Diana Wynne Jones
Victor Gollancz, 1997
Deep Secret is a fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, variously considered 'young adult' or 'mainstream' fantasy depending on who you ask. It has some strong language, violent deaths, and brief sexual references; nothing too bad, but enough to keep some people from wanting it in the YA section. This is the first the of the two Magid books, the other being The Merlin Conspiracy. While the Magid books can be read in either order, I recommend reading them chronologically.
The story, for the most part, follows Rupert Venables, the youngest Magid of the local series of worlds. The Magid are a group of mages that share responsibility for guiding worlds through crisis points and managing magical affairs, although on worlds like Earth, where magic is uncommon, they must be rather circumspect in their workings. Traditionally, the youngest Magid is responsible for bringing new recruits into the Magid ranks as the older Magids die. This would not usually be a problem for Rupert, except that in his case the first to die during his watch is his own mentor, and the only other Magid on Earth. The search for a replacement Magid is particularly difficult to do on Earth, as the scientific outlook and magical skepticism of our world means that he can't admit to any of the potential candidates that he is a mage. Although, unless he can actually track down some of these people, that may be a moot point, as they all seem to be travelling, lost in war zones, or otherwise indisposed.
His search is greatly hampered by ongoing calamity in the nearby worlds of the Koyrfonic Empire, which he is responsible for managing. These worlds have a much more equitable mix of magic and science than Earth, but this doesn't make them any better able to manage their own affairs; it simply means that the Magids don't need to hide who they are, and thus are all the more likely to be called on to act in any number of roles at inconvenient times. As it happens, the death of his mentor coincides with a sudden explosion of political unrest in the empire, one that neither he nor anyone else seems to be able to get under control.
The other major character of the story is Maree Mallory, a young veterinary student whose life is in constant chaos -- and more so than usual at the moment. Her father has recently been diagnosed with cancer, she has just broken up with her boyfriend, she is broke, and is forced to live with various unpleasant relatives. On top of this, she seems to have a mysterious bush-goddess haunting her in her sleep, and some strange man by the name of Rupert Venables keeps pestering her.
One interesting aspect of this book is that the majority of the action (on Earth) takes place at a SF/Fantasy convention. While this provides an interesting background to the adventure, and allows the magic users more interaction with the 'normal' world than would otherwise be possible, the book avoids the details of Con lore and culture. Not surprisingly, we hear more about an author's point of view of conventions than fans (one of the Magid candidates is a SF/F author, as is the father of another candidate). We hear about all the odd fans and their odd habits, but the story stays a bit aloof from the nitty-gritty of a true fan's Conning experience.
Deep Secret has a comparatively complex plot, some good twists, a good rage of villains, and an equally good rage of fallible heroes. As with most of Diana Wynne Jones' books, chaos and new frustrations appear constantly, and neither the heroes nor the gods are ever really in control of the situation. But perhaps the main comment that needs to be made about this book is that it is comparatively normal -- compared to Diana Wynne Jones' other works. Not so much in the plot, but in the general writing style and language. It doesn't have quite the feeling of insular clan-ship that you find in Dark Lord of Derkholm or The Time of the Ghost or the dense prose of Castle in the Air, and it is not a children's book. If you are looking for a good introduction to Diana Wynne Jones this may be your best bet, although admittedly, you are unlikely to become a big fan of her works unless you also like her children's books.