Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fire and Hemlock
by Diana Wynne Jones

Polly's having trouble remembering. For some reason, she seems to have two conflicting sets of memories, memories which lead back to meeting Tom Lynn at Hunsdon House on Hallowe'en. Something strange happened to her as a teenager, something tied to the make-believe stories she and Tom created about Tan Coul and his assistant, Hero. Something about them coming true.

Diana Wynne Jones's books often straddle age groups. Much like the Harry Potter series, her Castle and Chrestomanci books are written for children or young adults, but can easily be enjoyed by adults. The same is true of Fire and Hemlock, which is a coming-of-age story. But Fire and Hemlock, on the other hand, is definitely not written for children. It's the story of a young adult for adults. And it's wonderful.

I discovered Jones in the past year or so, and with every book of hers I read, I become a bigger fan. She is an excellent writer, and with Fire and Hemlock, it's not just for creating fun, whimsical stories. It's for creating a nuanced tale that is both a classic retelling and a modern (at the time) fantasy. I now rank Jones as one of my all-time favourite authors. She's right up there with Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

But what to tell you about the story itself? Polly is a well-drawn protagonist. Unlike many YA fantasy protagonists, whose are forced to struggle with their new abilities or their transition into a magical world, Polly's problems are almost entirely mundane: unkind peers, unrequited love, and divorced parents. And these mundane problems are what I think really sets Jones's stories apart from other YA, especially the terrible parents she creates. I really like that about Jones: almost all her protagonists have horrible parents (or none at all), which forces them to persevere entirely on their own. It adds breadth and believability to her stories, and is very much in evidence in Fire and Hemlock.

I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy coming-of-age stories, books with a female protagonist, or just excellent YA in general.

View my suggested books by Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: young adult fantasy
Format: e-book
Copy source: personal library

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