Tag Archives: Diana Wynne Jones

Witch Week

Jones, Diana Wynne. Witch Week (2001 ed). 269 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $6.99

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

Well, I’m not sure how I feel about Witch Week. I will say that it’s why I knew about Guy Fawkes before V for Vendetta came out, but to be honest, Guy Fawkes Day isn’t even a blip on the U.S. calendar. Nor had I heard of Witch Week, which is (apparently) the week between Halloween and November 5th. Though, even if I do have a very mild grasp of the premise, I do really enjoy the narrative. I enjoy Diana Wynne Jones’ prose as a rule, and this is no exception.

In a world related to Chrestomanci’s, magic is illegal, so of course the world is full of it. Witches are burned at the stake, and their orphans are sent to places like Larwood House. It’s a boarding school and orphanage, all in one. There are several points of view in this book, though Nan Pilgrim and Charles Morgan are the central characters. Charles has had several encounters with witches in the past, and Nan is descended from a famous witch. Both of them come into their powers during the story, which is what starts the plot along. They alternately explore their powers, and try to hide them, because discovery means death, even for children.

Unfortunately for Nan and Charles, they are not the only ones discovering their magic, and things are not entirely as they seem. When Brian Wentworth disappears and “the Witch” is blamed, they must run for their lives before the inquisitors get them.

In Conclusion:

This book does require at least a basic understanding of Guy Fawkes, which I think many Americans lack. There’s an editor’s note at the beginning which explains in brief, and that is enough to grasp the basics. Additionally, I know some people have trouble with books that have multiple P.O.V. transitions– this is one of them. Nan and Charles are central, and while the book is mostly told from their viewpoints, they are not the only narrators. I did enjoy it, but I’m not sufficiently satisfied by the ending, which feels like a bit of a cop-out. It scores a 4.5/5.

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The Magicians of Caprona

Jones, Diana Wynne. The Magicians of Caprona (2001 ed.) 273 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $6.99

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

As I’ve said (repeatedly, I think) I owned quite a few incarnations of the Chrestomanci series. I’ve misplaced them all, and replaced them all at least once. I did, however, get this one from the library, because it is at the “lost, not yet replaced” point in the cycle of Diana Wynne Jones books. So, when Diana Wynne Jones Week rolled around, I grabbed this from the library, hoping I could squeeze it in, but obviously that did not happen. Regardless, I’ve kept going.

War is looming over the Italian city-state of Caprona, and an unknown enchanter threatens everything that Paolo and Tonino Montana have ever known. Casa Montana may be one of the most powerful spell-houses in Caprona*, but without the help of their rivals (the Petrocchis) they may not be able to do a thing.

With invasion imminent, and both spell houses afraid to use magic, it may be up to some of the smallest family members to save the city.

Some books do not stand up to re-reading, because they rely upon the surprise factor, or because the plot holes become more evident with familiarity. This is not one of those books. Despite the fact that I knew the twists, and the surprises, and the villain, I still enjoyed the mystery, and watching the characters discover things I already knew.

In Conclusion:

If you’ve read any Chrestomanci books, you’ll likely at least enjoy this one. There is more of a cameo than a real involvement, as Italy is very far outside of England (and thus Chrestomanci’s official office). It is not crucial to the understanding of the series (though it does relate to a short story in Mixed Magics, where Tonino and Cat bond. Reading the book before the short-story will keep spoilers at bay.) This particular story gets a 5/5, because it was a very, very fun read.

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* It took serious effort not to type “Verona,” “Montague” and “Capulet.”

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I got the omnibus edition from the library, because while I own it, I cannot find my copy anywhere. This copy is pretty well “loved,” and since I’m participating in the Dogeared Reading Challenge, I’ll share a few photos of just how well “loved” it is. This one is worth 6 points.

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Enchanted Glass

Jones, Diana Wynne. Enchanted Glass (2010). 292 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $16.99

Because I feel like I should open with a synopsis, and because I am not sure I can come up with one on my own, we shall use the cover synopsis;

Aidan Cain has had the worst week of his life. His gran died, he was sent to a foster home, and now malicious beings are stalking him. There is one person Gran told Aidan to go to if he ever got into trouble– a powerful sorcerer who lives at Melstone House.

But when Aiden arrives on the doorstep, he finds that the sorcerer’s grandson, Andrew, has inherited the house. The good news is that Aiden can tell immediately that Andrew’s brimming with magic, too– and so is everyone else at Melstone. The bad news is that Andrew doesn’t remember anything his grandfather taught him. Chaos is swiftly rising, and he has no idea how to control it. A sinister neighbor is stealing power from the land, magic is leaking between realms… and it’s only a matter of time before the Stalkers find Aidan.

If Aidan and Andrew can harness their own magics, they may be able to help each other. But can they do it before the entire countryside comes apart at the seams?

I finished this book on the 16th, but I’ve been trying to figure out what, exactly to say about Enchanted Glass. As a whole, I really loved it. I hadn’t read any reviews, and I didn’t even read the synopsis before I cracked it open and began to read. I really felt absorbed into the story, and I was really attached to the characters. Andrew and Aiden were amazing, their relationship fascinated me.

Less fascinating, and more irritating was Mrs. Stock. I hated her, and saw absolutely no reason to keep her around. All she did was vengefully hide things, move furniture, and make cauliflower cheese. She did not do a single good thing in the entire novel except bring Shaun into the story. I felt like she was a superfluous character who could easily have been combined with a different character and the story would have been just fine. Only a shade less annoying and superfluous was Mr. Stock, because he brought in the vegetables, which connected to an actual plot, and he periodically did something, like get Stashe and Tarquin into the story.

That aside, I really felt like I was reading a good fantasy novel with a large dash of mystery, until I hit the last two pages, and my good fantasy novel was ruined. Really, what the hell was with that letter, and why didn’t the characters react properly to the revelation within? “Oh, wonder if we’ll mention it…” is not appropriate. Shock, awe, disgust, something along those lines I could have handled, but an “oh, it was so obvious” made me gnash my teeth and left me feeling completely unsatisfied. It was like when I got to the end of Harry Potter, and there was that convenient bit of deus ex machina that resolved everything almost-happily-ever-after*.

In Conclusion:

While I loved the story, I felt like this had some weaknesses that really distracted me from the main plot. My annoyance at Mrs. Stock is one thing– every time she came into the scene, I had to consciously mellow out. Mrs Stock aside, I really did enjoy the story, and I was enthralled, until the letter at the end. That just ruined it for me. I’d say “I don’t know why I’m having such an extreme reaction,” but that would be a lie. Spoiler Warning: I’m having such an extreme reaction because I’m picturing an old dude having sex with a teen. He was an old dude of “a great old age,” and she was at most in her early 20s, from the way the narrative was going. All I can see in my head is a nasty old man knocking up a teenage girl. Then sending her home to her mother. What. The. Fuck. DWJ? End Spoiler Warning! Highlight between points A and B to read. I apologize to anyone who can inadvertently see the white text. If we disregard the bit that angered me so very much at the end, it gets a 5/5, but I think that page must be counted towards its score, so it gets a 4/5.

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* Poor Fred. That made me so very sad. The whole list of dead wizards made me cry (no, not kidding) but Fred most especially.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Jones, Diana Wynne. Howl’s Moving Castle (2001 ed.) 329 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $6.99

They always say “save the best for last,” so I have opted to save my favorite Diana Wynne Jones book to conclude Diana Wynne Jones week. It’s been nothing but fun, reading long-time favorites and books I didn’t know existed. The book which has stuck with me the longest, and which I think I enjoyed the most out of all of DWJ’s novels is Howl’s Moving Castle, because it so seamlessly melds fairy-tale conventions and adventure and twists and turns to become such a solid and excellent fantasy novel. Let us begin with the beginning:

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success.

So begins one of the few books which I can safely list as a favorite novel of all time.

Sophie Hatter has resigned herself to a boring life, running her family’s hat shop. As the eldest, it’s a “fact” that she will never become anything, that her adventures will fail, and that she has nothing to look forward to but mediocrity. After Sophie’s sisters — Lettie and Martha– are apprenticed away from the shop, Sophie’s life is exactly what she expected; quiet and average. Everything changes when the Witch of the Waste appears at the hat shop, and curses Sophie, turning her into an old lady.

Something about being old makes Sophie fearless, so she heads out to Wizard Howl’s Moving Castle in the waste. There she meets Calcifer the fire demon, and enters into a deal– she’ll break his contract, and he’ll find a way to remove the Witch’s spell. It sounds like a fair enough bargain, so Sophie agrees, and so begins the first adventure of Sophie’s life. Life with Howl is nothing like what she expected, and the “freedom” of old age allows her to grow from the quiet, fearful girl she is at the beginning into the strong adult she is by the end.

There’s a lot more that I cannot say without spoiling the book (which would be a horrible thing to do), so I’ll leave it at that. Almost nothing is what it seems at first glance, and by the end of the novel everything has resolved itself in a thoroughly satisfying way. There are more books which form this “series,” though Sophie only makes cameos later, rather than being the central character.

In Conclusion:

If you like fantasy adventures, then this is not the book to miss. It’s got adventure, intrigue, magic, and romance. The narration is excellent, the characters intriguing, and the story enthralling. It’s one of my all-time favorites, so it gets an unquestionable 5/5.

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On an aside, there is a Studio Ghibli interpretation of Howl’s Moving Castle, which is a beautiful, enjoyable movie. However, it falls into the genre of “inspired by the book” rather than being true to it. Martha disappears, Michael becomes a child, Howl is a bird-monster, Sophie a brunette, the Witch a blob. Calcifer is still Calcifer, but that’s because the whole premise rides upon  his… flames. It is a very, very good movie if you’re interested in animated movies which were inspired by books.

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As part of the Dogeared Reading Challenge, I’ll be documenting the “loved” shape this volume is in with a couple pictures. It’s been pretty well beaten, with that beautiful curve that spines get when they’ve been read too many times. This particular book is worth 5 points on the beaten-scale. The cover is actually a separate entity from the book, it’s held on by tape and a bit of glue. I wish I had a book-repair setup, so I could fix this book before I return it to the library. That’s the thing I miss the most from my student-assistant job.

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Diana Wynne Jones Week

August 1 – 7, 2010: Diana Wynne Jones Week

This week, Jenny’s Books is hosting a Diana Wynne Jones week, in which we all choose to appreciate the works of a very prolific (and talented) author. Every day this week, I hope to read and review a different Diana Wynne Jones book. (And since I’m such a D.W.J. fangirl, I think it will be incredibly easy to bring myself to read her novels.)

There are a lot of good books to choose from, and I hope to get a chance to read them all eventually, but the goal for this week is to read seven of them. I’ll edit this post each time to include all new D.W.J. reviews.

Wish me luck. Continue reading

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Mixed Magics (Anthology)

Jones, Diana Wynne. Mixed Magics (2000). 138 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $15.89

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

This book satisfies two challenges, and fits into this week’s theme, which is a strange realization. Mixed Magics is a Chrestomanci-themed anthology which features four stories. Cat and Christopher show up in all of them, getting their fingers into the various tales and changing the way they play out.

In the first story, “Warlock at the Wheel,” we again meet the Willing Warlock from Charmed Life— this time, without his powers. Desperate for a new shot, he goes to a seedy wizard named Jean-Pierre, who sends him to another world. Things don’t go the way he expects, and he ends up with a new chance which revolves around a terrible job. Neither Christopher nor Cat actually show up in person, but their involvement reveals itself eventually.

“Stealer of Souls” has Cat and Tonino (from Magicians of Caprona), and a mystery that they have to get to the root of. Gabriel de Witt– Christopher Chant’s predecessor– makes an appearance as well, though he is a feeble old man at this point, and his lives are leaving him rapidly. In his moments upon his death-bed, Gabriel mentions something very important to Cat and Tonino– something which could help save them. There are cameos of quite a few characters from The Lives of Christopher Chant, which makes this a fun read if you’ve already read that story.

Next is “Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream” which was a very surreal story, actually. It didn’t quite feel like it fit within the Chrestomanci universe, though apparently Christopher gets involved in this story as well. I don’t really like Carol, I think she’s a very annoying character. However, the idea behind the story, and the plot itself is absolutely fascinating. I couldn’t stop mid-story to put this one down for anything. I don’t want to say much, because it is a very short story, but Carol Oneir is something like a star-director of dreams; she controls best-selling dreams which are recorded and released to the public for mass consumption. When she gets to her hundredth dream, however, she stalls, and ends up speaking with Chrestomanci. (Ok, so maybe I said much, but I don’t think I spoiled anything…)

The last story in the book is “The Sage of Theare,” which has a very mythological flavor to it. The gods of Theare are obsessed with order, and so have a major crisis when they realize that they have prophesied that Theare will fall upon the arrival of the Sage of Dissolution. One of the gods believes that the sage might be his son, and so he dumps his son in another world. (It just happens to be Chrestomanci’s world, conveniently.) This story is interesting, but a bit forgettable.

In Conclusion:

Diana Wynne Jones is a fabulous author with a knack for strong prose and realistic characters. The fact that these stories are in Chrestomanci’s world without being about the reigning Chrestomanci is impressive, and makes them quite enjoyable. When all is said and done, I did not enjoy “Warlock at the Wheel” or “The Sage of Theare” all that much, and so this volume only gets a 4/5.

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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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