REVIEW: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: Polly has two sets of memories …

One is normal: school, home, friends. The other, stranger memories begin nine years ago, when she was ten and gate-crashed an odd funeral in the mansion near her grandmother’s house. Polly’s just beginning to recall the sometimes marvelous, sometimes frightening adventures she embarked on with Tom Lynn after that. And then she did something terrible, and everything changed.

But what did she do? Why can’t she remember? Polly must uncover the secret, or her true love — and perhaps Polly herself — will be lost.

Genre(s): YA, Coming-of-Age, Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Romance, Mystery
Content warnings: negligence of a child, toxic relationship (manipulation), possible romance with large age gap

Publisher: Firebird
Release date: April 12, 2012 [original: 1985]
Book links*: Goodreads | Book Depository | IndieBound

*These include affiliate links, which means that if you click through and buy a book I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. [Full disclaimers here.]

2.5 stars

Inaugural (December 2018) pick for Howl’s Moving Book Club.

I thought the premise was really interesting, but I got a little bored along the way due to the novel’s structure: basically Polly realizes her memories have been altered, then we jump back to the day she meets Thomas Lynn and Seb and Laurel and the rest, then follow her ensuing adventures chronologically. It felt more like indulging nostalgia than putting together a puzzle, which isn’t inherently bad but wasn’t what I was expecting; I had hoped for the more fantastical elements to be introduced early on, but they’re really just blips in an otherwise very normal coming-of-age story (where the seemingly only good thing in Polly’s life is her correspondence with Mr. Lynn, who sends her books and harshly criticizes the hero stories she writes). 

I also felt like most of the characters get shortchanged, where they’re nice and/or “interesting” but don’t really have much going on outside of the larger plot — which is possibly a failing of Polly’s limited worldview/narration, since she’s pretty self-centered and doesn’t really grow out of it. And that’s disappointing, because Granny and Ann and Fiona all seem terrific and I would’ve loved to get to know them better. Also, I had trouble getting past my concerns about Polly and Tom’s relationship, because it seems coded as romantic despite the huge age gap. 

Basically, I wanted to like this but found it more mundane than magical, and problematic in a handful of ways that were hard to overlook.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

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