Chris's Reviews > Conrad's Fate

Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
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's review
Dec 31, 11

bookshelves: fantasy, dwj, chrestomanci
Read in October, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: Twice

Conrad's Fate is a first-person narrative by the eponymous Conrad Tesdinic, a boy who lives in a world where England is geologically still attached to continental Europe, in an alpine town called Stallery dominated by the slightly sinister Stallery Mansion. Ironic, really, when it's possible that the author may have derived the name via St Allery (of possible French origin, a variant of St Hilaire, from Latin hilaris meaning cheerful: Stallery is anything but a happy place.

Like many a traditional fairytale hero Conrad is thrust into a magical adventure where he has to balance his innate gifts with the usual resourcefulness required of such a hero. These gifts aren't really identified till the end, but his other talents seem to include getting into trouble. When he goes to Stallery Mansion to try to resolve what is said to be his Fate, his troubles are compounded by meeting the young Christopher, who has his own problems to solve, not least finding a young girl called Millie.

I liked the underlying idea that, while a lot of fantasy is reliant on the fulfillment of predictions, prophecies and "fate", Conrad has to come to terms with whether such a fate is predetermined (because everybody says it is so) or whether he is indeed master of his own destiny and therefore able to change the future that has been expected to happen.

This was the first of the Chrestomanci sequence that I read, and it is testament to its standalone qualities that the story was intelligible without previous familiarity with the others in the series. Its claustrophobic atmosphere is amply reinforced by being set in the upstairs-downstairs world of a large country house, and the strange world of the master-servant relationship is not only conveyed well but subverted in the usual Jones fashion. There is also a very classic crime novel feel to the denouement, like something out of an Agatha Christie or a Cluedo board game, which I suspect Jones must have been consciously evoking.
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