Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lives of Christopher Chant and The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones

When Jenny announced she was hosting a Diana Wynne Jones week, I was so excited!  I've loved DWJ since I was a child.  Unfortunately, after I discovered one of her earliest books, Dogsbody, it was years before I found another -- my school library didn't get any of her other books, and neither did the public library.  And of course this was before Amazon and library online catalogs.  I didn't even know about ILL back then.  I didn't rediscover her works until I saw one by chance about five years ago, Howl's Moving Castle, another of my favorites.

In the past few weeks, I've been so inspired by all the postings and reviews of her other books I've read six of her books -- two standalone books, plus four from the Chrestomanci series, of which there are now seven books: six novels, plus a book of short stories.  In the interest of time, I'm going to write about two of the Chrestomanci books I've read recently:  The Lives of Christopher Chant and The Magicians of Caprona. 

The Chrestomanci books don't need to be read in order like many other series; they're not so much a linear narrative, more like  interrelated novels.  In the Chrestomanci books, our world is one of a number of parallel worlds that have split off from one another and coexist; occasionally, there are people that can travel from one world to another.  In most of these worlds, magic exists and is quite common.  Chrestomanci appears in all of the books and stories, but it isn't a person's name, it's a title -- the Chrestomanci is the most powerful magician of his time, and so he's sort of like the Minister of Magic.   Different books might have a different Chrestomanci, or even two, the current Chrestomanci and a future one.

The first book I read this summer was The Lives of Christopher Chant.  It's set in a parallel version of Edwardian England, and Christopher's parents and uncle all have magical powers.  As a young boy, he also has strong magical powers, but not everyone is aware of them.  He can control his own dreams, and while he's dreaming, he can move from one parallel world to another.  He also has multiple lives.  Christopher also realizes he can carry objects from one world to another.  When his family finally realize how powerful he is, he's sent to train with Chrestomanci.  Things get complicated when people begin to try and use Christopher's powers for personal gain.

Of the four books that I read, this was my favorite.  Christopher is a well-developed character.  He's flawed, but that makes him more endearing.   He wants to be a normal boy, yet he wants to impress his parents and make them love him.  He also wants to please his uncle, who is the first one to recognize his magical talents.  If you've read Charmed Life, the first Chrestomanci book DWJ wrote, this is the back story of the adult Chrestomanci featured in that story.  This was the second in the series that I read, but you could probably read it any order, though I'd recommend it first or second.

The second book I read was The Magicians of Caprona.  Unlike the other DWJ books, this one is set in Italy.  Again, it's a parallel world, though similar to ours, in which magic is normal.  It's about two magical families in the city-state of Caprona, the Montanas and the Petrocchis, and they're sort of like the Capulets and the Montagues, hating each other for years over something trivial that has grown out of proportion.  The main character is Tonino, a little boy in the Montana family.  Like Christopher Chant, he's having a hard time with his magical talents.  His family is famous for creating spells, but Tonino seems hopeless.  However, his magical powers come to light when an evil enchanter is trying to steal the magic from Caprona while they're under threat of war.  The rivalry between the Montanas and Petrocchis comes to a head as the enchanter must be stopped.

I had a harder time getting into this book, but once I did I really enjoyed it.  It was interesting to see DWJ write about in a setting outside of England (or magical versions of England, I suppose).  Chrestomanci does make an appearance, tying this book in with the rest of the series.  I especially liked the way DWJ worked him into the story in a way I didn't expect.  This was the second book written for the series, but I think you could read it in any order.

While I was on vacation recently, I also read Witch Week and Mixed Magics, which is a collection of four stories with Chrestomanci and includes some of the other characters in the series.  I also have Conrad's Fate checked out from the library, and hope to start it soon.  I'm really enjoying the Chrestomanci series.  If you are a fan of DWJ you'll probably love it.  I think it's a good choice for anyone who enjoys Harry Potter or other children's fantasy as well.


  1. What were the other two you read? The Lives of Christopher Chant is probably my second favorite of the Chrestomanci books, after Witch Week. I'm curious to see what you think of Conrad's Fate! It features a teenage Chrestomanci, and he is absolutely a delight in every way. I can never tell how good a book it is because I'm distracted by how much I love teenage Christopher Chant.

  2. Besides the Chrestomancis, I read Aunt Maria and The Ogre Downstairs. I liked both of them a lot -- I think my kids would really like The Ogre Downstairs. I haven't started Conrad's Fate because I'm trying to stretch out my DWJs. I'll probably start it this weekend.

  3. After reading a bunch of new DWJs for this week, I decided to start re-reading the Chrestomanci books, starting with Charmed Life. It's just as good as I remember! I'm going to have to work hard to not just fly through these. After all, I DO have some other reading to do besides DWJ!

  4. Great post and blog, I love it^^
    search for the same book in italian..
    la Zia Artemisia

  5. Kristen -- I keep checking more and more DWJs out from the library, I can't help myself.

    Angela -- I'm finding rather dangerous as I want to read all of them. I should really slow down and try to ration them out.

    La Zia Artemisia -- thanks! It's nice to know DWJ has fans in many languages.

  6. You've so made me want to read these again! I liked these books, but not as much as the rest of DWJ's work, and somehow I suspect I'd appreciate them more now.

  7. Nymeth -- this was a reread for both Christopher Chant and Witch Week (I don't know if I mentioned that in the original post). I remembered Charmed Life quite vividly so I didn't need to reread it, but could hardly remember Witch Week and I didn't remember Christopher Chant at all! As I was rereading it bits of it came back to me but I liked it much better the second time around. Maybe I read them too fast the first time adn tehy just didn't stick.

  8. In case anyone enjoys listening to audiobooks, the ones recently released of the Chrestomanci series are excellent. Great background music, and enjoyable readers! That is how I was introduced to Charmed Life... While I love the series, Charmed Life, the lives of Christopher Chant, and Conrad's Fate are the books that I prefer most. Enchanted Glass is well worth the read too. Reading it slowly is best: if you go too quickly, you tend to miss key information!


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