Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Black Maria - Diana Wynne Jones

I like happy endings. And I asked Chris why something should be truer just because it's unhappy. He couldn't answer.
I’ve learned to always expect the unexpected with Diana Wynne Jones. Her stories are highly originally and she obviously had plot bunnies coming out of her ears. I can’t say I’m an expert on the Wynne Jones, this is only my second book of hers, but I plan to become one, if all her books are as fun as this.

Black Maria is mostly a story about power, about ancient rules and feuds and treachery, in a remote village on the coast of England (I’m assuming).  When their father dies, Mig, Chris and their mother are forced to spend their Easter holidays with their annoying Aunt Maria. The three of them find themselves slaving away to accommodate the old woman’s needs, while the other Mrs  of the village keep court in her leaving room every afternoon.
It’s the stuff of nightmares for the kids who were looking forward to some holiday fun. But their fears take a different meaning when things start being not just boring, but REALLY weird. For starters, there’s a ghost in Chris’s bedroom. Then there’s them kids in the orphanage who look like clones. The men who look like zombies. And a cat who looks like an old lady. There’s definitely something dodgy about the whole thing. It’s only a matter of time until things start to get out of hands and action needs to be taken.

I admit it started off slow. I had no idea where she was going with this, but I liked the narrator’s voice, a girl of undisclosed age, I'm guessing 12 or 13, who is certain she is going to write Famous Books one day and practises daily on her journal. I also liked her snarky brother and even more so their mother. I liked the mother from the start, even though she’s not a prominent character until much later (at this point I should just admit I have a thing for mothers and get it over with), but this one was particularly adorable, especially through the eyes of her daughter.  Without giving too much away, I can say that this is not your typical kids fantasy adventure, where the parents take a background role. This is full-on mothers/daughters action and I loved it for that.
There are mysteries to solve, brothers to save and time travels to be had. And there’s that mother/daughter bonding through ass-kicking that was totally awesome.

It wasn’t a perfect book. There were some bits that left me confused, especially the kids’ relationship with their father. And I had hoped for a slightly different ending concerning Aunt Maria.  But other than that, it was just pure great fun, and I look forward to more of the same with her other books.

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Yep, this one's excellent. I mean they're all excellent, but Black Maria is one of the DWJ books that I always forget about. And it's sneakily really great. I love all the stuff in there about gender and gender roles, and how repressive they can be.