Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
reread : 446/446
I wish I could tell you that I now thoroughly understand this book, after reading it like, five times, and that this post was going to be a perfect chronological explanation of everything that happens so that future readers and past readers alike could come here and go OHHHHHHHHHHH I SEE. UNFORTUNATELY, Diana Wynne Jones worked in mutated layers, not scattered pieces of a single picture. Her books are also puzzles, but rather than being puzzles where every piece snaps neatly together (see: Megan Whalen Turner) they’re more made out of bits of cloud. You can smoosh them into one big cloud at the end but GOOD LUCK seeing a perfectly clear picture in all that.
Warnings: forced pregnancy, death, gore, torture, child harm/death, brainwashing, forced cyborg life, murder, violence towards women, a woman who really hates other women in a way I find unnecessary.
First of all, wow, that’s a gritty sort of DWJ novel, that doesn’t happen very often! I actually forgot how disturbing some of the disturbing parts are, mainly because I can’t keep all of this book in my head over time. It slips away, carrying bits of OH GOD WHAT IS THIS? with it.
WHAT THE PLOT SEEMS TO BE:
The plot seems to be this: an English girl called Ann, on her first jaunt into the world after a nasty illness, goes into the local patch of woods in Hexwood Farm housing estate, and finds that it’s a lot bigger and more magical than she remembers. She meets a scary-looking guy with a killer smile, called Mordion, and they make a kid called Hume out of their blood, AS ONE DOES. As Ann returns to the wood over and over, though, it becomes clear that time and reality are not working the way they normally do. It seems a machine has been turned on that is called a Bannus, able to play out scenarios in full reality until a decision about a course of action to take in real life.
Of interest to a terrifying group of space aliens called the Reigners are the scary-looking guy and the Bannus, and these incredibly bad people who have been ruling the galaxy for thousands of years one by one descend to Earth to try to deal with it.
Everyone has pretty strong feelings about their place in the universe, but it’s not clear when exactly anyone really arrives in relation to anyone else, or why maybe some of them are kind of King Arthur, or where they got a super intelligent robot called Yam. IT IS A GREAT BOOK.
WHAT THE PLOT MORE OR LESS IS, IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
Here is kind of what happens, I am pretty sure.
(These are definitely spoilers and if you have not read the book it is much, much better DWJ’s way around.)
A long time ago in a galaxy which may or may not be a version or this galaxy or may be far away from us (or a version of us), there were a group of Houses that were…capitalists, basically, that ruled stuff. To keep balance between these powerhouses, they invented THE HOUSE OF BALANCE, which took one person from each of the other five houses to rule together for ten years. This, Reigners one through five, was called a hand of Reigners.
At some point along the line, the Reigners took some robot parts and some previous Reigners’ brains and torturously forced them into being the Bannus. (Later known on Earth as Yam the robot.) The Bannus was used to fairly select new hands of Reigners. Eventually there is a Reigner One called Martellian, who starts breeding children to make and train a “Servant”–someone who will do his dirty work for him, basically, a sort of knight in Martellian’s case. He is particularly successful a few times, as apparently our own records show. (See: Fitela in Beowulf, and King Arthur and his half-sisters.)
This relatively okay guy Martellian is ousted, however, by 100% scum Orm Pender, who puts himself in power, locks Martellian, Arthur and Fitela up on Earth, and also banishes the Bannus there, where it will keep them in stasis. Then he promotes his girlfriend to the position of Reigner Three. With nothing to compel them to retire and a lot of technology on hand, they procede with some other jerks to rule for thousands of years.
Orm Pender, new Reigner One, decides also to breed servants, but he does so by coercion and rape, kills the children’s mothers, and isolates, tortures, trains, brainwashes and occasionally sweettalks the kids until there is one left and that one is unswervingly loyal and completely messed up. He does this over and over, but scary-looking guy Mordion is the relevant one here.
When Mordion is young he has a sort of mental contact with three other people–real or fake, he’s scared to know–called Girl Child, Boy, and King. They get wiped out in the brainwashing, except for Girl Child. Keeping her part of his mind for himself while doing everything the Reigners make him do (largely, kill people).
The Bannus is rightly not happy about this, so when it is turned on, it begins to exert itself to bring all the Reigners to Earth, end their reign, and elect a new hand.
The Reigners have some vested interest in distant Earth because Earth unwittingly exports something incredibly valuable: flint. A peculiar disturbance on earth, at Hexwood Farm in England, is brought to their attention. Reigners go one by one to sort it out, turn off the Bannus, and get rid of any problem people who may now know too much. Reigner Two brings the Servant (Mordion) with him. But they all keep disappearing into the Bannus’s field of influence (which is also the Wood’s own field of influence, but no one can tell the difference).
At last Orm Pender and his woman-hating ex-girlfriend Reigner Three go to Earth themselves. Reigner Three brings Vierran, the girl from the House of Guaranty who manages the offworld wardrobes for traveling officials, along as a maid. This irritates Reigner One, who knows she and her family are rebels, and that he’s just had most of her family exiled to Earth, but he accepts the intrusion because he wants to breed her with Mordion and it’s easier to do that on Earth than bring Mordion back in stass and do it before killing him.
However, even Orm Pender can’t control the Bannus. Not surprising–he cheated it to become a Reigner to begin with. In the Bannus’s and the Wood’s field, time starts to repeat, and a motif of the Arthurian court is laid over everything because the Bannus was started up by a local Raynor-Hexwood clerk who told it he wanted a D&D adventure, basically.
On arrival, Reigner Three integrates into castle life, which already includes the maintenance team, Reigners Two and Four (as the fisher king with a bruise and Sir Fors, respectively), and some of the other levels of management who have been sucked in before the Reigners started arriving. Vierran’s arrested cousin Siri is also there. They worship the “bannus”, whatever they think it is, and worry about bandits in the woods (that would be Vierran’s family members etc. who Orm Pender banished). Sir Artegal is King Arthur, out of stass.
Orm Pender turns into a dragon and immediately flies off into the woods and starts eating people.
It seems very straightforward: the Bannus is expanding the wood, and the wood is the range of its field. Actually that is the wood’s field. The Bannus’s field expands all the way into the village. So when a girl called Ann who gets three voices in her head (Slave, King, Boy) gets up from an illness and ventures into a magical wood, she’s venturing from another illusion. She’s not Ann, but Vierran. At some point, the bannus tricked her. Her greengrocer parents are anything but. Her little brother is Fitela, also out of stass. Half the people in their cozy little town aren’t from Earth.
Ann doesn’t know who she is for quite awhile. The first time she goes into the wood, she meets Mordion (for what she thinks is the first time, but Vierran has talked to him for ages and researched him like crazy as a somewhat incompetent rebel), and they make the boy Hume together out of their blood. After that time swaps around over and over: Hume grows and shrinks, Mordion finds a robot and repairs it, but it seems to know too much in every piece of time the Bannus puts them in.
Things do come to a head, because the Bannus (Yam all along) nears its decision point, and all excellent plot conclusions aside, everyone finally sorts out who they are–including the four people, who are the King (King Arthur – Sir Artegal), the Girl Child (Vierran – Ann), the Slave (Mordion) and the Boy (Fitela – Martin). And those four, plus old Martellian, who was apparently decent enough the first time around and hates to go back so much that the Bannus is making him anyway.
And that is about how that book goes, which is the first time I’ve really understood what is happening at all. Remind me to check back here when I FORGET again. (Isn’t that just like the Bannus?)