Fire and hemlock | Diana Wynne Jones

I so wanted to like this book. It continued my current theme of young witches nicely, it’s by an author I’ve been meaning to read for ages, the premise sounded great, and it came recommended by ‘Backlisted’, my go-to book book podcast.

I didn’t warm to it at all.

I’m happy to accept this was a failure on my part. My mind was elsewhere, what with the real world currently being a bit problematic in various ways. But it felt scattered, meandering and patchy (I felt the same about the animated version of ‘Howl’s moving castle’, my only other experience of Diana Wynne Jones’ work, cute though the visualisation was).

I had expected (yes, a mistake, I know) a YA fantasy with a strong central character like a Will Stanton or a Lyra, and some kind of quest. The central character Polly was a muddle, the story was a muddle, and there was no sense of narrative direction, or resolution. Polly made no sense to me; she had no emotional coherence or distinct character, and seemed to be defined only by her relationships, all varying shades of toxic, apart from her granny. The mythological element flickered in and out but the link to the contemporary narrative was never really explained. Characters appeared and disappeared. And there were times when I had no clue what was going on at all. Yes, such is life, I know. If there had been a distinct mood or setting in which to feel immersed, that would have been something, but apart from a few memorable set-piece scenes, it all felt like a vague nebulous blur.

However, life feels like a vague nebulous blur at the moment. So perhaps it was just wrong book, wrong time. Maybe it’s me that’s the directionless muddle and liable to totally missing the point right now (quite likely).