It was such a pleasure to find a Diana Wynne Jones book I hadn't read yet, and better yet have it be a great one.
'Hexwood' must be one of Jones' most complicated plots. The non-sequential narrative and the grand re-interpretation of English myth reminded me of 'Time of the Ghost' and 'Fire and Hemlock'. As intricate and challenging as those novels were, Jones outdoes herself with this one.
Hexwood Farm is an English housing estate. Anne, recovering from a long illness, notices several people going through the gates of the old farm that gives the development its name but no one coming out. She takes a walk in the small wood bordering the farm and discovers deeper mysteries going on. A skeletal man coming out of a box convinces her to shed blood and create a child in the forest to defeat his enemies, A mechanical man is found in the woods near the impossibly ruined remnants of the farm she knows perfectly well still stands. Anne continues to make it home in time for meals, time in the wood behaves strangely. The boy sometimes older, sometimes younger. He remembers conversations that she hasn't had with him yet.
The source of this peculiar behavior is a device called the Bannus. An ancient machine brought to life by a bored maintenance worker, it was in storage for the distant, galaxy-ruling Reigners, who have control over powerful magic and resources. They are cruel and will stop at nothing to reverse what the Bannus has put into motion. Anne and her friends are at the center of this conflict and the field cast by the Bannus seems to grow wider and wider.
The motives of the Bannus and how it all works out is one of the more ingenious elements of this plot. Without giving anything away, the plot reveals that every character in this book is more than what they seem and nothing in it happens without a reason. This book needs closer study than what people would expect from teen sf. Jones was one of the few people who could and did write for a sophisticated younger audience.
While many elements in the book seem chaotic, there is a hard-wired logic to the world that Jones created here. It is a struggle of powers, of mythology, of morality, and a considerable amount of blood and violence. Jones did not shy away from the darker elements of fantasy, but this may be her darkest work.
Forgive me if I'm rambling, the last few days have been spent in bed with a fever, headaches, and this book, and 'The Darkest Road' were my respite from that monotony. As of writing this on Monday night I'm not out of the woods myself. But trust me that this books greatness was no fever dream. There are twists and turns and King Arthur and galactic rebellion.