by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover image

Publisher: Collins
Copyright: 1993
Printing: 2000
ISBN: 0-00-675526-7
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 379

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This is, unfortunately, a book with too many good ideas and not enough structure or characterization.

I say unfortunately because some of the ideas are great. I can't talk about all of them, since piecing them together is a substantial part of the plot and probably the best part of the book, but there's ancient powerful machinery, a fair bit of fiddling about with time (time travel just isn't the right term), some nice non-linear exposition, a galaxy-spanning empire secretly well-established on Earth, some truly nice mind-link telepathy, and a really fun take on magic. On top of that, though, there's also a bit of an Arthurian, some badly done political intrigue and infighting, dragons, badly handled mind control, angst about a dark past, mythical nature, and robots.

You may be seeing what I mean about too many ideas.

There's something of an overall structure that allows one to sensibly mash all of this stuff together, but it still feels like a disjointed hodge-podge. Worse, though, is that due to the machine-gun speed at which ideas, plot elements, and bits of background are introduced, the really good ones don't get explored. One is left with an extensive list of things in the "this could have been cool if anything had really been done with it" category. I wish some of this could have been spread out across two or three completely different books so that I could have enjoyed a fully-fleshed version.

Characterization is another significant problem. The female main character starts off as quite likeable and enjoyable and unfortunately gets less interesting and less likeable as the story goes on, particularly once her ability to serve as a useful viewpoint character is severely compromised by another one of those good ideas. The other two main characters are just eh; Hume stayed basically a meaningless placeholder throughout the whole book, and while there was some attempt to make Mordion interesting, angst does not a character make.

The villains were simply bad. Stupid, stereotyped, ineffectual idiots who were simply willed into positions of power by authorial decree, they rarely felt like any sort of credible threat, or really much more than a constant annoyance. The bits of political intrigue were particularly painful and unbelievable; the rulers of this empire definitely do not live up to their billing or their reputations.

I wanted to like this book. There's an amusing SF novel here in the galactic empire and its intriguing technology and secret existence on Earth, and there's a very interesting character story around the mind-link concept here (which I just loved). Unfortunately, Hexwood is neither of those novels, and is mostly just frustrating.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-06-01

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