Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Lives of Christopher Chant

Jones, Diana Wynne. The Lives of Christopher Chant (2001 ed.) 329 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $6.95

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

This is part 2 of the Omnibus edition of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 1, in which we learn about Christopher Chant– the Chrestomanci of Charmed Life. In truth, I enjoy this particular story more than Cat’s– Christopher is mildly less dumb, and his family is annoying in a way I can accept more easily. I hate horrible older sisters (in large part, I think, because I am an older sister.)

Christopher Chant is not a normal boy. His mother and father split up after his father loses the family fortune, dashing his mother’s hopes for a place in Society. Everything is complicated by the fact that both of Christopher’s parents are incredibly talented– his father is a strong Enchanter, his mother is a powerful Sorceress. After expelling Christopher’s father from her home, Christopher’s mother brings in her brother– Ralph Argent– to help set their family to rights. When Christopher meets his Uncle Ralph, he immediately adores his Uncle, and attempts to do anything to please him.

It is soon revealed that Christopher has an innate ability to travel between worlds. In his sleep, he can rise from his bed and leave his sleeping self safely at home as part of him travels. He slowly masters his ability to travel, by exploring and helping his Uncle with some experiments. Eventually, his travels bring him into the temple of Asheth, where he meets the Living Goddess, and acquires Throgmorten*. I could explain Throgmorten, but that might take away a bit of the fun.

If you’ve read the books in publishing order (rather than according to series chronology) then you’ve already had a go at Charmed Life, and you know what becomes of Christopher. I prefer this incarnation of him to the Chrestomanci who turns up in Charmed Life, but it’s always fun to watch characters grow and transform.

In Conclusion:

This story moves fast, and is definitely a page-turner. Things just keep getting more complicated, and I think in a lot of cases, the reader has gone “Ahah!” several pages before Christopher gets the chance. There are also many moments of hilarity, and several of them got me laughing loud enough that I had to explain them to nearby friends. I think this might be my favorite, but I reserve the right to make that judgment until I’ve had time to read them all. This, too, scores a 5/5.

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*Throgmorten is perhaps my favorite character in the volume.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Humor, Mystery & Suspense, Young Adult Fiction

Charmed Life

Jones, Diana Wynne. Charmed Life (2001 ed.) 263 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $6.95

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

Ok, so in reality this is part 1 of the Omnibus edition of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 1, but in an effort to keep my reviews of a manageable length, I’m breaking the volume up into individual stories. (There are only 2, and they’re each at least 200 pages, so I feel justified in this.) Besides, it took me two full days to read this (in part because I’m working so many hours) so if I were to wait until I’ve read the entire volume, I’d never get the review up.

Gwendolen is all the family Cat has left after a boating accident kills their parents. Because there is nobody else, Cat clings desperately to his older sister, to the point that he has no real identity of his own. He’s the prodigy’s younger brother, the boy who survives by clinging to Gwendolen.

Meanwhile, Gwendolen has aspirations. She’s outgrown their little street, and believes that it’s time that their distant relation, Chrestomanci, takes them in. She writes him a letter, and convinces him to bring them into his home.

Cat doesn’t really know what to make of life in Chrestomanci’s home; Millie immediately makes them welcome, but he doesn’t quite know what to expect from Julia and Roger. Chrestomanci refuses to allow Gwendolen to learn advanced magic, instead insisting that she must first get an elementary education before starting over at beginning magic. She is furious, and spends quite a bit of time getting attention, until she finally angers Chrestomanci to the point that he takes away her magic, which is when everything gets really crazy.

In Conclusion:

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci have a special spot in my heart, because I have read it several times. I’ve owned several copies and editions of most of these stories (at least 2 or 3 copies of the omnibus edition, for example). It’s an excellent descent into a well thought-out world, which is controlled by beautiful prose and strong characterization. It’s also a bit of a page-turner, even when you sort of remember what’s coming next. It gets a 5/5.

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On an aside, I really love the way the universe is introduced in the forward-thing:

There are thousands of worlds, all different from ours. Chrestomanci’s world is the one next door to us, and the difference here is that magic is as common as music is with us. It is full of people working magic– warlocks, witches, thaumaturges, sorcerers, fakirs, conjurors, hexers, magicians, mages, shamans, divinsers and many more– from the lowest Certified witch right up to the most powerful enchanters. Enchanters are strange as well as powerful. Their magic is different and stronger and many of them have more than one life.

Now, if someone did not control all these busy magic-users, ordinary people would have a horrible time and probably end up as slaves. So the government appoints the very strongest enchanter there is to make sure no one misuses magic. This enchanter has nine lives and is known as “the Chrestomanci.” You pronounce it KREST-OH-MAN-SEE. He has to have a strong personality as well as strong magic.

– Diana Wynne Jones (0)

The universes of the Magids does not seem so very different from the worlds of Chrestomanci, and I think it would be interesting if they ever overlapped.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Witch’s Business

Jones, Diana Wynne. Witch’s Business (2002 ed.) 201 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $17.89

Originally published in 1973, this was D.W.J.’s debut novel. She’s improved by leaps and bounds since this novel, but regardless, it’s a solid and entertaining read.

After getting in trouble for breaking a chair, Jess and Frank’s father stops their pocket money, leaving them to find a new way of making spending money. Their brilliant idea is Own Back Ltd (Revenge Arranged. Price according to task. All difficult feats undertaken. Treasure hunted, etc.) Almost immediately, their plan backfires, and things get very complicated very quickly. Buster Knell– the neighborhood bully– is their first customer, and they unwillingly take his job.

Nothing good comes from revenge, and with every job they get more embroiled in a local mystery. Biddy Iremonger is the center of their problems; by starting Own Back Ltd, they’ve stepped on Biddy’s toes and angered the witch. There’s a lot more going on than Jess and Frank angering Biddy– several children have been cursed, some are enslaved, and all of them want to be freed from Biddy’s evil. By unraveling their well-meant mistakes, Jess and Frank do a lot more than earn some pocket money.

It’s apparent, reading this novel, that Diana Wynne Jones has done nothing but improve since her debut. It’s a great read, and an entertaining plot, but her later books have a bit more going on.

In Conclusion:

For a debut novel, Witch’s Business is great. The characters are interesting, the mystery is mysterious, and the story succeeds in drawing you in. However, it is a drama on a child’s scale; things which are dramatic or terrifying to the characters are less so for an adult reader. This book gets a 4 out of 5.

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Wild Robert

Jones, Diana Wynne. Wild Robert (2003 ed.) 100 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $15.99

I can’t find any of my Diana Wynne Jones books. Well, that’s not strictly correct; I cannot find any of my Diana Wynne Jones books which I have not previously reviewed within the last three months. This means that I am missing both volumes of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, all three copies of Howl’s Moving Castle as well as Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. I still have not gotten my hands on The Enchanted Glass, though whether or not I win it in Jenny’s giveaway, I’ll be getting a copy soon.

So I went on a library adventure. I figured, “She’s written so many books that the library has to have at least a few in…” Well, I was in luck. They had a shelf-full, and there were even one or two I haven’t heard of before– Wild Robert, for example.

Heather is dissatisfied with her lot in life. Her bicycle is broken, leaving her stuck at Castlemaine, unable to go visit her friend Janine to escape the tourists who descend upon the ancient house every day, hoping to see a bit of history. Within the ancient house, there are a few places which Jenny considers to be “safe” from tourists, but because she spent too much time reading, there is only one which she can safely get to.

Out in the woods near Castlemaine is a mound– legend says it’s a witch’s burial-mound, Heather’s mum says that it might be a bronze-age burial mound, but her father says it’s an old icehouse, which leaves both Heather and her mother disappointed. That doesn’t stop Heather from hiding out here to read when her indoor havens have all been invaded.

Today however, is an exceptionally bad day, and Heather finds herself wishing that Wild Robert (the man who legend says is buried here) would come and help her reclaim her home. To her surprise, he appears in a mist, and is more than willing to wreak some havoc and help to reclaim his house. Unsurprisingly, Heather learns that what she really wanted is not what she thought, and she’s not exactly thrilled with Robert’s behavior.

In Conclusion:

I would be lying if I said I loved this book. At 100 pages of story, it’s more of a teaser, and it ends with the sort of sentence that leaves you feeling like this is a beginning, rather than a full novel. It could use some editing, either to become a full novella, or to become a true short story. The concept, however, is great, and the illustrations present in every chapter make it a fun read. It gets a 3/5, because it does need to be more self-contained, I think.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy