Friday, 15 September 2000

Diana Wynne Jones: A Sudden Wild Magic (1992)

Edition: Gollancz, 1997
Review number: 622

A Sudden Wild Magic hovers uneasily between the child and adult book markets; it is basically a child oriented plot to which sex scenes have been added.

The fundamental idea is that it is a magical cabal who have protected Great Britain throughout history - a convenient hurricane destroying the Armada here, Hitler deciding to invade Russia rather than Kent there - but with a twist: most of the world's crises have been magical in origin, set in motion by beings from another universe in order to make use of the technology and magical lore developed to counter them. In some ways, this idea has interest, but it is based on a distinctly simplistic view of how something as complex as world history works.

The novel begins with the discovery by the cabal that the alien race is tampering with history. They send a group off to destroy the space-station-like structure from which the crises have been launched and from where the efforts made in counteraction observed. The plot is completed with a glib, throwaway ending (which manages to use two deus ex machina characters).

More criticisms can be made, including incongruities such as the fact that despite watching Earth for hundreds of years, the observers had never worked out that both they and those they watched were human. The fact that this is made the reason for immediately ending the exploitation is strange; human beings have never had any particular compunction about exploiting each other, and surely intelligence is as good a ground to stop for a civilised race - and that those observed were intelligent must have been obvious.

A Sudden Wild Magic may be an exceptionally lazy novel, but it has one big merit. It is well enough written to encourage the reader, once started, to get through to the end (disappointing though that may prove to be).

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