Title: Deep Secret
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Series: Magids #1
Rupert Venables, as the youngest Magid, gets the jobs nobody else wants. Like being on call to the Empire of Koryfos, a kingdom situated at the junction of the multiverse that separates the worlds with magic and the worlds without. An Empire so paranoid about coups that its heirs—by law—aren’t even allowed to know they ARE heirs. So when an attack takes out the Emperor and most of his court, the Empire has no way of knowing where to look for its line of succession. On top of that, more ordinary concerns, like finding a new Magid to replace his mentor or actually doing his day job, are pulling Rupert in a hundred different directions. But everything has so many different ways of going WRONG . . .
I don’t really care for the more kid-friendly cartoon cover, as that masks some of the more adult situations that come up in this book, like the orgy happening at the back of the con party. It’s not as though the book dwells on them, but since they are present, I would hope younger kids aren’t making it far enough to ask really awkward questions (or worse, deciding to look it up themselves). This is more unfortunate because the sequel really is good for a younger age range, which makes it more likely for a determined kid to hunt this one down.
That said, the book is classic Diana Wynne Jones: lots of characters who are so amazingly HUMAN in all their weirdness and foibles, a plot that looks simple and turns into a complicated maze that unfolds in just the right way at the end, multiverses, magicians, and a lot of great magic. I’m pretty sure the planets Thule and Blest come up in some of her other books, too, so there’s some nice continuity if you’ve read more of her books.
Rupert shares the narration with Maree, who was one of his candidates for Magid until he actually met her. That meeting goes so badly he sets up spells to keep her away from him (which she foils completely by accident). Rupert the neat freak, the rich man, and presumably handsome, clashes intensely with poor, dumpy, ugly Maree, who despite all that is quite fierce and determined and not about to let anything keep her from doing what she needs to do. Their interactions are some of the funniest moments in the book.
It’s also not hard to imagine Diana Wynne Jones may have had real people in mind when she wrote the writer’s conference. For all the aliens, centaurs, and magicians who are using the conference for their own ends, the ordinary people are actually weirder. (And the poor conference manager who is trying desperately to keep things on track as the weekend spirals more and more out of control.) And the villains range from that one lady who grabs you and JUST WON’T STOP TALKING to people with no hesitation about shooting children in cold blood. She’s a master at spanning the range of ordinary frustrations to the black depths of evil. She shows people who are people in all their beauty and nastiness, however many legs they happen to walk on.
I do happen to like the sequel more (because Nick is amazing and he gets a much bigger role in the next book), but this one is well worth a read for those mature enough to handle some of the more adult pieces of the story. I rate this book Recommended.