In Cranbury-on-Sea Aunt Maria rules with a rod of sweetness far tougher than iron and deadlier than poison. Strange and awful things keep happening in Cranbury. Why are all the men apparently gray-suited zombies? Why do all the children -- if you ever see them -- behave like clones? And what has happened to Mig's brother, Chris? Could gentle, civilized Aunt Maria, with her talk and daily tea parties, possibly have anything to do with it?
Whenever I start a Diana Wynne Jones I generally have an idea what the story’s going to be like. There will be children in peril, magic and/or scifi of some kind, and good or bad adults (sometimes both) doing things that impede the children’s quest in some way. It’s comforting knowing what’s going to happen in a story (in a general sense), and so I expected that same sort of feeling from Aunt Maria.
Nope! Didn’t happen. Right from the start it threw me for a loop, and it KEPT throwing me almost until the very end.
I wasn’t even sure if this was a fantasy or not until almost halfway through! Nothing overtly magic happens for the longest time; instead we spend ages getting to know the children, their mother, and Aunt Maria herself. It’s a great set-up, actually, because it got me used to the normalness of their world in such a way that I didn’t see the weirdness until it started to come out of hiding.
It’s kinda like those magician’s tricks where a lady goes into a cupboard, disappears, and instead of reappearing a lion comes out instead. You expect something standard, but there’s a twist waiting to bite your face off (in a good way).
So that was fun! Also fun was the scary old ladies, the creepy town, sibling shenanigans, and the various themes of gender expectation and whatnot. It’s stuff DWJ carried over into some of her other books– The Pinhoe Egg being the most obvious– but I always like it when she pokes at something to show you how stupid (yet scary) things about society can be. It makes the book a little more layered.
Definitely recommend picking up Aunt Maria ASAP!
Read: October 20, 2014