I read some Diana Wynne Jones! Finally!
I’m ashamed to say that I can’t 100% remember which lovely blogger pointed me in the direction of the Chrestomanci books as a place to start (Lory @ The Emerald City Book Review – I feel like it might have been you??) . But someone did, and I’m very grateful.
While there are probably tons of people who think I’m really late to this particular party, I’m sure there are a few who’ve also (somehow) overlooked this series, despite being a huge fan of magical, otherworldly children’s stories. For those people, what is Chrestomanci? Well, Chrestomanci is more than one thing – it could be a person (a powerful magician or enchanter, with nine lives, who works within the British Government to supervise the use of magic and enforce magical law), a place (Chrestomanci Castle in the South of England, the headquarters) or even a world (referring to the parallel world, in an unspecified time, in which the stories take place).
Little did I know when I first dipped a toe into Chrestomanci waters how complex a world it is. [Disclaimer: everything from this point on is likely riddled with inaccuracies and drawn together from various sources ranging from Wikipedia and goodreads, to fan sites and this awesome website that I discovered called ‘How to Read Me’. If I’m wrong, feel free to tell me at great length in the comments! I’m desperate for feedback…]
I think there are six books. Then there are also some short stories. The simplest route in is via the first published book (Charmed Life). Then you could proceed via publication order, or you could juggle the books into chronological order. OR, as if this wasn’t challenging enough, you could attempt them in Diana Wynne Jones’ suggested reading order, which it appears people can’t entirely agree on (some put Charmed Life first, others do not). *Breathe*
I suspect it probably doesn’t really matter, particularly if you read them all relatively close together like some kind of Chrestomanci immersion therapy, but I do feel drawn to Wynne Jones’ reading order, if I could just figure out what she actually recommended.
Anyway, all that aside, I’d not be interested in reading any further if Charmed Life hadn’t been so great. To sum up the plot, Gwendolen and Eric (Cat) Chant are orphaned when their parents die in a steamboat accident. Gwendolen, who shows great potential in witchcraft, is currently being tutored by the clearly dubious Mr William Nostrum, but she’s chafing at the bit and believes herself worthy of a greater teacher. Following the discovery of some letters amongst their parents things, Gwendolen petitions the mysterious Chrestomanci for help and she and Cat end up being taken in at Chrestomanci Castle, to live and learn alongside Chrestomanci’s own children, Julia and Roger.
I just loved the middle section of the story set in the castle. It’s a brilliant exploration of what would happen if you put some squabbling children together and added powerful magical abilities into the mix. Really funny and somehow wholly believable. Gwendolen and Julia clash in a big way, culminating in Chrestomanci taking away Gwendolen’s magical abilities as punishment. And in so doing, her true colours are revealed. Plus we, of course, find out that Cat isn’t the magical dolt he thought himself to be. Nor is he the sidekick in the story…
I won’t say anything more plot-wise, but it twists and turns in pleasing ways. Books that add magic into otherwise ‘normal’ scenarios are just my absolute favourites and this didn’t disappoint. Despite having The Magicians of Caprona from the library already, I think I want to read The Lives of Christopher Chant next, which focuses on the story of Chrestomanci himself, and how he came to lose so many of his nine lives presumably.
The best kind of escapist read.