When his grandfather dies, Andrew Hope inherits the old magician’s house and ‘field-of-care’. Though Andrew, an academic in his thirties, spent a lot of his childhood at Melstone House and in the nearby village, he is not entirely prepared for his new responsibilities: not just the magic part of it, but also having to cope with the tyrannical gardener, Mr Stock, and equally domineering housekeeper, Mrs Stock (unrelated) who are part of the establishment. When young orphan Aidan Cain unexpectedly turns up, claiming protection from Andrew, matters become even more complicated.
But Andrew and Aidan form a common bond – one which increases as the narrative moves along; both are discovering the strength of their own magic powers and how best to use them to outwit the mysterious local landowner, Mr O Brown, whose own magic is powerful, and who, in some mysterious way, is threatened by Aidan.
The story unfolds at a gentle pace and is as much about the growing affinity between Aidan and his protector Andrew, their tussles with the two Stocks – Mrs Stock and Andrew have amusing running battles about the siting of a piano in the house and Mrs Stock’s propensity for serving cauliflower cheese – and Andrew’s romantic feelings for the attractive Stashe, his new secretary, as it is about the mysterious activities of Mr O Brown and his messenger, the Puck. Echoes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream resonate throughout the story and the use of magic is always plausible. Diana Wynne Jones once again shows she is quite a magician herself at blending the supernatural and the real world in a way that is never overexcited or crass. A great read for everyone, not only fantasy fans.