Aileen is the youngest in a magical family, so she always thought she was supposed to be magical too. But she seems to have failed her initiation–and that isn’t even the biggest of her problems. Soon she and her aunt are sent off to fulfill a prophecy to lift the magical barrier surrounding Logra, the largest of the Islands of Chaldea. But even though they’ve been told they’re fated to achieve their goal, everything seems to be going wrong. It remains up to Aileen to save the day, with the help of an ugly cat, a boy from Logra, a holy man, and a hot air balloon.
I was astounded to come across this in the library the other day. Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite authors, and when she passed away in 2011 I was heartbroken. She was hugely talented, weaving magical tales filled with intricate details that seemed to come alive and certainly enchanted my 10-year-old self. The Lives of Christopher Chant, Howl’s Moving Castle, and A Tale of Time City in particular are high on my “favourite books” list.
This one was left unfinished at the time of Diana’s death, and was finished up by her sister Ursula and published earlier this year. It is definitely one of her younger stories and I felt it didn’t contain as much depth of character as her other books, but the world was still richly magical and the plot was fast-paced and tied together nicely.
I admit I was reading with an eye for the place where Ursula took over. I’ll never know if I found it, of course, but I thought there was a bit of a shift around page 190 (would love to hear other guesses in the comments below! An earlier guess was page 118–I can’t remember why–but that seemed almost too early). Certainly by the very end I could tell that it wasn’t Diana writing anymore, but that was only because I was conscious of it–it’s a fairly seamless transition. Certainly younger readers won’t pick up on anything. I thought Ursula did an admirable job of wrapping up her sister’s final story and I would love to encourage her to write more of her own; the talent seems to run in the family.
All in all, a surprising, enchanting story that left me spellbound until the end.