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The late Diana Wynne Jones would have been 80 this year if she had been still with us As always with posthumous novels the worry is, will this work be up to her usual standard, or will disappointment cloud the reputation that she painstakingly established for herself?We find ourselves in on an alternate Earth, one of the author’s Related Worlds which are similar to but not the same as our own, chiefly because magic is always prevalent The Islands of Chaldea (the real Mesopotamian polity of Chaldea was famed for its magicians) are Skarr, Bernica, Gallis and Logra, loosely based on Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England The four countries, as well as being separated from each other by water, are further divided by a magical barrier that has for some years closed Logra off from the other three islands On Skarr lives Aileen, a potential young Wise Woman who despairs of inheriting the talents that she is supposed to develop Unexpectedly she is sent, with her Aunt Beck, idle princeling Ivar and servant Ogo, on a journey to Logra via Bernica and Gallis, to help resolve the situation and to fulfil a prophecy We sense the classic premise of the lowliest achieving greatness through discovering and using innate gifts and skills.Aileen, with green eyes and hair the colour of toffee, is also the narrator, diminutive in stature but growing in maturity She describes how she is sent with some odd companions and a disreputable crew to achieve an illdefined quest, in which barriers galore and not just the magical one are placed in the way of success First they arrive on the tiny island called Lone, where they encounter a rather peculiar creature Next, they cross over to Bernica where they acquire another companion and another creature, as green as our own Emerald Isle is supposed to be (There's an episode here involving humans turned into donkeys that recalls Petronius, Shakespeare, Kingsley and Collodi, who also riff on the theme.) They somehow get to Gallis wherecompanions join them, and yet another creature puts in an appearance Then they have to find a way to surmount that final obstacle to reach Logra where, if the pattern holds, we must expect another beast to present another crucial piece of the puzzle Will solutions be forthcoming?Such a bald outline in no way does justice to the author's narrative skill, especially in her ability to recapture a young person's tone in relating a story In addition, for those in the know, there is the delight of discovering how much she has drawn in the myth, legend and folklore of the British Isles to almost, dare one say it, make a political statement about individual cultures coexisting within shared traditions And, in answer to the common question she got asked Where do you get your ideas from? her usual inventiveness is displayed in the way, magpielike, she has picked up various shiny objects to line the nest of her story.Let's start with the animals The red winged lizard that appears in this story is associated with Gallis, not surprising as the emblem of Wales is a dragon Less obvious is the talking green parrot that Aileen and her companions discover in Bernica (this name derived, of course, from an old name for Ireland) A green bird would be appropriate for Ireland, but why has the author hit on a nonnative bird? Perhaps the legendary island called Hy Brasil to the west of Ireland suggested to her the modern country of Brazil, through which flows the ; and in its jungles are the mediumsized green birds, good at imitating speech, calledparrots.The third of the four animals is a large cat, no ordinary beast this but one which can disappear at will, rather like the Cheshire Cat With its 'long legs [and] small head' I wonder if a European lynx is meant rather than the Scottish wildcat, even though Aileen hails from the Chaldean equivalent of Scotland The lynx apparently survived in Britain into the Dark Ages, and may have furnished a basis for the lions encountered in Arthurian legends as the Welsh Cath Palug (clawing cat) and the chapulu of French Alpine lore I think what confirms this for me is Aileen's nickname for the cat, PlugUgly The Land of Lone where PlugUgly is found could represent the Isle of Man, but Jones has also woven in strands from folktales about the sunken land of Cantre'r Gwaelod, the Welsh Lowland Hundred that disappeared in Cardigan Bay as the result of human error.And the fourth animal? Surely Diana drew on the traditional symbols of the four evangelists for inspiration here, coming up with the bull, symbol of St Luke, to represent Logra (The parrot derives from St John's eagle and the cat from St Mark's winged lion; only the dragon deviates from St Matthew's man, though both of course have wings Ultimately the four creatures derive from the cherubim who according to Ezekiel supported God's throne, appearing as man, lion, ox and eagle.)Helpful Companions are the staple of traditional fairytales, where they aid the hero or heroine in accomplishing impossible tasks Often they collectively form a group of seven, as here, and without them Aileen wouldn't be able to achieve her quest For example, Aileen's Aunt Beck has the gift of visions; a wonderful character who must surely have been drawn from life, she unfortunately suffers from what appears to be a stroke though of course, this being a literary fairytale, this affliction is the traditional 'fairy stroke', the result of a malevolent spell, rather than thelasting physical ailment that we know by the name Meanwhile the Bernican monk called Finn is the owner of the wonderful parrot which givesappropriate advice than is usual for these talking birds Riannan from Gallis has the ability to sing spells, rather like her counterpart in Welsh tales who converses with birds, while her brother Rees infuses mechanical inventions with magic And Ivar and Ogo have their own significant roles to play too.Fairytales have their villains, and here the baddie is someone whose name aptly includes a Germanic element which means 'rule' or 'power' We must be very grateful to Ursula Jones for finding a way to successfully resolve the very complex plot from a clue presented early on in Diana's incomplete manuscript Ursula doesn't say what this clue is but I suspect it's the handing over of a purse, supposedly for expenses but of course nothing of the kind I haven't yet spotted where the transition to a different author is, though I sense a change in style and pace around Chapter Fourteen What is definitely Diana's contribution, however, is the introduction of a hotair balloon into the plot Bristol, where she lived, is host of a spectacular International Balloon Fiesta every summer, and she would have been very familiar with the sight of Montgolfier balloons floating across the river Avon and over Clifton.The Islands of Chaldea is a loveletter to Britain, a hymn to hope and a celebration of true magic, which is the life of the imagination While fans may regret her passing, whether as friend or author, this final novel is a fitting addition to the canon and one to be grateful for now that it has been completed in style.Finally, I’d like here to report on a coincidence, if coincidence it is Diana Wynne Jones and I shared a regular correspondent, the late Bill Russell Bill, a professor emeritus of sociology, was president of the Pendragon Society, an Arthurian group for which I edited the journal In spring 2005 I published an article I’d put together called ‘A Concise Arthurian Bestiary’ listing a number of creatures associated with Arthurian legends and folklore, including cat, dragon and parrot Now Bill was in the habit of sending some of his complimentary copies of Pendragon to other correspondents, and as I’d included his review of Diana’s Hexwood in the same issue I suspect there’s every chance that he’d sent a copy of this to her It’s distantly possible that her choice of featured animals in The Islands of Chaldea was influenced or at least confirmed by the mention of cat, dragon and parrot in the bestiary article – though admittedlylikely that Diana was already familiar with their associations.http://wp.me/s2oNj1chaldea The best thing about reading a Diana Wynne Jones book is the certainty that, halfway through, the plot will undergo such a twist that it flips the story you thought you were reading inside out (See Hexwood, but also Fire and Hemlock and almost all of her other books, including middle grade ones.) The setup is so sly that the clues that should alert you to Upcoming Major Plot Twist slide right under the radar and are obvious only in retrospect.Sadly, Diana Wynne Jones died before finishing The Islands of Chaldea; she left no notes about how it was going to end, and discussed the plot with no one And despite a loving and earnest effort by her younger sister Ursula Jones to finish this book for her, the payoff just isn't there Instead of twisting, the plot lumbers on until the end I think it's actually worse to read the first half, which makes me both happy (yay! quirky characters and needle wit) and sad (nonew DWJ books, ever), and watch the whole thing fizzle out than to not read any of it The setup of DWJ books can be slow, and The Islands of Chaldea is no exception It starts with porridge and a young protagonist who has just failed a major test to be a wise woman like her aunt There's an unexpected journey and lots of traveling without major plot developments, but I enjoyed the cast of characters (including a very ugly cat) and the quest that seems doomed from the start.I didn't care for most of the second half, which I suspect to be mostly written by Ursula Jones It falls victim to a number of cliches: our heroine Aileen, who earlier describes herself as bucktoothed and short, has somehow failed to realize she is beautiful until a guy tells her so Bonus points for a completely unnecessary romance there! Also, the villain monologues interminably and the ending is a whole series of deusexmachinae It's true I can't tell exactly where Diana Wynne Jones left off, but there's a noticeable shift in quality, characterization, and, well, magicalness that makes it hard to keep reading Better to have left well enough alone, perhaps I miss Diana Wynne Jones She deserved a better final book than this. When Diana Wynne Jones passed away, I immediately preordered her final book, which arrived on my doorstep a few weeks later It was called Earwig and the Witch, and is very cute Somehow, despite my great love for her and her books, and the fact that I know people in publishing who are also big fans, I missed the fact that Earwig and the Witch was NOT her final book! Apparently her sister Ursula Jones was asked by the family to finish the book she had been working on when she died: this book, The Islands of Chaldea, which I discovered on the shelves of Foyles bookshop in London And what a treat! What a treat, indeed!I mean, along with the thrill of finding an unknown book by a favorite author Along with the fun of shopping in a bookshop in London with my sister Along with the gorgeousness of this cover or the realization that BOOKS IN ENGLAND ARE CHEAPER IN PRICE BUT HAVE BETTER COVERS THAN IN AMERICA DON'T @ ME Along with all that, this book is DELIGTHFUL This is classic DWJ! This is Dalemark Quartet, Lives of Christopher Chant, style of DWJ! Such a pleasure to read this high fantasy quest book, full of lovely magic, quirky characters, whimsical animal familiars, and all the trappings of justwell, an excellent Diana Wynne Jones adventure!In the afterward, Ursula explains that Diana always wrote straight through, from Chapter 1 to the end, and left no notes So she just had to pick it up where Diana had left off and try to make the type of ending she thought her sister would have wanted There's nothing to mark where Ursula's portion begins, and Ursula did a phenomenal job of writing in Diana's style It has an excellent ending, and had you not told me I would not have known that Diana didn't complete the book herself! During this recent trip around the UK with a group of writers, librarians, and other literary types, someone asked me what DWJ book I recommended for a newbie, and I was rather flummoxed But now I have to say: this is not a bad place to start Like I said, it's very much Classic DWJ, but since it's not part of a series, it would be a great initiation into the glory that is the Diana Wynne Jones canon! This is Diana Wynne Jones's last book, finished by her sister There are sprightly moments, nice animal companions, and the climax is sufficiently satisfying when heroine Aileen discovers her power at last.But DWJ was very ill when writing it, and while it appears her sister scrupulously tried to match tone and storyline, the prose is flat for those who notice such things, and the characters sometimes silly Moreover the story takes a very long time to stop meandering and get going Not the place to begin with her work. I was so glad this turned out to be great Even in her final illness, Jones was still capable of intricate plotting, delightful characters, and beautiful prose Sometimes an MS left unfinished at an author's death and taken up by another hand ends up reading like a horrible pastiche of the author's voice, with the tackedon bits like clumsy patches, but this is seamless Ursula Jones deserves much praise for finishing her sister's last work and keeping it so true to what DWJ might have written It's a lovely tribute, as well as being a wonderful book. This was such a pleasure If not up to the standard of the top rank of DWJs work (Fire and Hemlock, Howl's Moving Castle, The Homeward Bounders, it is solidly in the middle, and a muchsatisfying final work than her most recently published books This was apparently an almostcomplete manuscript, edited and completed by her sister Ursula; I'd love to know which bits were Ursula, because you really couldn't tell, at least on first reading It's a fairly routine comingofage story, reminiscent of her Dalemark seriesthan anything else, but with good characters, a likeable heroine (unusual in recent work), and a truly delightful and formidable cat Recommended not just for DWJ completists but for anyone who enjoys a good fantasy adventure. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!New Diana Wynne Jones Novel is a Family AffairAnd I've finished my last new Diana Wynne Jones novel (I suppose I still have Changeover, but that hardly counts.) The Islands of Chaldea fallson the side of DWJ's middlegrade fiction, but it's witty and charming and has much to recommend it I loved the Islands of Chaldea and Aileen, the future Wise Woman of Skarr As this novel was finished after DWJ's death by her sister, I did consciously look for a shift in the writing, but I couldn't find one the tone is perfect I only had one complaint about the book, which involved its ending: (view spoiler)[isn't Aileen twelve at the start of the book? It seems a bit ridiculous to marry her off at the end, and I was not impressed at all with the ending battle and resolution (hide spoiler)] *DOWNLOAD EBOOK ☔ The Islands of Chaldea ↻ Aileen was supposed to grow up magical – just like the other women in her family Unfortunately, she’s just found out that the magic seems to have skipped a generation… but that’s not her biggest problem right nowIn her world, there are four Islands of Chaldea The largest and most magical island has been cut off from the other three for decades – and is slowly draining the magic from themBut now a prophecy has come to light Someone from Aileen’s island will gather a man from each of the three islands, bring down the magical barrier, and unite them with the fourth island again And according to the king, that someone is Aileen’s Aunt – who insists on dragging Aileen along AND the boy Aileen is sure she’ll marry one day; the local boy with brawn then brain Someone seems to want to stop them too… someone with an interest in keeping the Islands apart But still, with magic on their side, nothing can go wrong Right? This is Diana Wynne Jones' very last book; left unfinished at her death, it was completed by her sister, to the delight of DWJ fans everywhere.A prophecy says that if a Wise Woman journeys from Skarr, through Bernica and Gallis, and enters Logra with a man from each island, the curse can be lifted and the Crown Prince rescued So off they go The narrator (apprentice Wise Woman and dismally convinced she's no good at it), her aunt (the actual wise Woman), the Crown Prince's little brother (selfcentred and arrogant), and the brother's servant (a clodhopping foreigner) And this being DWJ, none of this is quite what it seems, and the story does not go in obvious way.I really, really liked this It has something of he feel of Power of Three, and something of the feel of The Time of the Ghost, and quite often a feel of Irish fairytales (which naturally I find pleasing!) There is a most excellent cat, and plots and intrigues, and a hot air balloon And I am looking forward to reading it again and trying to find the clue that Ursula Jones says (in the Afterword) that she built the ending off. The last Diana Wynne Jones.The feel of this book is a combination of The Spellcoats and The Merlin Conspiracy, and though I was a little shaky on the characters at the start, I was pleasantly surprised where some of them went There are high stakes, and bad things potentially happening (particularly those donkeys), but rarely any sense of real danger Not exactly a romp though.I wouldn't put it in my top ten DWJ's, but I read it straight through in very short order and was smiling by the end.