In the twenty-fifth and final chapter of Deep Secret, Nick finally reveals what happened on the road to Babylon. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Deep Secret.
Well, this was an experience.
- It’s going to be hard to ever fully talk about Deep Secret without at least another readthrough, and even then, this is the sort of book that actually holds its secrets close to its heart. It’s a dense, impenetrable work, and I’m well aware that there are large parts of it I don’t get or didn’t get. But I had a good time. It’s a challenging thing to read, and it’s even harder to write about it.
- I mean, just in terms of pacing or narrative structure, this final chapter is a strange thing. It’s a lengthy (and at times, very slow) recounting of a scene from a few chapters ago. And that scene was a very important part of the book because it was this heroic, meaningful journey for those three characters, and yet, Jones doesn’t actually tell us what happened. They go on this epic journey, they return and share almost no information, and then this super important scene becomes a mystery in and of itself. Which, by the way, isn’t even the main mystery in the book.
- I can see this being a very, very frustrating thing for a reader. I’m fine with ambiguity. (One of my favorite things is reading negative reviews of The Road that touch on Pbeznp ZpPnegul’f ershfny gb erirny ubj gur qlfgbcvna jbeyq fgnegrq. Oh god, IT PLEASES ME SO MUCH.) I’m also fine with books that explain everything, that spoon-feed plot resolutions to the reader. And books can exist anywhere along the spectrum, obviously! But Deep Secret isn’t a traditional fantasy in any sense, and it bucks a lot of expectations for how a novel like this should work. Which… yeah, I respect that a lot. It’s new to me. Refreshing. And I’m sure it didn’t work for a lot of people.
- There are things here that really do make the giant info-dump/exposition-heavy monologue from Nick kind of perfect. I love that it’s framed by Nick’s own personal “journal,” which bookends the actual testimony that Nick gave to the Upper Room. Jones also writes all of this brilliantly. Her dry, stark diction fits perfectly for Nick, and it truly felt like I was reading Nick’s written word.
- ALSO, I HAVE NOTHING BUT PRAISE FOR TAKING US INTO THE UPPER ROOM. Oh my god, seriously, I never ever thought we’d see any of that, and it’s SO CREEPY and otherworldly and then kind of comforting? It’s just enough of a glimpse that I want to re-read the book with the image of them in mind, but not so much that it looses its magic.
- I just noticed that back on page 343, Nick says, when he realized that they had ascended up that staircase “high than Rupert’s house by a long way,” that he suddenly “got very interested.” OH. OH IT’S A REFERENCE TO WHAT HE’LL TELL THE UPPER LATER. I GET IT.
- I am so into the way the Upper Room works. They’re interested in understanding truth. The way that the pages of the reports disappear once they’re understood… shit, that’s so cool.
- Not just Stan, but we got to see Maree’s Magid sponsorship! I’M SO PROUD OF HER. I’M SO GLAD THAT THIS HAPPENED. I do think I would have loved to see this from her perspective. Actually, more Maree Mallory POV chapters in general would have been wonderful because more Maree Mallory.
- I mean, she interrupts a Very Important Proceeding in order to scold the Upper Room for appearing to be blaming Rupert for Nick and Maree following him. I love that she’s brave enough to call out OTHERWORLDLY BEINGS.
- Let it be known that I never once considered that the quacks somehow made it to Babylon and got wishes granted. God, that is the funniest thing in the whole novel.
- I found the section where one of the Magids admitted that they gave Rupert one of the most complicated jobs ever to be pretty exciting to read. I’ve talked often about Rupert’s tendency to view himself in a poor light, so it feels remarkable that someone finally admitted that this wasn’t all Rupert’s fault. I mean, Simon had said in the last chapter that the Upper Room were both ruthless and fair, and I think their admission here is evidence of that. They gave Rupert “on of [their] riskier and more tangled Intentions,” and they expected Rupert “to go to pieces.” Which is extremely messed up??? Oh, Rupert, I hope you have a much better time in your next job.
- So, it’s at this point that Nick begins his lengthy explanation of what he, Maree, and Rob experienced as they traveled the road to Babylon. I was definitely looking forward to this because I WANTED TO KNOW SO BADLY. So yeah, some of this was hard to get through, particularly when Nick was summarizing parts we were already familiar with. I felt restless during those parts. To Nick’s credit, the man is extremely thorough, but it was in some of these scenes that things felt like they were dragging.
- It also didn’t help that there were so many parts to this journey that just plain didn’t make sense. Why was Maree talking so strangely? Was that due to her being stripped or was it the realm itself? What was the reason for having to obey all the verses? I got the sense that the gatekeepers who turn Nick away that first time needed him to gather those items because there was no way to survive the upcoming journey without them. The birds needed the salt and grain; the wool was to keep them warm; the water was for the final ritual in order to summon whatever it was that granted the wishes.
- I think? It’s just conjecture, and that’s why some of this was so hard to read. I constantly felt uncertain and confused, which also could have been the whole point of the place.
- Who was the other being on the others side of the gate/grille? We never find out, do we?
- There’s a huge section about Nick and his mother in the midst of all of this, but I think I’ll address that at the end when Nick is asked how he feels about his mom.
- Anyway, after Nick summarizes a lot of what happened when he came back to get the extra verse, Rob and Nick rendezvous with Maree on the bridge and press on. AND GOOD LORD, THIS GETS SO FUCKED UP. I imagined that this journey was physically exhausting and contained things that were hard to describe, but a path surrounded by the void of nothingness? It creeped me out on a molecular level, y’all, especially since it feels like at any moment, that darkness could swallow them up and wink them out of existence.
- I do realize that I found this all very suspenseful despite knowing that everyone here survived. That’s…. that’s pretty damn amazing.
- I also love that at one point, Nick said, “Then it all went weird.”
- It’s all weird.
- Like, their clothes disappear off their bodies for a while in a bramble patch (!!!1 OUCH WHY) and then return to them? Well, wait, no, that’s not right. They find a clearing of clothes that were donated in the past. Which… what the hell is that supposed to mean? It explains why the clothes seemed to be too small in the previous chapter. They didn’t grow; they were wearing their own hand-me-downs.
- My brain hurts.
- THEN THE THREE KIDS MURDERED AT THE COLONY
- THEN THE BIRDS
- I DON’T GET IT
- WHY ARE THEY THERE????
- THEN A PASSAGE FULL OF… BULLYING? I don’t know how else to describe that part.
- Then hanging gardens, which weren’t at all what I thought they might be, and instead are THE SCARIEST PHYSICAL CONTRAPTIONS IN THE UNIVERSE. Nope, I actually felt a bit queasy during this section because I have severe issues with balance, and the idea of the ground swaying out from under you is terrifying to me. No thank you now, no thank you tomorrow, no thank you forever.
- At least now I understand why Rob left with Koryfos!
- Let’s just take a moment to appreciate Maree’s description of Rupert: “Met him six weeks ago. Hated him. Met him again at the hotel and feel as if I’d known him for years.”
- I simply loved Babylon itself, especially if you think about it as the physical manifestation of the idea of infinity. It is all things at once. It’s all possibility at the same time in the same physical space. Do I understand the power present there? Hell no. But I understand that if anything could grant a wish, it was the power of pure possibility.
- Oh god, I WAS SO FURIOUS THAT NICK DIDN’T REVEAL WHAT HE WANTED TO ASK FOR. LITTLE DID I KNOW, Y’ALL.
- So, no aging, no seventy years time…. or did that all happen? Did it affect them in different ways? It sure sounded like 70 miles, though!
- There’s a lot revealed here, as I said earlier, but I think one of the most important bits is Nick finally explaining how he feels about Janine. We learn earlier in this chapter that Janine essentially ruled his life. It’s why he started creating Bristolia; he wanted to be interested in something that was so criminally boring that Janine finally left him to his own devices. He just wanted to be left alone. But his mother, knowing exactly what Nick’s future held, wanted to control him through spying and manipulation.
- So, really, I think it is important that Nick get to express how he feels about his mother after she’s been killed. Like a true teenage boy, he answers the inquiry about Janine with a seemingly unrelated story about a boil he had on the back of his neck. But goddamn, it’s such a succinct way of describing her affect on his life. He used to believe that she was part of him, that she was perfect for him and his life, until he was suddenly made aware of the dull pain she was causing him. And even though her death was messy and remarkably painful, it was a pain that needed to happen because it would stop her hurting him.
- Nick. OH, NICK.
- I loved his answer to the question regarding why he never turned back: “I went on because I was interested, of course. I wanted to know what would happen.” I love it so much, y’all. Isn’t that the sign of a good fantasy? You want to know what happens.
- Nick ends up being a whole lot more clever than Rupert ever gave him credit for. The references to the “hundred disks” he buys earlier in the chapter is actually a hint at the fact that he SAVED HIS BABYLON STORY ONTO TWENTY DISKS.
- It’s all nothing, though, compared to his final joke: He’s going to make a game out of Babylon. He’s going to tell the deepest secret to the entirety of earth. Why? Because he had initially wanted to ask to be a Magid, but since he saved his sister instead, he’ll have to try another way.
- So, yeah, this is a very strange end to this very strange book. I have an eleven-hour bus/train ride coming up, and I just might re-read this whole affair. I’ve never read anything like it, and I know I missed a lot. But for my first Diana Wynne Jones book? God, what a treat. Parallel worlds, SF/F cons, Maree Mallory. I did have a great time reading this.
Thank y’all for reading along, too! If you hadn’t read my announcement, Double Features will be taking a break for an unspecified amount of time while I pull off a thing and then get as much done of my novel as possible. Truthfully, I need the extra time to get some important things done! I will absolutely let y’all know when they’re coming back and what the next book is once I know myself!
The original text contains the words “mad” and “crazy.”
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