12 May 2014

Enchanted Glass

Enchanted Glass  
 Diana Wynne Jones

Andrew Hope inherits Melstone House from his grandfather, along with the old man's field-of-care, which stretches into the countryside around the house and the local town of Melstone. Unfortunately Andrew does not fully understand the implications of what he has taken on. When orphaned Aidan Cain runs away from his foster home and turns up at Melstone House, having been told by his grandmother to go there if he's ever in danger, he brings changes in his wake. Andrew is made to remember some of the magical things his grandfather told him, and comes to understand a dangerous deal made between his ancestor and reclusive neighbour Mr Brown. How does this connect with the beautiful stained glass in Melstone House, and why are there so many people who look similar turning up.

I'm a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones, having discovered her books as a teenager and reading loads of them, even when I guess I was technically too old for most of them (not that that should be an issue with books, they are designed to be enjoyed whatever your age). Enchanted Glass is a standalone children's book set in a fictional part of rural England, with a brief diversion into London. As with many of Jones's books the setting is one where there seems to be magic, but it is not quite out in the open. Many of the main characters have some form of magic that is inherently linked to their personality - another staple of Jones's work. In the case of Stashe O'Connor it only manifests in small ways, but both Andrew and Aidan have a lot of magical talent, even if neither fully understands what they can do and they have to help each other to discover their powers.

Andrew Hope and Aidan Cain (whose name no one can get right) are the main characters. Man and boy have quite a few similarities. Both had a close relationship with a magical grandparent, both have family issues that are only partly explored. Both can do powerful magic, but aren't quite sure of themselves. Academic Andrew seems very passive and non-confrontational, causing him to have a reputation as an absent-minded professor (not that he is a professor at all). When in fact he arranges things to avoid confrontation and has a very solid presence that he doesn't always reveal. Aidan is a brave kid who runs from London to strangers in Melstone House when weird forces pursue him. He is able to show Andrew a child's-eye view of things, and reminds him of things that he had forgotten when grown up and preoccupied with adult concerns. Stashe O'Connor is the main female character, who is manipulated into helping in Andrew's house by her uncle, but soon proves invaluable at spotting when odd things are happening and sorting out problems.
The book is full of supporting characters from the small town of Melstone. Most of them have the surname Stock (Jones rightly shows that in some parts of England you do find people who aren't directly related who all have the same surname). Andrew's housekeeper and gardener are both determined to keep doing things their way and scheme against him and each other to gain the upper hand. The conflict between these characters is domestic and well written, providing much entertainment as well as contributing to the plot as much as the actions of the main characters. They are perhaps caricatures, but they are bold and memorable.

This is a fun book, full of personality and magic. The plot is well paced and rarely falls into obvious or predictable patterns. It has many of the elements often found in Jones's other stories, including an antagonist who is not immediately apparent, a modern link to folktale characters, magic in unexpected places and people getting on with their lives in the face of the unusual.

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