Book review

The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (2003)

Have you ever thought about how people's lives intertwine? You can have two complete strangers, living completely different lives, and for a moment their paths might cross, perhaps in a restaurant or on a bus, and just for a while their lives tell the same story. Then they might go their separate ways again - or not.

There are two stories here. They seem to run side by side, but eventually, almost at the very end, you suddenly discover that they are really the same story, approached from different points.

There's Roddy, who is the daughter of a Court Wizard, and has travelled with the King's Progress all her life. She lives in the Isles of Blest which are like, but not like, the British Isles. There's a lot of magic in Blest, and the Court Wizard appointed to keep the magic healthy is known as the Merlin. So, it's quite a big event when the Merlin dies suddenly in the middle of a ritual. It's big enough to overshadow any squabbling between Roddy and her mother about whether a life on the road with the King's Progress is a proper sort of life for a growing girl.

No-one seems terribly impressed with the new Merlin:

The young man clasped his hands together with his arms pointing straight down, rather as if he were pulling on a rope, and he began to sway, round and round. The bonfire seemed to imitate him. It broke into long pennants of orange flame that roared and crackled and sent a great spiral of smoke and burning blobs high into the evening sky. The extra light caught and glistened on tears pouring down the Merlin's small, pointed face. He started to give out big gulping sobs.
'Oh, Lord! He's a weeper!' Grandad said disgustedly. 'I wish I'd known. I'd have stayed away'.
'A lot of the Merlins have cried when they prophesied', Dad pointed out.
I know. But I don't have to like it, do I?' Grandad retorted.

But Roddy is shocked to the core when she discovers the Merlin is implicated in a plot to bespell the King and all the Court. This is high treason!

Well, Roddy, and her dear friend Grundo, are going to need some help to sort this one out. They appear to be the only members of the Court not affected by the spell. It's fortunate, perhaps, that Blest is not the only world out there in the multiverse ...

Meet Nick. That's Nichothodes Koryfoides, but you can call him Nick Mallory. He lives more or less on planet earth. He has an interesting past, but we're not really let into the secret of it in this book. Nick is gifted. He has strong magic, but he needs to learn to use it and he is mad keen to travel between the worlds, which he knows are out there. Actually, he's better at doing it accidentally rather than on purpose. Doesn't sound as though he's quite the right person to help Roddy solve the Merlin Conspiracy, does he?

You'll see ...

Strong magic, convoluted plot, and plenty of it! If you enjoy a longer book, like the later Harry Potters, I think you'll love this one. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

Diana Wynne Jones has written plenty of other books. For me, The Merlin Conspiracy stands alone, but you might like to look at any of these:

I love books about magic, the stronger the better! If you were carried away with The Merlin Conspiracy, like I was, then I think you might like to look at this one by Garth Nix:

Or you could look at this one by Peter Dickinson:

There is the wonderful Snow-Walker trilogy, full of strong Viking magic, by Catherine Fisher:

And of course, if you haven't already come across Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, then you have a great treat ahead of you!

One more recommendation! You might enjoy this wonderful old London created by Philip Reeve:

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