REVIEW: The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (#dwjmarch)

REVIEW: The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (#dwjmarch)The Merlin Conspiracy (Magids #2) by Diana Wynne Jones
Published: HarperCollins Children's Books (2003), Hardcover, 473pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction

When the Merlin of Blest dies, everyone thinks it's a natural death. But Roddy and Grundo, two children traveling with the Royal Court, soon discover the truth. The Merlin's replacement and other courtiers are scheming to steal the magic of Blest for their own purposes.

Roddy enlists the help of Nick, a boy from another world, and the three turn to their own impressive powers. The dangers are great, and if Roddy, Grundo, and Nick cannot stop the conspirators, the results will be more dreadful than they could possibly imagine. (from Amazon)

It took me ages to finally finish reading this book– I tried twice before, and both times I DNF’d it because I was so bored for the first part of the book. I think this might be the only Diana Wynne Jones book that I’ve been bored by, actually! Luckily, though, it picks up rapidly once Nick shows up and then the rest of the book is just as entertaining as any other DWJ book.

Entertaining, yeah…but also twisty and confusing. Not because I couldn’t understand the storyline, necessarily, but because I don’t know how I feel about it. This is one of those books that’ll take a few readings to anchor itself in my brain. Right now I’m thinking I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure WHY. Part of my problem is because I forgot to read Deep Secret (Magids #1) first. I wasn’t going to read it this month because (according to Jenny) my copy’s been bowdlerized and that is bad. So I was going to put it off until I got the proper copy, but now I’m thinking that I missed a big chunk of the fun of The Merlin Conspiracy by skipping it. Even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t get the full experience. Know what I mean?

Anyway. What DID I like? I liked the characters, mostly. Nick is interesting because he’s love-lorn and kind.1 Roddy is interesting because she’s so matter-of-fact and also kind of mean.2. And together they make for a very dynamic duo! The best parts of the book were when they were in the same scenes together, not least because they keep the tension/pacing/etc. up. On their own, their individual plotlines are really effing slow.

The secondary/tertiary characters are charming, too, and I wish I could remember more about Deep Secret because apparently a lot of them are from that book. Character NOT from Deep Secret (I think) include Nick’s elephant friend, who is SO charming and adorable that I almost want to read a talking animal book again.

My favorite part was the world-building, though. Multiple universes are a particular love of mine, especially when they’re different because of a historical event (like in the Chrestomanci books). The Merlin Conspiracy also touches on what happens when a person from another world swoops through and changes something radically in the world they’re visiting. Nick, for instance, gives someone a compliment about a tapestry– and effectively ruins a city’s entire economic system. Just from one little thing! It’s almost like a Doctor Who episode. (Possibly in a bad way.)

BUT. There’s some plot points that’re tripping me up. It’s a complicated plot, like most of DWJ’s plots are complicated. There’s all sorts of sub-plots and plot threads and some of the stuff that got brushed off at the end was the stuff that I wanted something more from. The biggest one is about Roddy– she had her mind messed with for most of her life by someone she trusted. Earlier, it’d been established that anyone who does mind-messing-up stuff is a bad person and/or doing a bad thing. But the person who messed with Roddy’s mind didn’t get any sort of punishment, or any acknowledgement really that he’d even done something horrible to his friend. Roddy freaked out, of course, and a few people were sorry about it. But that’s IT.

Sometimes I think that there’s not enough of a punishment for the people who do bad things in DWJ’s books. Like, SOME of them get eaten by demons or whatever, but if they’re a white hat who did a bad thing, they’re usually not actually punished for it. It’s a Broken Aesop situation, and it’s weird. Maybe it’s assumed that because they’re a good person the guilt of having done the bad thing will be enough of a punishment, but that doesn’t seem like something DWJ would do. (Right?) So I wonder what’s going on there.

Basically, I need to reread this again. While I liked certain things, and while on the whole I feel positive about the experience of having read The Merlin Conspiracy, there are other things that I DIDN’T like or that I was disappointed by. Probably I just haven’t read it enough to really get at the heart of it.

Read: March 3, 2013


  1. Unusual in a hero; usually it’s the heroine who’s terribly in love and worried about her future boyfriend’s mental health.
  2. She reminds me a bit of Charmain, if Charmain had been brought up in the royal court.

7 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (#dwjmarch)”

  1. Well, I’m glad you enjoyed this overall (even if you didn’t love it). I hope you find it gets better upon rereading! I feel the same way about Fire and Hemlock – I expect it’ll get better when I pick it up again.

    And on that note, I did NOT know that Deep Secret featured the same characters/world! I’ve gone and ordered a ‘good’ copy off of AbeBooks. Thanks for the tip!

    1. I can NOT get through Fire and Hemlock again. I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I read it once. I can do it again! But not right now, I guess.

      And yes! Apparently there’s crossover characters (according to another review, anyway). I hope you enjoy your supposedly-smutty copy!

  2. I sort of like it that DWJ’s wicked characters don’t always get punished. That is like life really. Sometimes people’s mistakes have really bad consequences for other characters, but I like to imagine that they’ve learned from it — a supposition borne out by, for instance, the Chrestomanci books, where people grow and change and whatnot. Simon from Witch Week didn’t get much of a punishment, for instance, and he was pretty awful throughout. Sometimes people are jerks as kids like Grundo and then become less jerky as they get older.

    1. Simon didn’t get a punishment (unless you count the spell/curse as a kind of punishment, which I think I do) and he didn’t learn from his mistakes, but he DID become different at the end that’ll maybe lead to him being a better person? Maybe?

  3. I’ll be reading this and Deep Secret after the pretty new UK editions are released in May. They’re some of the few I have left to read. 🙁 I’ll definitely plan on rereads though since they are twisty.

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