Fire and Hemlock

Fire and Hemlock

by Diana Wynne Jones


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A fantastic tale by the legendary Diana Wynne Jones—with an introduction by Garth Nix.

Polly Whittacker has two sets of memories. In the first, things are boringly normal; in the second, her life is entangled with the mysterious, complicated cellist Thomas Lynn. One day, the second set of memories overpowers the first, and Polly knows something is very wrong. Someone has been trying to make her forget Tom - whose life, she realizes, is at supernatural risk. Fire and Hemlock is a fantasy filled with sorcery and intrigue, magic and mystery - and a most unusual and satisfying love story.

Widely considered to be one of Diana Wynne Jones's best novels, the Firebird edition of Fire and Hemlock features an introduction by the acclaimed Garth Nix - and an essay about the writing of the book by Jones herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142420140
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/12/2012
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 382,973
Product dimensions: 5.58(w) x 8.08(h) x 1.31(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Diana Wynne Jones was the multiple award-winning author of many fantasy novels for children, teenagers, and adults. Her book Howl's Moving Castle was made into an Academy Award-nominated major animated feature by Hayao Miyazaki. She received the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Married to the medievalist J. A. Burrow, with whom she had three sons, she lived for many years in Bristol, the setting for many of her books. Diana Wynne Jones passed away in March 2011, after a long illness.

Garth Nix is the author of the Abhorsen Trilogy.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A dead sleep came over me
And from my horse I fell
-- Tam Lin

Polly sighed and laid her book face down on her bed. She rather thought she had read it after all, some time ago. Before she swung her feet across to get on with her packing, she looked up at the picture above the bed. She sighed again. There had been a time, some years back, when she had gazed at that picture and thought it marvelous. Dark figures had seemed to materialize out of its dark center -- strong, running dark figures -- always at least four of them, racing to beat out the flames in the foreground. There had been times when you could see the figures quite clearly. Other times, they had been shrouded in the rising smoke. There had even been a horse in it sometimes. Not now.

Here, now, she could see it was simply a large color photograph, three feet by two feet, taken at dusk, of some hay bales burning in a field. The fire must have been spreading, since there was smoke in the air, and more smoke enveloping the high hemlock plant in the front, but there were no people in it. The shapes she used to take for people were only too clearly dark clumps of the dark hedge behind the blaze. The only person in that field must have been the photographer. Polly had to admit that he had been both clever and lucky. It was a haunting picture. It was called Fire and Hemlock. She sighed again as she swung her feet to the floor. The penalty of being grown up was that you saw things like this photograph as they really were. And Granny would be in any minute to point out that Mr. Perks and Fiona were not going to wait while she did her packingtomorrow morning -- and Granny would have things to say about feet on the bedspread. Polly just wished she felt happier at the thought of another year of college.

Her hand knocked the book. Polly did not get up after all. And books put down on their faces, spoiling them, Granny would say. It's only a paperback, Granny. It was called Times out of Mind, editor L. Perry, and it was a collection of supernatural stories. Polly had been attracted to it a couple of years back, largely because the picture on the cover was not unlike the Fire and Hemlock photograph -- dusky smoke, with a dark blue umbrella-like plant against the smoke. And, now Polly remembered, she had read the stories through then, and none of them were much good. Yet -- here was an odd thing. She could have sworn the book had been called something different when she first bought it. And, surely, hadn't one of the stories actually been called "Fire and Hemlock" too?

Polly picked the book up, with her finger in it to keep the place in the story she was reading. "Two-timer," it was called, and it was about someone who went back in time to his own childhood and changed things, so that his life ran differently the second time. She remembered the ending now. The man finished by having two sets of memories, and the story wasn't worked out at all well. Polly did not worry when she lost her place in it as she leafed through looking for the one she thought had been called "Fire and Hemlock." Odd. It wasn't there. Had she dreamed it, then? She did often dream the most likely-seeming things. Odder still. Half the stories she thought she remembered reading in this book were not there -- and yet she did, very clearly, remember reading all the stories which seemed to be in the book now. For a moment she almost felt like the man in "Two-timer," with his double set of memories. What a madly detailed dream she must have had. Polly found her place in the story again, largely because the pages were spread apart there, and stopped in the act of putting the book face down on her rumpled bedspread.

Was it Granny who minded you putting books down like this? Granny didn't read much anyway.

"And why should I feel so worried about it?" Polly asked aloud. "And where's my other photo -- the one I stole?"

A frantic sense of loss came upon her, so strong that for a moment she could have cried. Why should she suddenly have memories that did not seem to correspond with the facts?

"Suppose they were once facts," Polly said to herself, with her hand still resting on the book. Ever since she was a small girl, she had liked supposing things. And the habit died hard, even at the age of nineteen. "Suppose" she said, "I really am like the man in the story, and something happened to change my past."

It was intended simply as a soothing daydream, to bury the strange, pointless worry that seemed to be growing in her. But suddenly, out of it leaped a white flash of conviction. It was just like the way those four -- or more -- figures used to leap into being behind the fire in that photograph. Polly glanced up at it, almost expecting to see them again. There were only men-shaped clumps of hedge. The flash of conviction had gone too. But it left Polly with a dreary, nagging suspicion in its place: that something had been different in the past, and if it had, it was because of something dreadful she had done herself.

But there seemed no way to discover what was different. Polly's past seemed a smooth string of normal, half-forgotten things: school and home, happiness and miseries, fun and friends, and, for some reason, a memory of eating toasted buns for tea, dripping butter. Apart from this odd memory about the book, there seemed no foothold for anything unusual.

Fire and Hemlock. Copyright © by Diana Jones. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Fire and Hemlock 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was really great untill the last page and a half. i didn't get the ending, although i think it was a happy one. maybe if i was older i would get it, but i'm 14 and did not understand the ending. i was rather disappointed because the rest of the book is so good.
bluesalamanders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Retelling of Tam Lin, though I'm not familiar with the fairy tale. Polly realizes that she has two sets of memories from the previous decade. She must recall the hidden memories and discover which ones are real.Fire and Hemlock is darker and more complex than the other books I've read by DWJ. I enjoyed it - I could hardly put it down - but at the same time it was confusing and often I was unsure if what I was reading was the past or the present. I would recommend it if you like complex and twisting stories of this sort, but not if you're expecting another light fantasy tale.
yhgf272 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Seriously, this was the worst book I've ever read. It was very uninteresting to me.
francescadefreitas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had to buy this because I lost my original copy. One of my favourite books as a teen was Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, so this story always suffered by comparison. But it is still a wonderfully crafted tale of growing up, of memory, and the ways reality can be shaped. I'd give this to fans of magical realism/urban fantasy.
Foxen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started Fire and Hemlock yesterday afternoon and stayed up until five this morning to finish it. I quite liked it, but looking back at the book the only things that I can think of to say are criticisms. Let me start with the things that made it a really good book, then, and then I'll move on to what bothered me about it.There's a certain way things work in Diana Wynne Jones books. There's the ordinary world, and then there's a magical world, and the two overlap in a more or less fuzzy way. The main thing that I enjoyed about this book was the fuzzy way the world overlapped. The storytelling was superb. The narrative vehicle of the forgotten memories was very well done, and added to the story immensely. And I just liked how ambiguous everything really was. You really did not know why these things were happening. By the end of the book, explanations were there if you really wanted to seek them out, but it remained fuzzy around the edges, too. To the extent that I sought out the explanations, they were very well executed, too- everything tied together with no loose strings, in a way that still didn't define the rules precisely - exactly my favorite kind of magic. The characters, also, were very well written. All of them, even the relatively minor players, were well-rounded and seemed like real people. And I also quite liked the story. It kept me reading until 5 am. The wonder and discovery of each new episode, combined with the continual attempt (along with the narrator) to piece together what was actually going on made it very engaging.So, what was wrong with it? Mostly the ending. Almost certainly it would have made more sense if I were more familiar with the legend/fairy tale it invokes, but even so, it felt like Jones ran out of ideas for how that confrontation would actually go down and instead just wrote a magical confrontation scene that could have been the conclusion of any of her books. It wasn't bad, per se, it just felt out of place, and the magic in it felt like it would have been more at home in the Crestomanci series than in this previously much more subtle creation. Which to my mind felt like a cop-out and didn't do justice to what had been up until then an excellent novel. The other thing that makes me squirm about the book is of course that you can't get around that it's a little¿ pedobear-y. They meet when she's ten, and the later explanation of "oh, he's not nearly as old as I thought he was" falls a little short, to my mind, particularly since he starts out as an absent-father-replacement figure. That's actually addressed within the story; the persistent concern with "strange men", and the cringe-inducing adolescent crush issues. And the out-of-time vibe of the whole thing makes it almost ok. Emphasis on the almost. I suspect that there's an allegorical, and much darker, way you could read the book, though.The book is quite good, though, for the most part. It's kept me thinking about it, and I think I'm off to read that fairy tale to see if it makes things add up more.
TerrapinJetta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most fascinating book I've ever read.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Polly Whittaker is getting ready to go back to college when something triggers a memory she didn¿t realize she had. This starts her on a search to discover what had happened to her in the past that she no longer remembers.Diana Wynne Jones has crafted an exciting and mysterious fantasy novel using the legends of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer as the basis of her story. Polly discovers her past has many layers and a best friend that she doesn¿t remember. The riddle of the past must be solved before she can go onto the future. Although this is a YA book, readers of any age who love of good fantasy tales will enjoy this book. 3 ½ stars
sungirl23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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. Part adventure, part love story.Opinion: The story is gripping: keeps you wondering¿what¿s going to happen next? The biggest problem is the occasional lack of description on what is going on. The author switches moods or resolves problems w/o explaining why. The ending of the book is particularly confusing. Also, it takes a while to warm to the fact that Polly is falling in love with such an older man. I would have given 4 stars, but for the confusing ending.Objectionable material: Occasional language. Tom Lynne is divorced (but his ex-wife turns out to be a sorceress who has him under a curse; she is also married to another).
Eurekas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an unusual book for Diana Wynne Jones fans. It is dark and complicated. What I found interesting about it was the juxtaposition of the fantasy/love story against the compelling and very real story of the two dysfunctional parents and the Granny who has to continuously step in and protect Polly. I enjoyed it but would not recommend it to children under 11 or 12 and then more for girls.
dreneen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love the atmosphere in this title--my favorite of Jones in many ways--but the rather lame ending ruins it. Not enough to remove it from my collection though!
magilpat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thie multilayered work has many rewards for the thoughtful reader, especially on re-reading. It touches on folklore, the English class system, memory, family.
schinders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
probably my favorite dwj. i first read it at 12 and have re-read countless times since; i find something new each time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't believe that it took me more than 30 years to finally read DWJ. Highly recommend this book. Gorgeous and well-crafted storytelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just read this whole book but I can't tell you anything about it. So confusing! Extremly disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Diana Wynne Jones writes marvelous fantasy books for children of all ages (including those in their 60s, like me), and I am sad that she has passed on because I will miss her genius. Read this at once!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another amazing Diana Wynne Jones book! We follow Polly from age 11 to 19 and her relationship with Tom Lynn. This is a coming-of-age, hero, and fantasy story all in one book. The ending will be confusing (they always are), but the included essay at the end really shows how much of a genius diana wynne jones was. And I absolutely love Garth Nix's introduction. Check out all her other books too - you won't be disappointed!!
AlmostRosey More than 1 year ago
This is a well written, engaging story. The premise intrigued me and the book delivered- the characters are well developed, the imagery is vivid, and the plot never strays into the formulaic. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, it was one of my favorites by this author!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
That book was horrible. Half way through the only thing you know is that Polly likes old people way to much. It's boring and I don't remember 3/4 of it, even though I finished it yesterday. I love the author's other work.... but this? I've no idea how she managed to find something worse the non- fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a bit of a disappointment. Dianna is one of the greates authors ever, but this wasen't as good as the rest. You'd think with the cool double-memory thing and saving her true love it would be, but, IT IS NOT. the ending was confusing. Where did the witchcraft come from?!? and, it, well, just wasen't any good.