Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret (Tor, 1999)

The Multiverse, as revealed on the first page of Deep Secret, is shaped like an Infinity symbol, with the worlds that believe in and practice magic on the Ayewards side and the worlds that don't on the Naywards side. The Empire of Koryfos is situated right at the point where the eight twists. Individuals known as Magids oversee the events on all worlds, occasionally nudging them along to be in line with what is "Intended" from "Up There."

Rupert Venables, Earth's junior Magid, finds himself promoted suddenly when the senior Magid, Stan, dies. His first task is to find a new junior Magid, and Stan thoughtfully left him a list of five prime candidates. Just as he is about to track them down, however, the Koryfonic Emperor is assassinated. To make things worse, he has hidden all of his heirs. Now Rupert has two jobs to do: locate a suitable junior Magid and keep the Koryfonic Empire from falling apart completely while he searches for the heir to the Empire.

He finds one Magid candidate, the stubborn, rather intimidating Maree Mallory, and decides that she is entirely unsuitable. But Maree, along with her cousin and partner in crime, Nick, end up at the same location to which Rupert is drawing the other four candidates: Phantasmacon, a science fiction convention at the Hotel Babylon in Wantchester, England. Rupert finds himself jumping between worlds and his two tasks until suddenly, they are inextricably entwined.

Jones's trademark style is to set you down in the middle of things and assume you will figure things out -- and you do. The plot is very tightly woven and suspenseful, full of intrigue and plenty of red herrings. Humor is an important element of Jones's style, and set against the background of a science fiction convention, it can't help but be funny.

The characters are complex, unpredictable, and realistic. Maree makes a wonderful and interesting heroine, and her personality emerges subtly. The villains are a little less complex but never two dimensional, and some of the characters provide quite a surprise.

Deep Secret was published first in Great Britain in 1997, and all I can say is, it's about time it was reprinted in the United States.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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