Original title: Black Maria
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Well, the cover is slightly misleading in a bibbity-bobbity way.
I initially thought of just letting that be my review, but that wouldn’t really help someone who hasn’t read this book with this cover. If you have, then you know it’s rather like seeing a poster for The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue used as the cover of Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I prefer the demented version of the titular character from this cover, but I digress.
Mig, her brother Chris, and their mum are politely forced to visit a relative with whom they associate lethal boredom for the Easter holiday. There, they find that Aunt Maria is not only a vicious old hag, but powerful and just plain bloody evil.
If you have ever lived or been forced to “visit” in an environment like the one Mig and her family have to deal with, then this book will hit you right in the feels. I was cursing the second Aunt Maria’s politeness began. Also, one of my berserk buttons crops up more than once: when a character refuses to call someone by their desired name. Mig, not Naomi. And Chris is short for Christian, not Christopher! You are supposed to see it as annoying, but I always get a little bit of gibbering rage when it comes up because of all the Romance heroes (including YA) who smugly call the heroine whatever they want. Ugh. I hate that so much.
The book is written in a pseudo-epistolary fashion. Mig keeps a journal with a lock on it. This means that sometimes the book is in past tense, and sometimes it’s in present. I hate present tense usually, but I didn’t bother myself about it here, since there’s an actual reason. Mig has that kind of mild, upfront, bald likeability that I like to think of as Diana Wynne Jones’s default voice.
In fact, some of the other characters have common traits with other DWJ characters. The mother reminded me of Howard’s mother from Archer’s Goon. This is not bad, it just goes to show how many of DWJ’s books I have read…
The beginning can be a bit of a slog, with all the angry-making, and I didn’t feel like it was really resolved at the end. I really came to hate Aunt Maria. The magic is also remarkably under-defined, and is explained too late in the book to allow for much impact other than to explain things that went on a bit too long.