Revisited read: Archer’s Goon, by Diana Wynne Jones

Has anyone else been having a hard time keeping up on their reading? I have.

I thought a couple of nights ago that perhaps I might get round it a little by picking up a “comfort read,” perhaps one of the YA books I’ve made the effort to hang onto. Several of those are by Diana Wynne Jones, an English author whose work I stumbled on via Howl’s Moving Castle, back before the film existed (and yes, the book is better even if the movie IS by Studio Ghibli.) I mean, how could pre-teen me possibly turn down cover art like that?

But perhaps we’ll talk more about Howl and Sophie later – I was more in the mood for Archer’s Goon when I raided the shelves.

One afternoon, thirteen-year-old Howard Sykes and his younger sister Anthea Awful arrive home from school to find that a Goon is taking up most of their kitchen. He’s here on behalf of someone named Archer, and he intends to collect a past due payment from Howard’s father Quentin – the two thousand words that haven’t been delivered this quarter.

So unfolds the first tantalizing little peek at the hidden world gradually unveiled in this charming little book – a family of seven mysterious wizards, all of whom have been “farming” various facets of life in the city (power, crime, law and order, etc.)…and one of whom has been doing something with Quentin’s quarterly words that really needs to be stopped.

There’s this whole world out there, you see. And it would be so very lovely to be farming that, instead of just the one town.

Even though I read this so often as a pre-teen that I think I might just have bits of it memorized, it was still immensely gratifying to read again – Jones’s prose is witty and delightful and if you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett – or know a younger someone that you might like to introduce to Terry Pratchett some day – you’ll find it easy to settle into.

The central conflict is straightforward enough – powerful and mysterious folk want something from our hero’s family, our hero’s dad decides he is absolutely not going to play along, and varying degrees of hilarity and/or chaos ensue. We’ve got a likeable young hero in Howard, an especially-vividly-rendered holy terror of a younger sister in Awful, and quite a number of funny scenes courtesy of the titular Goon and the histrionic Quentin, with a few surprisingly-touching little moments mixed in.

Adult me reflects that in a lot of ways this book is really about family dynamics. Yes, the events of the plot are focused mainly on the wizardly doings and the Sykes family’s resistance to them; yes, there is a threat that the world might be taken over if our heroes fail to think of a way out of things. But in a very real way everything happening here is about the bonds between one and one’s parents, one and one’s siblings.

Looking after someone in spite of yourself. The soul-jangling clash when the ego of one party in a relationship collides forcibly with another’s sense of responsibility. The way elder siblings find themselves responsible for – and occasionally blamed for – the actions of the younger; the younger siblings’ vigorous struggles for attention, for legitimacy. The way some of these relationships explode under pressure, and the way they are sometimes found to be intact after all. I recognize all of these things, and they feel oddly realistic against the backdrop of whimsical craziness.

…Though, I mean, honestly it’s also just good fun.

I may have ripped through it in one sitting, staying up far too late and setting myself up for a headache the next day.

Not sorry. 😛