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The Merlin Conspiracy    by Diana Wynne Jones order for
Merlin Conspiracy
by Diana Wynne Jones
Order:  USA  Can
Greenwillow, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Diana Wynne Jones is a long-time favorite author of mine. I opened The Merlin Conspiracy with enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoyed it. It exists in her 'multiverse' of parallel worlds, whose intersections and resulting problems are addressed by troubleshooters called Magids, whose solutions usually involve strong magic leavened with common sense.

This story is mainly based in the Islands of the Blest, a world with a fascinating blend of magic and technology and whose magic effects are far-reaching in the multiverse. Its King travels the land 'in an enormous Progress most of the year', more for historical reasons than real need - the Merlin and a Lady of Governance look after the magic for him. In his train are a variety of wizards, officials, courtiers and their children.

Arianrhod (Roddy) Hyde has traveled with the King's Progress all her life and has looked after a younger boy, the dyslexic but magically talented Grundo, for most of that time. One of Roddy's grandfathers is a Magid and the other a mysterious, reclusive Welshman. After Roddy and Grundo overhear a conspiracy plot involving the Merlin, Grundo's nasty mother Sybil and Sybil's friend, Sir James Spenser, they are unable to convince adults of the danger, until they are sent to visit Roddy's Welsh grandfather, Gwyn. Though he believes them, Gwyn's own vulnerability prevents his taking action, and he tells his granddaughter that she can do something if she has the courage.

A parallel plotline, which naturally occurs in parallel worlds, involves Magid wannabe Nichothodes (Nick) Mallory, who suddenly finds himself bumped sideways from a writers' conference into a magical mission, 'a major working' - Nick is assumed to be a novice magician and goes along with it since he believes it's all a dream anyway. He has exciting adventures in which he meets both his own token animal, an enormous black panther, and that of an extraordinarily powerful mage named Romanov. Nick also meets Romanov, and eventually wends his way to the mage's retreat, helping a talking elephant named Mini along the way.

Of course Nick and Roddy meet, though they don't always get along, and Nick tries to help Roddy, who herself has the aid of knowledge downloaded from a long-dead witch. Other characters include the manipulative twin Izzy's, a pregnant goat, cities personified, terrified salamanders and a terrifying dragon. After the suspense and danger builds to a crescendo at Stonehenge, Nick learns that 'large things often do hinge on very small incidents.' It's a wonderful tale, told with humor, about all kinds of people - strong and weak, selfish and altruistic - and it's great fun!

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