July 9, 2010
House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
More than anything else, Charmain Baker would rather spend time with books, either her own or someone else’s. So she pens a letter to the King, volunteering to work in the royal library.
Then several relatives, including her mother, volunteer her to house sit for Great Uncle William, the Royal Wizard of Norland. Mother has never held much with magic — what would the neighbors say to something so base and common — so Charmain knows nothing about this special skill. But someone has to look after the place while her Uncle is away and Charmain is the only one with nothing to do.
Not only does Charmain have nothing to do, she has very few skills as she discovers when she gets to the house. She has no idea how to make her own meals, do laundry or clean a house. That said, Great Uncle Williams house is no ordinary house. There are no taps in the kitchen so where does the water come from? And whenever she wonders aloud how to do something, Great Uncle William’s tired voice gives sounds out of thin air to give her the answer. And why do you sometimes end up one place when you go through a doorway, and sometimes another completely different? Maybe she’ll just settle down with a good book and wait for her uncle to return, so she heads up to his library in search of something to read and finds an interesting looking, but tricky, spell book.
Then a boy her own age shows up in the midst of a rain storm. He is to be the wizards apprentice and is aghast at how little Charmain knows. She may not know much, but Charmain quickly notices how often Peter’s spells go awry while mysteriously, her own seem to come together rather nicely in spite of her lack of knowledge.
To her great surprise, Charmain is invited to help in the Royal Library. To her dismay, she doesn’t get to read all day. She is to look for documents that might answer a mystery — where is all the money in the kingdom going? If this leak isn’t found and stopped, soon they will have to ally themselves with a neighboring kingdom of dubious reputation. Charmain knows that the answer must be somewhere if she can only decide who to trust and where to look for information.
I listened to this one as a book on tape and wasn’t altogether sure I’d stick it out. Charmain was so utterly useless and more than a little snippy, but I’m glad I did. This isn’t your classic high fantasy — magic and mysterious creatures abound but there are no dragons and many people exist without magic , or so they think.
Readers who enjoy mysteries and/or fantasy would enjoy this tale although it may be more suited to girls than boys who really won’t care how much trouble Charmain had doing her own hair.