Book Review: Fire and Hemlock

by Diana Wynne Jones.

A modern YA retelling of the Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer legends.  Recommended for YA fantasy fans.  Spoilers follow.

DWJ is one of the great YA writers.  She writes stuff that takes complicated family situations that would make most people go mental, and makes them comprehensible to teens.  In F&H, the main character’s (Polly’s) family is breaking up.  The father’s sleeping around and the mother’s so self-centered she blames her daughter for the failure of her marriage.  The father moves in with his mistress, completely ignoring Polly, and fails to share anything with the woman.  The mother kicks Polly out of her room so they can rent a room, then falls in love with the first boarder, who she subsequently pushes away for not being good enough, again blaming Polly.  It’s not just.  Polly is shoved around until finally she’s left homeless, because her parents are such assholes.

But it’s not a depressing book.

Polly meets a stranger, Tom Lynne, who can’t spell but is one of the best cello players in England.  Their friendship, and the help of her grandmother, sustain Polly until she’s old enough to break away from her parents.  Meanwhile, Tom Lynne will be sacrificed by the fairy queen – over and over again, she sacrifices one lover’s life to extend the life of another, or herself.  (The parallels between the fairy queen and Polly’s mom are there but subtle and didn’t hit me until after I put down the book.)

If you were calling the end of the book, you’d say that Polly uses what she learns from fighting the fairy queen to help resolve issues with her mother, but that’s just not the case.  It’s the reverse, if anything.

I think I have read almost everything of DWJ’s.  Maybe?  Some of her stuff I really like (Howl’s Moving Castle).  Some of her stuff is okay, but not something I have to keep around the house in case I need to read it at a moment’s notice (Eight Days of Luke).  I mean, I’ll probably reread it, but I don’t turn to it when I’m having a bad day or anything.  F&H is a keeper.

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