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Eye in the Sky

A Sudden Wild Magic

By Diana Wynne Jones 

1 Jun, 2018

Twelve by Diana Wynne Jones


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1992’s A Sudden Wild Magic is a standalone fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones. 

For centuries, Britain has been secretly protected by the Ring, a cabal of powerful magicians. Or so the Ring believed. Much to his alarm, Mark Lister, master of magic and computer sciences, discovers that the Ring, Britain, and the entire world are pawns in a larger game.

There are many worlds much like Earth scattered across the dimensions. One of them (or at least the Pentarchy, a confederation of kingdoms of that world) has selected Earth as its test bed, orchestrating crises (wars, AIDS, global warming, etc.) to see how Earth responds. They harvest useful new techniques for the Pentarchy; millions of people on Earth pay a bitter price.

Lister and his allies attempt mount a defence against meddling from the Pentarchy. This effort is hobbled by the need to protect against the likelihood that the Pentarchy has agents within the Ring. After some consideration, they decide that the Pentarchy’s weak spot is an inter-dimensional base (nicknamed Laputa-Blish by the Ring, more properly called Arth by its inhabitants) from which the Pentarchy observes Earth. Remove that base and Earth can go back to muddling along at its own speed. All that is needed is a swift commando raid across the dimensions.

There are hazards to inter-dimensional travel of which the Ring has absolutely no inkling. The vessel that arrives at Arth arrives full of corpses, its weapons disabled, with only a handful of survivors left to confront the inhabitants of Arth. The Brotherhood of Arth, unaware they are under attack, treat the survivors — Zillah, infant Marcus, Roz, Judy, and Flan — as castaways.

The Ring planned to destroy Arth with bio-weapons, none of which survived the passage. No matter; the fact that Arth’s staff are a Brotherhood suggests a different approach. All of the staff are bound by strict rules of celibacy; the delicate magical balance of the facility could be disrupted by human desires. It is a weakness the women plan to exploit.


I don’t particularly care for plots where it turns out all the evils of the past few centuries are thanks to a secretive cabal manipulating world events from the shadows. That’s due to the record of horrors justified by claims that secretive cabals are manipulating the world from the shadows. Besides, that’s implausible. People are terrible at keeping secrets. 

Oddly enough, it turns out that the Pentarchy, and the inhabitants of Arth, have convinced themselves that our Earth is in some sense not a real world, that the people on it are somehow not genuine people. Arth has never bothered to double-check this belief, despite the fact that Arth is staffed by some very bright people who receive ongoing reports from Earth. Perhaps we can attribute this to the fact (as trenchantly expressed by Upton Sinclair) that

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it! 

However, we shouldn’t be too hard on the Arthians. Humans are quite capable of convincing themselves that other groups are sub-human or do not feel pain like we do. Ask the Africans and Indians who paid the price for the Ring’s support of the British Raj. 

This was one of the DWJ books that people recommended to me. Frankly, I don’t see the appeal. The witches’ gleeful competition over who can seduce the most men of the Brotherhood seemed heavy-handed, almost as though the author felt she had to include a bit of smut to please adult readers. All the standard elements of a decent Jones novel are here. It’s just that they don’t quite come together. 

A Sudden Wild Magic is available here (Amazon). It does not seem to be available from Chapters-Indigo.