Scurra's Reviews > Conrad's Fate

Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
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's review
Jul 23, 08

bookshelves: fantasy
Read in October, 2011

I am a fan of first-person narrative stories, but they are very tricky to get right, especially in the sort of intricate plot structures which DWJ enjoys. The problem is always that we cannot see anything that does not happen to or with the protagonist, unless the author cheats and info-dumps on us. Here (as with much of her work) we are presumed to be smart enough to keep up and although the resolution is as rushed and messy as always, there is a sense that this is because Conrad himself is struggling to make sense of it, which makes for a much more satisfying outcome.

The story itself fits seamlessly into what might be called the Chrestomanci template - effectively orphaned kid is pushed into artificial world with its own rules, whilst the actual plot is happening almost incidentally. Indeed here even Conrad doesn't really do anything to resolve it other than act as the unknowing agent who helps Millie to escape.
But that's not the point. What you get is a classic piece of world-building with the idea of "probability shifting" that works both as the plot-device and as a farcical tool that enables some fun set-pieces. You also get to see Christopher Chant through someone else's eyes; he is every bit as annoying as he is in The Lives of Christopher Chant but he is also clearly accepting his responsibilities, albeit in a nice teen-rebellion sort of way.

Oh, and the setting - the Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey world - is well-drawn, with the invisibility of servants being used in various different ways to help illuminate different aspects of the story. And I especially liked the actor crowd who arrive to propel the narrative onto a new level in a very plausible way.

I have revised my rating up a point as a result of this reread. Still not the best of the DWJ canon, but much better than I remembered.
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Chris Very balanced review, I thought, Scurra, and I agree with pretty much all your points. Even though I'd previously read this in the not too distant past, I'd forgotten many of the plot mechanisms (especially the actor 'crowd') and, like you, thought it a much better story than I at first remembered.

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