(view spoiler)I've never found it very plausible that two adult British staid government-types would follow a bunch of strange, possibly nonhuman children to the bottom of a lake to meet with a king who lives in the caverns below.
Ayna, Gair and Ceri are siblings who live on the Moor, coexisting unpeacefully with the Dorig, water-dwelling fish-like humanoids, and the Giants, large and loud and strong. When their home, Garholt, is invaded by Dorig, Ayna, Gair and Ceri escape and find help among some Giant children, then make alliance with some Dorig children, and ultimately find a way to break the curse that's been driving the three groups apart. But the story is entirely funneled through the perceptions of Ayna, Gair, and Ceri, and while in Dogsbody it was easy for readers to identify the things that Sirius saw because they were familiar objects, Jones takes advantage of the alienness of the children's world to completely fool the reader about who and what the humans, Dorig, and Giants are.
Diana Wynne Jones' Power of Three is, if memory serves me correct, the first book I ever owned. I probably don't need to tell you this, given how many people on my flist have Diana Wynne Jones listed as an interest. The theme of the book is making peace.
For some time, it's easy to assume that Gair and his people are humans, of a sort, living in a fantasy world with the Dorig and Giants. It becomes clear before long that the Giants are actually humans, while Gair and his people - and the Dorig, as best we can tell - are versions of fairies. DWJ does a good job with that thing where each species thinks of itself as "people" and everyone else as Giants and Dorig, or Giants and Lymen, or "fairies." They all have myths and stories about each other, some of which are totally propaganda, like the Dorig being cold-blooded. Then, there are things that actually come from truth: Dorig kids: Yeah, well, Lymen eat caterpillars! For example, the Dorig, who live in the water and look like silvery reptiles, are actually much like Gair's people, but with silvery magical wetsuits. I felt similar when the Giants turned out to be humans - nervous, because I don't like when stories end up being less magical and fantasyish than I thought. I like the gold collars, and life inside the mounds, and the way Lymen and Dorig have what we would call magic, but they don't think of it that way. The Dorig draw a parallel between the Lymen's "words and thoughts" and Dorig shapeshifting and the Giants' "unnatural strength and things that work by themselves." Indeed, though I think humans generally define magic as stuff that doesn't work according to natural laws, it makes some sense to define it, as they seem to here, as stuff to which you don't know the rules. (Not to say we all understand the actual workings of all high technology, but you know what I mean.) It's also interesting how, once Ayna, Gair, and Ceri actually meet Gerald and Brenda, it becomes more clear just how not-human the Lymen are. They deny having magic like the Giants think or being tricky, lying creatures the way the Dorig say they are, but Ceri's reaction to meeting Gerald's skeptical aunt looks a lot like bewitching. Also, I love how Gest, who is a big, goodhearted-but-not-especially-clever, straight-talking hero among the Lymen is, compared to the Giants, sort of a little tricky guy.
Underlying this is the growing sense of triadic groupings, as suggested by the book's title: three siblings; Three Impossible Tasks, in the best fairytale tradition; three peoples (humans, the Dorig and the Giants); three powers (the Sun, the Moon and the Earth); and over all these, the Old Power, the Middle and the New. It all makes for a heady concoction, with a twist about a third of the way in. Ayna, Gair and Ceri are the children of Gest of Islaw and Adara of Otmound, living in the earth mound of Garholt. Before even the children are born their future mother Adara can only be won by Gest achieving Three Impossible Tasks set by Adara's father; these are solving riddles, obtaining a Dorig's torc without killing him; and moving a massive boulder from a haunted mound to another mound. Their father Gest (probably with a hard 'g' sound) puts me in mind of Lady Charlotte Guest who produced one of the first translations into English of the Welsh native tales called the Mabinogion; in fact one of those tales, Culhwch ac Olwen, is the epitome of tales of impossible tasks, this time with the suitor hoping to marry a giant's daughter. The author lived in Oxford until the mid-seventies, and the western end of the Berkshire Downs -- the Lambourn Downs -- is the chalky upland in the south of Oxfordshire, quite probably an area she knew well. While the solutions that conclude the novel might seem a little pat, even confusing, there is no doubt in my mind that Power of Three has a sense of organic growth, with beginning, burgeoning and end following one another in a constantly renewing cycle: this is a universal tale while still being rooted in a very English landscape.
For one, I find Gairs world (and his personality) to be a bit on the generic side and thus what is intended as a slow burn tends toward instead aimlessness. That the nature of this magic in his world and the personality of Gair himself dont particularly tie into the resolution of the central conflict result in me feeling like its all a little bit of useless set up.
This would be a good read from someone who likes classic fantasy, but doesn't mind a few modern elements such as radios or the mention of the London water council.
I love how Jones sets the story in the world that we live in, and that magic is everyday and ordinary, and that the three different folkLymen, Dorig, and Giantsall insist that they are people and the others arent, and that they all think that what the others do is magic.
Extra points for a great plot-twist though, (view spoiler)low fantasy masked as high fantasy, nice and well done. (hide spoiler)
Jones started writing during the mid-1960s "mostly to keep my sanity", when the youngest of her three children was about two years old and the family lived in a house owned by an Oxford college. Beside the children, she felt harried by the crises of adults in the household: a sick husband, a mother-in-law, a sister, and a friend with daughter. The Harry Potter books are frequently compared to the works of Diana Wynne Jones. Many of her earlier children's books were out of print in recent years, but have now been re-issued for the young audience whose interest in fantasy and reading was spurred by Harry Potter. For Charmed Life, the first Chrestomanci novel, Jones won the 1978 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime award by The Guardian newspaper that is judged by a panel of children's writers.