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A novel by Diana Wynne Jones. The protagonist's father—an author—is visited by a mysterious figure, apparently sent by someone called Archer, who demands that he write two thousand words of gibberish.

While investigating, Howard and his sister Awful learn that their town is secretly controlled by seven mysterious siblings — Archer, Torquil, Dillian, Hathaway, Shine, Erskine, and Venturus — at least one of whom seems to be thinking in terms of "tomorrow, the world".

Adapted as a TV mini-series in 1992.


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Tropes include:

  • Amnesiac Dissonance: Venturus spends over a decade in a new identity, with no memory of his former self. When he starts encountering evidence of what he used to be like, he doesn't approve.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Torquil. Has a great love for theatrical outfits (eyeliner included), shopping, and disco dancers. This trope is even more true for the TV miniseries.
  • Dumb Muscle: The Goon. Except he's not.
  • Fountain of Youth Venturus.
  • Happily Married: Hathaway and his wife Bess, as a deliberate contrast to the other siblings who all live alone apart from their minions, servants, or robots.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Archer's fate is ultimately sealed by the typewriter he enchanted.
  • Large and in Charge: Shine. Erskine as well.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Awful - when she isn't screaming instead.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Only with siblings.
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  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Archer, more so in the miniseries than the book.
  • MacGuffin: The 2000 words. They do nothing, Venturus set them up to mislead the others and to give his adoptive father tax-free income.
  • Magical Seventh Son: Although all the siblings are magical, the seventh son is supposed to have twice the gifts of the others.
  • Meaningful Name: Venturus, its meaning isn't mentioned in the book but the tv series has Quentin translate it as "he who is to come" in Latin.
  • Mouthy Kid: Awful.
  • Muggle Foster Parents: Quentin and Catriona, to Howard/Venturus.
  • Nice Guy: Hathaway is the only one of the siblings who comes across as a completely decent person, although some of the others are trying to improve.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity Erskine.
  • Overnight Age-Up: When Howard and Awful visit the home of Venturus, which is in the future, they're both temporarily aged up into young adults until they leave.
  • Portal to the Past: A door in the museum turns out to be a portal. Handy.
  • Rewriting Reality: Archer enchants a typewriter to do this.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What exactly are the seven siblings and where are they from? Quentin describes them as “wizards” and Awful calls Dillian an “evil enchantress” but they never refer to themselves in such terms or use the word “magic” to describe their powers. There’s a vague implication that they might be aliens, but that’s all we’re ever going to get.
  • Rule of Seven: Several things to do with the seven siblings.
  • Secondary Character Title: Neither Archer nor the Goon are the lead character. The Goon plays a large role but the protaganist and viewpoint character is Howard.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Awful when Venturus’ temple turns her into an adult. Erskine likes what he sees, and Howard is extremely taken aback.
  • Stout Strength: Shine, who runs around with a rocket launcher at one point.
  • Stripperiffic/Hell-Bent for Leather: Shine. She's somewhat fatter than your usual Vamp, though.
  • Take Over the World: Most of the siblings have this as their goal as soon as they can leave the city.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Shine and Dillian.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: When Howard finally tracks down Venturus' lair and learns where he's been hiding all this time.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: Dillian is easily able to use her magic to charm Howard and Fifi, but Awful is simply too... awful.
  • Wham Line: "You finished now? Or do we go around another thirteen years?"
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: While Archer's wonderful toys wow everyone else, they only manage to piss Quentin off, since he realizes (correctly) that they were paid for with redirected taxes.
  • Zeerust: Venturus' ship-building robots have voices that sound like mouth organs.
    • Everything in Venturus' futuristic temple and spaceship deliberately evokes this, since they represent the childlike Venturus' romanticized sci-fi view of the future.

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