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Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

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All over the multiverse the Magids, powerful magicians, are at work to maintain the balance between positive and negative magic, for the good of all.

Rupert Venables is the junior Magid assigned to Earth and to the troublesome planets of the Koyrfonic Empire. When the Emperor dies without a known heir, Rupert is called into service to help prevent the descent of the Empire into chaos. At the same time, the senior Magid on Earth dies, making Rupert a new senior desperately in need of a junior. Rupert thinks his problems are partially solved when he discovers he can meet all five of the potential Magids on Earth by attending one SF convention in England. However, the convention hotel sits on a node, a nexus of the universes. Rupert soon finds that other forces, some of them completely out of control, are there too….
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Deep Secret is, perhaps, a book that this is not the most auspicious time to rerelease; in the midst of serial dramas in fandom, a novel that is very much about fandom is a risky choice. On the other hand in the wake of the first UK WorldCon in nearly a decade, a novel that has an awful lot of its action take place at a UK convention (modelled closely on EasterCon) is perhaps not all that bad a choice after all…

Jones’ novel is nearly two decades old now, written in the dying years of the Major government, when fanzines were still largely paper affairs and the modern idea of social media not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Deep Secret is, in some ways, dated by that; its description of convention running, and how that functions, is surprisingly accurate to Satellite4, though, right down to the rather confusing (although thankfully not ratty-looking) schedule. Indeed, the portrayal of gophers, of casual and well meaning chaos, of unexpected feuds appearing mid-con all seems to line up with my own limited convention experience. But this isn’t really the core of the novel; more an aside before we delve into Deep Secret‘s own secrets.

The plot of Deep Secret is a slightly messy one. Rupert is assigned to oversee the transition of power – and, theoretically, downfall – of an inter-universal empire where magic is accepted much more readily than on Earth, whilst also, on Earth itself, searching for the replacement for his now-deceased mentor. Inevitably, the two jobs have a lot more interaction and entanglement than expected, and complications ensue. Some of these complications and really well written and, indeed, are foreshadowed interestingly or make sense of earlier elements of the book in hindsight; the way Jones conveys the intention of the Magids to allow the empire to flounder, for instance, is there right from the start with Rupert. However, Deep Secret also uses fate as a deus ex machina an awful lot at the end of the novel; indeed, the resolution is almost literally a god from the machine, played in such a blunt way as to bring the reader – up to that point greatly enjoying the tension and invested in the way Jones builds it – to a screeching halt in the face of “Suddenly, resolution!”

On the other hand Deep Secret‘s romance plot works much better than the main plot, even while ticking off any number of the stereotypes of the romance, especially the one of disdain becoming attraction. Mind you, a romance plot of reliant on strong character-work, and it is here that Jones delivers in spades; Deep Secret has a wonderful, and incredibly human, cast. From the increasingly shaky arrogance and self-assurance of Rupert, and his relationship with the ghostly and down-to-Earth Stan, to the student Malee Mallory with her heartbreak and stereotypical teenage self-absorption (a little odd in a 20-year-old, granted), each member of the core cast has a unique voice and brings something different and individual to the ensemble; and the supporting cast do the same, with their different relationships to the various protagonists and their simpler but still unique styles.

Deep Secret is a fantastic novel of character, and a wonderful portrayal and send up of fandom; it is simply a shame that Jones’ plot relies so heavily on deus ex machina to solve its problems at the close of the novel.

DoI: Review based on an ARC requested from the publisher, Tor Books. The new, paperback edition of Deep Secret will be released 16th December.


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