I have to admit straight off the bat, this is not one of my all-time favorite books. In fact, I was iffy about even posting about it here, but I love Diana Wynne Jones so much that it was making me sad not to give credit where credit’s due. She was a fantastic writer, and Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the most wonderful MG fantasy novels I’ve read, so every once in a while, I grab another one of her books to see how it compares.
I can’t remember exactly where the recommendation for this book came from, but I’m not alone among Wynne Jones fans in finding her books to be a mixed bag. This particular story had wonderful characters – a young absent-minded professor who adopts a boy with a mysterious past, a child who can change from dog to boy and back again, a sassy secretary who also trains horses, and a feuding housekeeper and gardener who keep everyone else on their toes – each of whom is lovingly developed and integral to the story.
Unfortunately, the story itself is a little thin. One of Wynne Jones’ strong suits is creating a life for her characters and then putting it into motion. The action in her books stems from those routines, and she has created some great novels using this rather unusual technique. The Enchanted Glass, however, was big on establishing and maintaining the relationships between the characters, and between the characters and the setting, but lacked the suspense necessary to make the climax as believable as I had hoped for.
I think the reason the book has stayed with me for a few weeks regardless of its flaws is that in my long-form writing, I often (okay, always) run into the same challenge. I fall so in love with the characters that I start moving them from one little scene to the next without taking the big picture into consideration. Of course, the problem there is that nobody else really wants to read a love letter from author to characters! Readers, especially readers of MG or YA fantasy expect (or at least hope for) movement, and motivation for that movement, at least a few bated breath moments, and most certainly some action leading up to the vanquishing of whoever needs to be vanquished. Without those elements, a reader, and especially a young reader, will rightly lose interest in the story being told.
Recently, I was talking to a friend who teaches elementary grade English, and she was talking about how a part of reading comprehension is being able to predict what will happen in a story based on the title, chapter headings, pictures, covers, and already completed text. I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms before, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Enchanted Glass fails to provide key details to encourage the reader to project or question the direction of the story. As always, I loved entering the world she created for me, I just wished there was more happening in the quiet British countryside, if not for me, then for the children who will hopefully enjoy her writing for many years to come.