The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones – From the title, you might think this book relates to Arthurian legend. And it sort of does, but really only tangentially. It’s about an alternate version of Britain (hardly new territory for Jones) where “Merlin” is actually the title of a wizard who strives to maintain the balance of magic in that world and others. The conspiracy part comes in when it appears that the newly appointed Merlin is involved in a plot to drastically shift the world’s magical power. The book shifts between the points of view of its two protagonists, the court member Arianrhod (Roddy for short) and the amateur world-jumper Nick. I think my favorite character, however, might actually be Romanov, a freelance wizard living on an island made up of parts of several different worlds. Also, there’s an elephant, and I like elephants. It’s a very interesting and fairly complex story, and I was fascinated to find out how elements that initially seem minor, like the mystery writer Nick’s adopted father wants to meet, Romanov’s bitchy ex-wife, and the Prayermasters of Loggia City, become significant later on. It’s interesting that Jones gives little description of the Prayermasters, yet I could totally imagine what they were like by thinking of pretty much anyone who’s defended atrocities in the name of religion. One odd thing is that I initially thought Roddy was a boy, until it was explicitly spelled out that she was female. At one point, her grandmother complains that “Roddy” is a boy’s name, so maybe that had something to do with my mistake. And there’s an interesting coincidence in that I mentioned Gwyn ap Nudd, Welsh Lord of the Dead, in this post, and he plays an important part in the book.
By the way, I’ve noticed that a great many of Jones’s books include travel to alternate worlds, yet I’ve never heard of her doing a crossover. It wouldn’t be too difficult to have, say, Chrestomanci meet Howl, but Jones seems uninterested in something like that happening. This isn’t a good or bad thing, just an observation.