Title: The Merlin Conspiracy
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Series: Magids #2
Nick desperately wants to travel to other worlds. He’s actually from another one, originally, and has traveled to a few. But that was in the (not-so-distant) past. Now he and his adopted dad live more or less peacefully on Earth, and for all Nick’s scheming to be a Magid and once more walk the worlds, he seems destined for an ordinary life. Then someone sends him stumbling into a place quite different . . .
Roddy travels with the King’s Progress all over England. In Blest, the king, the Merlin, and much of his court have to visit the country to keep it healthy. But foul schemes are afoot. When the Merlin unexpectedly dies, and things begin to go strange, Roddy and her friend Grundo may be the only two who notice what’s happening. But how can two children turn things around when no one will listen?
This is by far the better Magids book, mostly because of Nick. That said, since it ties only very loosely to the first, you could read this as a standalone and never realize it’s actually a sequel. Nick and Roddy alternate narrations, and it works pretty well (except the first time they meet is told twice, and is a bit awkward).
I liked Nick immensely in Deep Secret, and I’m glad he finally got a chance to shine. Nick’s agreeable, seemingly passive, an absolute zombie in the morning without copious amounts of coffee, and fantastically ignorant about most of what he’s up against. He’s got a way of just stumbling into trouble, making it worse, then summoning up his innate slipperiness to wiggle out of it. His first time journeying into another world he’s convinced it’s all a dream. He’s so convinced he plays along with everything just long enough to really dig himself in a hole. He also presents an amusing twist on the classic animal companion trope—his black panther scares him spitless, and the one time he tries to turn to the panther for help, it doesn’t work.
Roddy’s sections are not as much fun for me, because Roddy herself is more uptight, and she’s a worrier. She provides a lot of needed perspective on the situation in Blest, and certainly interesting things keep happening around her.
The cast of characters is enormous, but it never gets confusing. Similarly, the magics are many and varied, but somehow it all works. I like the depth in the worlds and the characters, and how the story has so much humanity in all of its madcap adventure. I like how even the characters we don’t see much of, such as Japheth, are sketched with the suggestion of a life beyond the page (as Maxwell Hyde puts it, although a little event may have triggered a big one down the road, that can’t be all there is to the story). And the book packs in all kinds of humor.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve re-read this, but I’ve enjoyed it every time. I rate this book Highly Recommended.