Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (1985)

One day, when she is going through some of her belongings from childhood, nineteen-year-old Polly is suddenly flooded with a second set of memories. These contradict everything she thought she knew about herself, and instead recall a series of adventures she had with a cellist named Tom Lynn. The story explores these memories and the impact of Tom's friendship on her life during the time when her parents' marriage is breaking up. 

I am not a fantasy reader, so I don't have a lot of practice at picking up on the allusions authors include in fantasy novels, and I often feel lost in the genre. This book, which is probably the most complicated fantasy story I have ever picked up, was not an easy read for me, but I do feel it was worthwhile. Diana Wynne Jones writes beautifully, and even when I wasn't sure exactly what was happening, or what mythological references were being made, I still wanted to keep reading so that I could take in more of her prose. 

The mood of this book reminds me a lot of The Dark is Rising, but whereas I think of Susan Cooper as mianly a middle grade author, Fire and Hemlock skews very strongly in the YA direction. I'd probably hand it to a thirteen-year-old who was a strong reader, but most likely not a ten-year-old just because I think it's hard for younger readers to empathize with some the teen angst Polly experiences.

Fire and Hemlock is very different from anything I've ever read, and it's a definite challenge, but I gave it 5 stars and I'll be very curious to hear what my fantasy-loving kids think when they're old enough to read it in several years. If you have younger kids and want to try Diana Wynne Jones now, I wholeheartedly recommend Howl's Moving Castle.  

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