Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book Review: The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton (1962)

The Diamond in the Window is the first book in Jane Langton’s Hall Family Chronicles. Main characters Edward and Eleanor become intrigued when they learn that two children named Ned and Nora disappeared from their home’s attic bedroom years ago, and they decide to sleep there themselves and investigate. In a series of dreams, they follow Ned and Nora on a treasure hunt, occasionally spotting them, but finding it impossible to catch up. As the dreams become more intense, they realize that if they are not careful, they might meet the same end as the disappeared children, but that they also might be the only people who can save them.

The Fledgling, which is the fourth book of this series, and the first one I read, impressed me so greatly that I really expected this first book to be amazing. I was surprised, therefore, when I had trouble sticking with it. Though the mystery of the missing kids is intriguing, the way the story is told didn’t really build off of that interest. The characters seemed aware of the increasing high stakes as the story went on, but I never felt a sense of urgency, or of fear. The dreams are vivid and well-described, but somehow the structure of the story was too linear and predictable to keep me invested in the fate of the missing kids.

Another thing that surprised me in this book is the lack of explanations for themes that recur in later books. Reading the later books first led me to assume that the family’s transcendentalist ideals, and Prince Krishna’s magical abilities, would both be introduced and explained in this book. Interestingly, these two themes are treated matter-of-factly, with no more or less explanation than in any of the other books. This was perhaps another reason I had trouble connecting. I didn’t fully understand the rules of the author’s universe.

The Diamond in the Window is similar in many ways to Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle, in which a group of children have magical adventures in the world of their toys while they sleep at night. This series as a whole also shares common themes with the Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass.

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