The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones
I took some time to read this on Sunday, and it was just lovely to sink into the story. This is only the second time I've read The Islands of Chaldea, so it was practically new and there was plenty of treasure to find.
Aileen is a really nice heroine for the story. She starts off really down in the dumps, because she has just failed her initiation; she is supposed to be the next Wise Woman of Skarr, but she couldn't even have the most measly little vision. And then the King sends her Aunt Beck off on a quest, so she's going too, though nobody wants to (and in fact they're all being sabotaged). So Aileen has a long way to go--she needs confidence and daring and the ability to command, but as her friend says, she keeps wailing about being talentless and plain. Through the frustrating, uncomfortable, irritating (and dangerous) journey, Aileen comes into her own.
I love the four Guardians of Chaldea. They come along on the trip, but aren't recognizable at first. They are very fun. And one is a winged bull, which is neat. Each has one of the islands in its stewardship. The islands themselves are takeoffs on the British Isles, if you divided each large island into two and put Wales partway into a new place. Each one is quite different and I enjoy how SWJ played with the names.
Aunt Beck is a nice example of an adult woman who isn't a villain in a DWJ novel. In fact, the central villain is a man--but he's backed up by a hungry mother, sure enough.
I've missed a lot of DWJ March, unfortunately. I wish I was keeping up with it better, and with blogging in general. Life got really nuts a couple of months back and it hasn't really settled back yet. I do plan to read Conrad's Fate this weekend and I still want to read at least some of Reflections. I'm just more in a Conrad mood just now.