Imaginary worlds you can’t bear to leave behind

When Olivia was about eight I heard heartbroken sobs coming from her room one night, long after she should have been asleep. The problem? ‘I’ve finished The Starlight Barking and I’m so sad there isn’t any more of it.’

We’ve all been there, haven’t we – or at least, the bookworms among us have. There are so many fictitious worlds I love and long to revisit but as a collector of Victorian and Edwardian books, not to mention books written up to the mid-twentieth century, I’ve had to come to terms with the knowledge that there won’t be any more from my favourite authors. (Though luckily I’m still finding new and fabulous worlds to immerse myself in; as the Resident Engineer says when I come home with a bulging shopping bag: ‘Oh good, more books, just what this house needs.)

Sometimes, though, the loss of that beloved fictitious world seems harder to bear. Last year two of my favourite writers died and I hate the thought that there won’t be any more new books.

Diana Wynne-Jones was the most magical writer. Her books, ostensibly written for children, are read by all ages and have a timeless appeal that will live for a very long time. I discovered her when I read the first of her Chrestomanci novels, ‘Charmed Life’, which was the first time I came across the theory of parallel worlds. This theory has it that some specific event in the world’s history, the Battle of Waterloo say, there is a split with one world continuing as ours has, with Wellington as the victor and the other peeling off in a new direction with Napoleon ruling the world. This is similar to Terry Pratchett’s ‘wrong trousers of time’ theory.

The magical novels are terrific but her crowning series, in my view is The Dalemark Quartet, four novels set in rather Scandinavian countries in which the gods are The Undying, and evil, or Satan, is called Kankredin. Everything she wrote is permeated with legends and myths from this world and the ones she dreamed up, but for me, her best book is the final novel in this series, The Crown of Dalemark, and I feel sad whenever I read it, that there won’t be anything else from this talented writer and I’ll never know what happened to Mitt and Maewen.

The other author who died last year is another Diana, Diana Norman also known as Ariana Franklin. I read her first novel, Fitzempress’ Law, about thirty years ago and have never understood why it doesn’t seem to have been reprinted, particularly with the success of her final series featuring Adelia Aguilar, the Mistress of the Art of Death. I’d never thought much about Henry II until I read Diana Norman’s book but her huge affection and enthusiasm for him blew me away so that he’s now up there with my historical heroes. He had a violent temper, was an unfaithful husband and pretty awful father but for the author (and by association the reader) that pales into insignificance when you consider what he gave to his country: the rule of English common law with trial by jury, the model for judicial systems all over the world and still better than anything anyone else has come up with.

I’m so glad she found a new and adoring readership before she died because her Ariana Franklin Adelia Aguilar books are quite simply the best historical mystery novels I’ve ever read, bar none. She wrote four of them and I’ve just read them all again for the umpteenth time – and yet again I’ve been bereft that there won’t be any more. I’ll just have to trust that she had a happy ending in view for Adelia and Rowley Picot.

For a writer – for both of these brilliant and beloved writers – there can’t be a better epitaph.

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8 thoughts on “Imaginary worlds you can’t bear to leave behind

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  2. I hadn’t realised that Diana Norman was dead and so there would be no more Ariana books. Am in shock, as I thought they were superb! I do have to admit to never having read any Diana Wynne-Jones, despite all the persuasion from the CBB. Perhaps you should now indulge in the Fidelma series, Nicola! Have I not done enough to cajole you? Most definitely a fictitious world to delve into, and learn more about the Golden Age in Ireland in the 7th century.

  3. Two authors I love too – DWJ’s Dark Lord of Derkholm must be one of my favourite books of all time (and I recently acquired her guide to fantasyland – forgotten what exactly it’s called – which is the perfect companion read). She’s a wonderful author to re-read – I binged on all of the Chrestomanci books recently.

    The Adelia Aguilar books are wonderful too, and it’s so sad there won’t be any more, but I also like Diana Norman’s earlier books very much, and anyone who is mourning the loss of Adelia should look for them – although it looks as though some of them, including The Vizard Mask are rarities, and expensive to buy secondhand. Perhaps her publishers should consider re-releasing them under her more familiar name?

    • I don’t think there’s a single DWJ book that I don’t like, Jodie!
      And I’m evangelical about Adelia, though not so keen on the non-Norman books though, not sure why. I did like ‘Daughter of Lir’ which is Norman set in Dublin. And yes, it seems odd that nobody at least picked up on the two Henry II books when Adelia started to take off.

    • I do so agree, Jan; I’m particularly fond of Power of Three which is completely believable.
      I meant to include a picture of The Mistress of the Art of Death but I somehow managed to make the whole blog disappear and although Keri has managed to sort out my heavy-handedness, I’m not taking risks! But I’m betting you’d love Adelia Aguilar if you haven’t tried her. First one is set in Cambridge, too!

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