a good story in its own right.

Crestomanci series
These are by far her best known books.  When Harry Potter burst onto the scene, Diana was reprinted as she deals with some of the same things as J K Rowling - i.e. young wizards and their education.  Crestomanci is an extremely powerful nine-lived magician with a penchant for flamboyant dressing gowns.  He is a civil servant whose job is to maintain the balance of magic throughout the worlds.

Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Conrad's Fate
Witch Week
The Magicians of Caprona, and
The Pinhoe Egg

all include Crestomanci at various stages of his life.  There are many recurring characters and the above list is Diana's recommended reading order.  Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona are set in other worlds and feature Crestomanci, although neither is strictly about him.  Witch Week uses alternate history and The Magicians of Caprona  is set in a wonderful pseudo-Florence.

Dark Lord of Derkhelm
Year of the Griffin
Two books which specifically pinpoint and make enormous fun of traditional fantasy settings.   These books really are best read in sequence.  In Dark Lord the land is infested with tourist parties who have paid to go on fantasy adventures.  It also draws heavily (and hilariously) on The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land - a must read for anyone addicted to fantasy.  Once the mess at the end of Dark Lord  is resolved, Year of the Griffin takes place at a university shortly afterwards and takes a cheerful swipe at academia.

Three books feature the side-stepping Welsh wizard and his family. 
Howl's Moving Castle  turns fairy tale conventions on their head.  Castle in the Air features many of the same characters and has an Arabian Nights setting.  The House of Many Ways has a more northern feel and includes kobolds and lubbokin as well as some royal politicking.  The heroine is one of Diana's many quirky, clever and unknowingly gifted girls. 

Another two which can be read separately but are linked by a couple of characters.  Deep Secret takes place at a SciFi/Fantasy convention and is a personal favourite for obvious reasons.  The Merlin Conspiracy uses Arthurian legend in a modern setting.  Both books use multiple protagonist voices.

Apart from the books that fall roughly into sets, there are a large number of genuine stand alones with no crossover characters.

Eight Days of Luke - norse myth
Dogsbody - Sirius the star is banished to Earth as a dog.
Homeward Bounders - a great one for gamers. 
Hexwood - another great one for gamers, but has the most complex plot I've ever encountered.
The Game - novella and another of my personal favourites.  Myths from the outside in.
Archer's Goon - wizards trapped in a town and farming its various resources.  Also features writer's block.
Time of the Ghost - this one always seems to have been drawn specifically from Diana's own childhood.  Do not make midnight bargains with ancient goddesses.
Fire and Hemlock - Tam Linn

I don't know how many of these are in print at the moment, but the most likely would be the Crestomanci and Howl series. 


  1. Is she classed as a YA author? or more in the vein of J.K.Rowling?

    I'm thinking I should try writing a spoof on the YA genre... you know, just to make more friends ;)

    1. Crestomanci is usually classed as children's, along with Howl. Magids were classed as adult, most of the rest you can probably find under YA - whatever that means.

      Personally I don't find a lot of difference.

      A spoof, you say? And why not :)

  2. Awesome. I've been meaning to get in to DWJ. Dalemark Quartet is on my bookshelf.

    A-Z @ Elizabeth Twist

  3. Incredibly thorough. Thanks!