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The Merlin Conspiracy (2003)

by Diana Wynne Jones

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Magid (2)

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1,690459,914 (3.88)71
Roddy and Nick, two teenagers with magical powers they are just learning to use, find that they must work together to save Roddy's home world of Blest from destruction by power-hungry wizards.
  1. 40
    Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Shares some of the same characters.
  2. 00
    The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor (bunnygirl)
    bunnygirl: for those interested in another application of the "many worlds" conceit

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Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
As a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones, I had hoped for an absorbing and well characterised story. I wasn't sure what audience this would be pitched at, initially, because it is set in the same magical system as an earlier book, Deep Secret, which is aimed more at adults and YA. This book seems to be for a younger audience. Firstly, the two viewpoint characters who narrate the story in first person in alternate sections are mid-teens: at least, Nick is definitely 14-going-on-15, as he is a character from Deep Secret and it is set a year after those events. Secondly, the only vague approach to sexuality is that Nick fancies the other POV character Arianrhod (Roddy as she prefers to be known) whereas she thinks he's just odd.

Roddy lives on yet another of the worlds within the multiverse introduced in Deep Secret. In this, a version of Britain exists called the Isles of Blest. England is ruled by a king who travels the land with his court, reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth I's progresses, but the parliament is at Winchester, harking back to the time of King Alfred in our own world. However, the technology is an alternative version of what was current at the time of the book's publication (2003) including buses and cars for transport although they don't use the internal combustion engine, and the court officials work on laptops though they have to rough it with bathrooms set up in tents etc. An analogue to the landline phone exists called a far-speaker, but their version of TV only shows news and sport and they have no internet, mobile phones or the like.

Roddy and her parents - her father is the court weather mage and her mother works on the admin side - are part of the massive traveling court, as are an unpleasant woman called Sybil and her two children, snooty and unpleasant Alicia and neglected son Ambrose, nicknamed Gundro by Roddy. Gundro is dyslexic in effect - his magic works 'backwards' and he is slow to progress so he is scorned by his mother and sister. Roddy has made it her mission in life to look after him and give him the attention he lacks.

As the story opens, the court Merlin (a post denoting the head of the male wizards) suffers what appears to be a heart attack at a meeting of the English king with the Scottish king, nearly occasioning a diplomatic incident. A new Merlin is brought to court by Roddy's grandfather. This grandfather is eventually revealed to be a Magid, one of the magicians who ensure that the multiverse is kept in balance. But Roddy and Grundo soon realise that the Merlin is conspiring with Sybil and Sybil's nasty boyfriend. None of the adults they confide in believe them - they all think the Merlin is incorruptible and therefore, despite what the children witnessed Sybil and her chums drugging the whole court to put them under their influence they must have somehow misunderstood.

Meanwhile, on our Earth, Nick is whisked away by an unseen person to another world where he is forced to pass himself off as part of a wizard squad sent to provide magical protection to a different prince. He soon meets a very powerful magical user called Romanov who tells him he was offered money to kill Nick, but has decided to turn down the job as Nick is obviously clueless and no threat to anyone. Eventually Nick is uncovered as an imposter and forced to flee, so he goes in pursuit of Romanov, which is where his misadventures begin and where he is eventually brought into contact with Roddy.

There are some nice ideas in this and good writing as we expect from DWJ. The trouble is, the book piles in everything including the kitchen sink. Nick discovers he can understand the thoughts of animals, so he forms a close friendship with an escaped circus elephant Mini - who was one of my favourite personalities in the book. Early on, he is helped by a black panther - which never appears again, seemingly a forgotten plot thread. Nick can't travel the worlds as a Magid does although he wants to be trained to be one but he has the ability to travel a different way along what is known as 'dark paths' that appear at angles to the normal world and are reminiscent of the paths seen in the earlier book when Maree had to be taken to 'Babylon' to be reunited with her other self. Romanov lives on an island that consists of chunks from different worlds and has a magic shed which produces feed for his animals and the elephant on request, and a magic oven that produces bread. On the way there, Nick meets a drunk who tells him he must help three people before he can reach the island. Nick encounters an oppressive society that forces its workers to toil unprotected in a radioactive zone and is contacted by Roddy who has asked for someone beyond their world to help, before he meets Mini. The drunk turns out to be Roddy's Magid grandfather who can only travel the dark paths by getting plastered - he also happens to be the writer to whom Nick's adoptive dad was speaking when Nick was abducted from our world All of this is quite enough to be expected to suspend your disbelief about.

But there is a lot more. A second grandfather of Roddy's is revealed as being much weirder than a Magid - despite supposedly being a minister of the church, he is really a Great Power, and becomes 'bound' by Sybil and co. The story features kidnapping, drought, invisible creatures that turn out to inhabit the whole world and also can animate vessels, a weird household which can only consist of three members and has odd rules about males, terrible twins who are awfully badly behaved and take turns to constantly swap roles, spells put on people to make them look after others without them knowing, a ruined village where a wise woman lived who had had her hip deliberately broken to keep her there working for the villagers - I found it far too contrived that Roddy is sent there by her Great Power grandfather because the wise woman has searched all time to find someone to whom to give all her magical knowledge, so Roddy thereby becomes the recipient of masses of plant-based magic. Oh, and there's an enormous dragon, an illegal trafficking in salamanders which are tortured to provide power, towns that are personified as enormous men, a weird religion in the tyrannical radioactive world and two altar boys who turn into murderers and later are responsible for all the woes besetting Roddy's world for rather flimsy reasons. The story was just trying too hard and my eyes started to glaze over around the time I encountered a town called Salisbury and two others in short order after that.

The production of the hardback edition is rather lovely as each section of narrative from either Roddy or Nick has an introductory page which bears a graphic, in Roddy's case, a plant emerging from a vase, which becomes more florid and abundant as each of her sections progress, and in Nick's case, a Celtic styled motif which includes the various animal characters who appear - elephant and goat for example - until he and Roddy meet, at which point, their introductory graphics merge organically and finally develop into a sentient character reminiscent of the white dragon who features majorly at the end of the story. The production values also incorporate a different font used for the two parallel narratives and the book has a rather handsome cover too.

Unfortunately, the material within the cover didn't match up to all this gorgeous detail. It was a complete mishmash and it's no surprise that some of the elements didn't ring true or were lost threads such as the black panther which went AWOL after its first appearance. I also found it very difficult to 'place' Roddy whom I had envisaged as a younger child initially, around 11 or so. As Roddy, nearly 15 fancies her, I then had to readjust my perceptions to picture her around the same age as him, but that was an example perhaps of how the foundations of the story were not solid. Instead there was a lot of fancy filigree detail, rather like the book's graphics, and ultimately the story didn't deliver for me. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Of course it all comes together toward the end, but it is rather uncomfortably disjoint for most of its length. Nick isn't a favorite and Roddy and Grundo aren't much fun either so it's not spending time in interesting company, although the gallery world and the motley island were engaging. ( )
  quondame | Jul 6, 2023 |
In a neighboring universe, two children discover that their king's traveling court has been subverted from within. To rescue their country, Roddy and Grundo will have to muster strange powers through the aid (and occasional hindrance) of their scattered families, along with Nick, a boy from Earth who has magical ambitions.

It seems weirdly reductive to summarize the plot of The Merlin Conspiracy, because the book feels like dozens of tiny episodes nestled together. This impression is further exaggerated by all the universe-hopping in the book, which takes the time to design three or four alternate Great Britains. This is not a flaw in the book; rather, The Merlin Conspiracy is more about delightful moments and details (The personified cities! Roddy's deathly grandfather!) than the plot, which is nearly impossible to reconstruct in retrospect. Deep Secret, the book's predecessor, had a similar feel, but where "Deep Secret" chucked its complexity in the last acts, The Merlin Conspiracy just shovels on more. I enjoyed it, but don't ask me to diagram it. ( )
  proustbot | Jun 19, 2023 |
The second part of the duology only carried over one character, but had the same frenetic magical universe hopping energy and human eccentricities. I was sad to leave. ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Diana Wynne Jonesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fox, EmiliaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tennant, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viitanen, Anna-MaijaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, DavidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Magid (2)
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To Rowan Dalglish
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I have been with the Court all my life, traveling with the King’s Progress.
That is the unexpected trouble with love affairs, I thought as I made more coffee. You can fancy a girl like mad, but more than just the look of her comes into it. You find yourself having to allow for her personality, too. At five-thirty in the morning.
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Roddy and Nick, two teenagers with magical powers they are just learning to use, find that they must work together to save Roddy's home world of Blest from destruction by power-hungry wizards.

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Average: (3.88)
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