Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones
Probably best known for her Chrestomanci series and for the novel Howl’s Moving Castle (which was adapted into an excellent film by Japan’s Studio Ghibli), Diana Wynne Jones is truly a titan amongst British fantasy authors, having published more than forty books and influenced hugely successful fellow authors such as JK Rowling and Philip Pullman. Wynne Jones’ latest standalone novel, the delightfully magical Enchanted Glass, follows the [mis]adventures of Professor Andrew Hope after he inherits Melstone House from his grandfather, the magician Jocelyn Brandon. Although Andrew has fond childhood memories of his time at Melstone House, a career spent in academia has dimmed his recollection of the second aspect of his inheritance, his grandfather’s ‘field of work’ – that is, the area of magical strangeness that cover the land surrounding the House. Central to this ‘field of work’ is the precious, enchanted stained glass window in the kitchen door that draws the adult Andrew to it just as it did the child:
As a boy, he had spent fascinated hours looking at the garden through each differently coloured pane. Depending, you got a rose pink sunset garden, hushed and windless; a stormy orange garden, where it was suddenly autumn; a tropical green garden, where there seemed likely to be parrots and monkeys any second. And so on. As an adult now, Andrew valued that glass even more. Magic apart, it was old old old. The glass had all sorts of internal wrinkles and trapped bubbles, and the long-dead maker had somehow managed to make the colours both intense and misty at once.
Aside from the magical hijinks that threaten to derail his orderly life, Andrew also has to deal with the eccentric cast of characters that he seems to have inherited along with Melstone House. He begins a stealthy war of attrition against Mrs Stock, the tyrannical housekeeper who wants Melstone House to remain exactly as it was during the life of Andrew’s grandfather. Everyday Andrew rearranges the furniture in the drawing room and then, every night, Mrs Stock puts it back exactly where it had previously been. For her part, Mrs Stock punishes Andrew for his “radical” ways by serving up endless portions of cauliflower cheese. Then there’s Mr Stock (no relation, it’s just that kind of village), the gardener, who barges through the back door every morning with no thought for the delicate glass embedded within it in order to grudgingly leave inedibly large vegetables on the kitchen table. Andrew is only able to avoid being buried under these monstrous veggies by secretly feeding them to the mysterious creature that comes to feed each night on the roof of the old shed. Almost as problematic as Mr Stock is his niece, Stashe, a truly feisty female and a potential love interest for Andrew. Added to the mix, is young runaway Aidan Cain, who arrives at the House begging Andrew for protection from the shadowy beings that are pursuing him.
As the mischief and madness escalate, Andrew frantically searches for the instructions for his grandfather’s ‘field of care’ in an attempt to curtail the craziness and to prevent the odious Mr Brown, the ostentatious owner of nearby Melstone Manor, from encroaching on Melstone House land.
Enchanted Glass is another excellent children’s fantasy book from Diana Wynne Jones featuring her trademark elements of magical unreality, peculiar characters and the struggle of good against evil. Wynne Jones is truly gifted at adding magic to the mundane and some of the most wonderful elements of Enchanted Glass are found in the small struggles that the characters engage in, whether they be battles over pianos or problematic vegetables. The final thrilling conclusion of Andrew’s struggle to gain control of the ‘field of work’ actually takes place during the village fete – magical shenanigans amongst the knobbly knees competition and so on. The contrast between the world of magic and the world of the normals is subtly drawn and no character is truly what they seem. Wynne Jones has succeeded in melding together her own staple fantastical considerations with those of long-established myth and legend.
Excitingly humorous and delicately magical, Enchanted Glass is a wonderful fantasy novel that is sure to please long-term fans of Diana Wynne Jones and newcomers alike.