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Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Hoping others will join in discussion of Chrestomanci books in chronological order, beginning with The Lives of Christopher Chant, and maybe even post reviews!


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) What do you want to discuss?


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) Okay, well, I suppose I could guess.

I always really like 'The Lives of Christopher Chant'. Christopher kinda annoyed me, but at the same time I could almost understand his trapped feeling and reticence. In his childhood he had only had his uncle to talk to, really, and along comes Gabriel de Witt, expecting every little secret to pop out of his mouth. "I don't think so," Christopher tells himself, and it ends up getting them all into a whole lot of trouble. So yes, the main character made me roll my eyes, but at the same time I felt a fondness---because I like him when he grows up.


message 4: by Chris (last edited Oct 03, 2011 03:06PM) (new)

Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments My only real quibble is that Christopher, who seems to be a typical egotistical (well, self-centred) pre-teen youngster for most of the book, suddenly seems to get a personality change along with organisational skills that were not in evidence scant months before when the story opened. On the whole though this was a novel that kept me reading from page to page.


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) 'Charmed Life' was always one of my favorites because i was the first Chrestomanci book I read (and possibly the first DWJ). In some ways Cat and Christopher are very alike, i.e. they were both seemingly oblivious to the faults of their sister/uncle, and both hid quite important things from their guardians. But in the end, the thing I found most endearing about Cat (other than the fact his real name was Eric (wait, it was Eric, right?) was when he turned the handcuffs into eagles. That was an LOL moment for me.


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Aida wrote: "'Charmed Life' was always one of my favorites because i was the first Chrestomanci book I read (and possibly the first DWJ). In some ways Cat and Christopher are very alike, i.e. they were both see..."

I was going to read Charmed Life next, but I see that Conrad's Fate comes next, so I'm going on to that first. Yes, my general impression is that Cat and Christopher are almost interchangeable in character; I'll bear that in mind when I re-read it.

I've finished Lives now, and reviewed it; looking forward to seeing yours (if you haven't already posted it, that is).


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) Ah yes. I suppose we should probably go in chronological order, not publishing order;)
So. 'Conrad's Fate'. I read this one a while ago, but I gave it five stars, so I must have liked it. I remember thinking it was typical DWJ, with a twisty plot and hilarious characters. With Jones, you never know when someone will say something incredibly important, something you should remember but don't because it seems so unrelated to everything else. The ending surprised me quite a bit, as her books tend to do. It was very funny to see a young Christopher from someone else's point of view; I actually started to like him. And Milly---well, I don't remember her being in it very much, but she's always great.
So is it The Lives of Christopher Chant, Conrad's Fate, Charmed Life, Witch Week, The Magicians of Caprona, Mixed Magics: Four Tales of Chrestomanci, and The Pinhoe Egg? That's the chronological order Goodreads has them in.


message 8: by Chris (last edited Oct 06, 2011 09:19AM) (new)

Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments LibraryThing gives this order:

The Lives of Christopher Chant, Conrad's Fate, Charmed Life.

So far, so good. Then it swaps around The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week.

This is followed by Stealer of Souls (in Mixed Magics, and also a World Book Day book in 2002) and Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream (also in Mixed Magics).

The Pinhoe Egg is then followed by Warlock at the Wheel, and then finally The Sage of Theare (again, both in Mixed Magics). It's all a bit fiddly, and I seem to recall that the order of the short stories is usually disputed.

Anyway, it's clear Conrad's the lad for now! I gave it a short review some while ago, but will probably expand it now.


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) Chris wrote: "LibraryThing gives this order:

The Lives of Christopher Chant, Conrad's Fate, Charmed Life.

So far, so good. Then it swaps around [book:The Magicians of C..."


Okay, sounds good, but I think I'll just do 'Mixed Magic' as one.


Scurra | 13 comments Have now posted my own review.
I was surprised how episodic this story was - Christopher bounces from scenario to scenario as the only common character, but you hardly notice (perhaps because Tacroy and the Goddess provide a sort of continuity within their own subplots.) And I agree that his sudden organisational skills do seem to come out of nowhere.
But as a character I thought he developed quite convincingly through the course of the story, from the small boy through the irritating teen to the almost mature adult by the end, with entirely understandable character traits.
And I wish we had seen more of Series Eleven than the slightly rushed chapter we got. (Or maybe I don't?!)


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Scurra wrote: "Have now posted my own review.
I was surprised how episodic this story was - Christopher bounces from scenario to scenario as the only common character, but you hardly notice (perhaps because Tacro..."


I agree about the episodic character, though that seems obviously related to his steady loss of lives (even with Tacroy and the Goddess providing continuity, as you point out). And my criticism of his sudden organisational skills is not really a total criticism of him as a character--he is likeable and easy to have empathy with, even if his growing-up is in inverse proportion to his accelerating loss of lives.

Series Eleven was really disturbing for a children's book. I didn't go along with the pat (if punny) explanation that this accounted for the origin of the name of the elvenfolk but they were certainly an unpleasant lot. Reminded me of the hive creatures in Ursula Le Guin's Rocannon's World who look humanoid but have no sympathy except to their own kind and no imperative except for their own species' needs.

Looking forward to reading your review!


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) I seem to have blocked every detail about Series Eleven from my mind, except that Gabriel's lives were hidden there.


message 13: by Chris (last edited Oct 10, 2011 02:00PM) (new)

Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Status is all, in Series Eleven, and anyone not from there is beneath contempt, and deserves lying to. (Sounds like government or big business, doesn't it? No, they don't wear furs. Well, not nowadays.)


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) I see, okay.

'The Magicians of Caprona' was one I always liked. The 'Romeo and Juliet' aspect of it, the other world-ness, the names (I love Italian names), the characters, and especially the mystery. It's all Jones!


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments 'The Magicians of Caprona' was one I always liked. The 'Romeo and Juliet' aspect of it, the other world-ness, the names (I love Italian names), the characters, and especially the myst..."

Oh, are you on to Magicians now? I'm still with Conrad's Fate, which I enjoyed first time round. Now it rings more bells because of Gosford Park and Downton (anyone watching this? Series 2 in the UK now).

The film and TV programme's contrasts between upstairs and downstairs are very much echoed in the book which, published in 2005, must surely have been influenced in part by Gosford Park (2001), though of course the whole upstairs/downstairs thing was both well documented and well dramatised before then.

I'm also looking forward to The Magicians of Caprona as, apart from the general feel and Chrestomanci's guest appearance, I can't remember much of it!


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments I've finished re-reading Conrad's Fate now and am putting together a review, incorporating comments I made in a previous review about it on LibraryThing.

It's really interesting following a chronological sequence rather than DWJ's preferred reading order. I get a sense of Christopher becoming the adult, migrating from the unconsciously snooty boy of Lives to the distant but flamboyant Chrestomanci of Charmed Life via the lazy but loyal, impulsive yet dandified adolescent of Conrad's Fate.

I also liked Conrad's narration, which conveniently left room for a retrospective final section where Conrad, on the eve of university, is able to look back and tie up all the loose ends. And in that way DWJ is able to do what she was often criticised for not doing: not giving explanations for how the plot mess is really resolved. You can't criticise her too much for it, however; I don't think even Shakespeare resolved all his comedies in a satisfactory fashion.


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments I've remembered that Tacroy, unnamed, gets a mention at the very end of Conrad's Fate (the young man accompanying Gabriel, with curly fair hair, brown skin). DWJ usually has a good reason for choosing names, even odd ones like Tacroy's. I wonder if it is from Cat (reversed) and Roy (French roi), considering the whole book is about nine lives and cats like Throgmorten (and don't forget Eric, who appears in Charmed Life as Cat).

Oh, and in my review of Fate I could have gone on powerfully about DWJ's frequent depiction of distant parent figures, especially Conrad's mother Dorothea, who must reflect Diana's experience of her own parents in her rather strange upbringing. Once you see one you see them everywhere in her novels.


Scurra | 13 comments I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Conrad's Fate this time around. The dizzying flight through multiple worlds (a DWJ trademark) feels a bit wasted, but the setting of Stallery is more than interesting enough to offset the odd feeling that Conrad is merely an observer in his own story.
Chris, I like your autobiographical observation - I think that is inevitably true of authors; the best way to make something feel convincing is to write from personal experience even if the surrounding structure is inherently fantastical. Having said that, as I note in my own review, there is a long-standing tradition of the effective orphan in childrens' literature as it makes the protagonist a little easier for the reader to relate to.


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Scurra wrote: "I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Conrad's Fate this time around. The dizzying flight through multiple worlds (a DWJ trademark) feels a bit wasted, but the setting of Stallery is ..."

'Dizzying flight' (in both senses of the word) is well put; the vertiginous staircase down which Conrad and Christopher sometimes rush is for me a lasting image in the book.

The orphan figure with whom the reader empathises is, as you say, a commonplace, whether the child has lost their parents (as Cat and Gwendolen have done) or the parents are physically and/or emotionally absent (as with Conrad). Mind you, that last may just be a Victorian literary obsession, from Dickens to Nesbit.


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Just finished re-reading Charmed Life and starting to collect my thoughts on it. Anybody else?


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) I haven't re-read it in a while, though it's one of the two DWJ books we actually own ('The Lives of Christopher Chant' being the other). I actually ordered 'The Magicians of Caprona' from the library and started re-reading that, because I had forgotten the plot:P


message 22: by Scurra (last edited Oct 23, 2011 04:04PM) (new)

Scurra | 13 comments Also collecting my thoughts on Charmed Life. I have to say that where my rating on Conrad's Fate went up, the reverse is partly true of this; perhaps because reading the other two first made me acutely aware of the template I was reading, even though this was the one that established it (if you see what I mean), and because there isn't a real secondary "plot" to act as a backbone, it doesn't seem to work quite as well.
Also both Christopher and Conrad are somewhat more believable; Eric just comes across as either wilfully blind or an idiot who does things for the sake of the story, not because they are sensible. (Having said that, Gwendolyn is one of the great obnoxious kids in literature - and she gets away with it as well!)


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Scurra wrote: "Also collecting my thoughts on Charmed Life. I have to say that where my rating on Conrad's Fate went up, the reverse is partly true of this; perhaps because reading the other two fi..."

I too think Gwendolen is much more interesting than Cat, and not just because obnoxious characters seem to have more character than goody-goodies in books! I'd be interested in why she turned out the way she did and why Cat didn't. Could it be the archetypal rivalry that comes when a sibling is born and the parents devote the time and attention to him/her when it should be due to the elder? Is it that, having discovered her ability to steal Cat's magic, she becomes drunk on power and believes she deserves it? Any which way she certainly has more oomph than Eric. But then even Janet has more oomph than Eric! And just about anybody else in the Castle. He too, like Christopher in Lives, suddenly gets a personality transplant at the end. And of course, like most other DWJ books, quite what has happened in the final denouement is hard to fathom.

I suppose that I give this title the benefit of the doubt because it was the first of the series and because DWJ was only just creating her concept of Related Series and Worlds.

As compensation for the lack of strong sub-plots there remains the rich detail that allows us to re-create the plan of Chrestomanci Castle and the village, draw up Gwendolen and Cat's lesson timetable over the fortnight or so that they are in the Castle, and start to delineate family trees and timelines. (Does anyone else do this? Or am I alone in this private vice?)


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) It is always a bit bothersome when the villain has more personality than the protagonist, and when a selfish/dumb/whatever protagonist suddenly becomes selfless/smart/whatever.

I don't do that, but I have my own little quirks too;)


Scurra | 13 comments Currently getting going on Witch Week and discovering, somewhat unexpectedly, that I don't think I've ever read it before!
Which was a nice surprise, to say the least.


Scurra | 13 comments OK, so Witch Week was clearly minor league DWJ (which still makes it better than most things out there!) but it was a lot of fun. And I clearly read it in the correct week. :)


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Scurra wrote: "OK, so Witch Week was clearly minor league DWJ (which still makes it better than most things out there!) but it was a lot of fun. And I clearly read it in the correct week. :)"

You certainly did!

Distracted now with other bedtime reading, but hope to get back to Chrestomanci soon, and still have Charmed Life to review...


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) This may sound odd, but I rather enjoyed how selfish all the characters were, even the "good" ones. It was a change from the perfect people in more modern stories. Not that everyone is selfish and all, but it was different.


message 29: by Kaion (last edited Nov 07, 2011 09:54AM) (new)

Kaion (kaionvin) | 26 comments I actually think Witch Week is the best of the Chrestomanci lot (if you accept Christopher only as a conduit through which to drive the plot along). It's really strong thematically, and it helps it's a hoot and a half. And like Aida says, I love how all the children are richly developed (and frequently unlikeable).


message 30: by Chris (last edited Nov 14, 2011 03:22AM) (new)

Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Reviewed Charmed Life--finally!

Interesting to read chronologically rather than publication order: you get a sense of development in Chrestomanci's private life although there is no real sense of his Series 12b world meaningfully progressing, either socially, technologically or politically (that's the point I suppose, why it diverged from our own world in the Middle Ages).

Also, you get a sense of DWJ's differing approaches to the books as she wrote them, especially the varied points of view. Charmed Life is unconstrained by subplots (as you noted, Scurra) but is all told from Cat's point of view, even though it's not a first person narrative like Conrad's Fate.

Will be going on to The Magicians of Caprona next, though I must say I'm also tempted by Witch Week. Perhaps I'll read them back-to-back.


Zoe | 15 comments With regard to (several comments back) Chris's comment about Eric/Cat suddenly getting a personality transplant in Charmed Life, it could be argued that with his lives in Gwendolyn's possession, he had very little personality of his own. He was completely under her thumb in all respects - his will, his personality, his magic, his lives - all in her possession. Then when they're taken away from her, he gets a measure of autonomy and personality back again.

But that's really me seeking for a metaphor. It never bothered me much - he's young, he's a kid, he's had someone bully him and abuse him for most of his short life. How much personality do you want him to have? He'd be so focussed on trying to keep her happy - as abused/bullied children generally do with their abusers - that he wouldn't run the risk. And when her reign over his life is disrupted, I think he does a remarkable job of rallying and letting himself out. It may be a bit of wish-fulfillment that he does stand up for himself so quickly, but I don't think there's anything terribly wrong with spreading the notion that people who have been bullied can go on to develop characters!

Also I loathed Gwendolyn and find her incurable nastiness very difficult to read.


Aida (Taffymyametalumi) That could certainly be another way of looking at it.


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Zoe wrote: "With regard to (several comments back) Chris's comment about Eric/Cat suddenly getting a personality transplant in Charmed Life, it could be argued that with his lives in Gwendolyn's possession, he..."

You say How much personality do you want him to have? He'd be so focussed on trying to keep her happy - as abused/bullied children generally do with their abusers - that he wouldn't run the risk, and I agree with you totally there; as a retired teacher married to a psychologist this sadly is true to life. And when her reign over his life is disrupted, I think he does a remarkable job of rallying and letting himself out. And, yes, I agree with this too, the human spirit is resilient and people are well capable of surprising us.

Just a teensy bit of me remains curious that Cat is able to bounce back so remarkably well--but this may be a side effect of the magic... And I have to keep reminding myself that this is fiction!

As for Gwendolen* I have unfortunately come across some (not many) very selfish and spiteful individuals who may have had damaged upbringings but who also may have just been that way inclined. It's not always possible however to avoid sociopaths, especially if you are forced to have a close relationship with them.

*In my edition Cat's sister is always called Gwendolen, a perfectly common Welsh name with this spelling (and let's not forget DWJ's Welsh roots on her father's side). Is it Gwendolyn with a 'y' in N American editions? And if so, why?


Scurra | 13 comments That's interesting. I clearly subconsciously read it as "Gwendolyn" despite it clearly being "Gwendolen" (as I have just been back to check.) I wonder why that should be?

Anyway, just finished The Magicians of Caprona which in general I liked more than Witch Week but perhaps that was because it had an actual plot*, rather than just being a very good series of character vignettes?

*albeit a surprisingly predictable one, without even the over-complicated ending to confuse you...


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Scurra wrote: "That's interesting. I clearly subconsciously read it as "Gwendolyn" despite it clearly being "Gwendolen" (as I have just been back to check.) I wonder why that should be?"

Gwendolyn is an alternative spelling to Gwendolen, so the confusion is understandable, and not obviously limited to American readers (who nearly always refer to Cat's sister as Gwendolyn).

Interestingly (well, to me anyway!), Gwendolen is a made-up female name. There was a male Gwendoleu in early British history, or perhaps I should say mythic history, associated with Myrddin/Merlin, but Geoffrey of Monmouth (who may have been Breton rather than Welsh) misread the name and gave it to a female character to boot. Since when (the early 12th century) it became a popular Victorian name (various spellings, especially Gwendolyn and Gwendoline) before generally falling out of use. There was a character in Wallace and Gromit: the Wrong Trousers I think who was called by the proprietary name of Windolene, a conflation of Gwendolen and the fact that W & G were running a window-cleaning business.


Zoe | 15 comments Chris wrote: "Just a teensy bit of me remains curious that Cat is able to bounce back so remarkably well--but this may be a side effect of the magic... And I have to keep reminding myself that this is fiction!
"

Oh, I agree. If this were really true to life, he would probably take years to get over it! But DWJ has elsewhere used magic as a way of quickly getting over events that would normally be deeply psychologically traumatic. It annoys me more in The Dark Lord of Derkholm than in Charmed Life, as it's more clearly a deus ex machina, but it's definitely a weakness of hers I think.

Hadn't noticed whether my edition says Gwendolyn or Gwendolen - will have to check when I get home! And yes, I've known some particularly nasty people who have had fairly traumatic histories themselves, though still was not inclined to forgive them their nastiness. Gwendoly/en, however, just seems plain old nasty. And thanks for the etymology, that's really interesting!


message 37: by Chris (last edited Nov 25, 2011 12:04PM) (new)

Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Foolishly glanced at The Magicians of Caprona when I'm already in the middle of a couple of other books... Forgotten how well DWJ can sometimes draw you into a story before you're aware of it. Just a shame, as Zoe and many others have pointed out, that she isn't always so good as tying up loose ends.


Zoe | 15 comments Finally got my copy of Charmed Life back (had forgotten I'd lent it to a friend) and checked—indeed, it is Gwendolen, the spelling is my error. And then of course I had to reread it and was pleasantly surprised. After the discussion on this thread I was expecting to be more critical, but I actually thought she handled Cat's development quite well. Even with Gwendolen firmly in charge, he was the one who had the useful ideas—writing to Chrestomanci, for example, which even Gwendolen admitted was sensible—and after she goes into another world and leaves Janet behind, he's forced to take even more responsibility and come up with ideas and suggestions.

It's also as Janet relies upon him and gets him to do things for her that he gets increasingly irritable. He actually wishes for Gwendolen back, but what I think he's wishing for is actually that earlier sense of complacency that comes with knowing his place. Janet is not Gwendolen, but she bosses him around (sometimes quite deliberately, to point this out to him) and makes him realise that he doesn't like being bossed around and used—and yet Gwendolen did it to him as well, even more than he initially realises.

I think this experience with Janet, combined with him performing acts of magic even though he doesn't realise he's doing them and won't admit that he is, set him up beautifully for the end when he has to admit that Gwendolen has been using him mercilessly, fully prepared to sacrifice not just several of his lives but all of them for her own gratification. He also has to admit that he is a magician and does have quite strong magical abilities (being told this by Chrestomanci, bound by silver to speak the whole truth even when it would be convenient for him to leave things unsaid, was probably also quite convincing!) And then he takes his magic back from her so she can't use it anymore, takes himself back so she can't use him anymore either.

It is quite convenient that Gwendolen binds herself into the other world—without using another one of Cat's lives; not sure how she managed that! It's also quite convenient that Janet's absence hasn't been noticed and she's happy to live in Chrestomanci's world, and all the other Gwendolen/Janet variants are similarly in a position to thrive. I find all of that much less believable than Cat's evolution, but it's not enough to put me off the book.

Oh, and I should add, that although I loathe Gwendolen just as much as ever, I do quite like some of her shenanigans. Bringing the stained glass windows to life during a boring sermon, for example, is beautiful!


message 39: by Chris (last edited Dec 07, 2011 02:30AM) (new)

Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Zoe wrote: "Finally got my copy of Charmed Life back (had forgotten I'd lent it to a friend) and checked—indeed, it is Gwendolen, the spelling is my error. And then of course I had to reread it and was pleasan..."

Very pertinent and perspicacious comments--thanks! Loved your analysis of Cat's development and growing maturity; agree about the Gwendolen/Janet-on-other-worlds anomaly; and, like you, enjoyed Gwendolen's creative if destructive impulse ploys (clearly a reflection of Diana's own inherent mischievousness, I think!).

Another thing that occurred to me was Julia's trick of tying knots in her handkerchief to effect magic. This is such an arresting concept, part stage conjuror's trick, and seemingly part folklore custom. It reminded me of Tanaqui's weaving spells in The Spellcoats. And of course Julia in her own way is a bit like Gwendolen in her spitefulness until her conscience finally pricks her.


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Right, I've just finished re-reading The Magicians of Caprona, and in preparation for a review can I crave your indulgences by sharing some thoughts?

Really enjoyed this second time round. This time, instead of just reading it straight through for the story I took time out to take notes (yes! as though for an assignment!). In particular I tried to do Petrocchi and Montana family trees as a way of getting to grips with the confusing number of names (Diana seems to have included just about every traditional Italian name she could find, and there are only a couple or so duplications, most obviously Tonino, 'little Antonio' or 'Tony', after his father Antonio). I was only partly successful and I had to guess at the relationships of Tonino's many cousins and second cousins.

I also found I needed to produce a sketch map of Caprona to navigate my way around. This is surprisingly difficult because although she seems precise sometimes, at other times directions (west, north, or left, right) are left vague. In the end I imagined a combination of Florence and other great Tuscan cities plus the geographical position on a bend of the river Arno of an actual village called Caprona, upriver from Pisa. This was great fun to try to recapture but I'm not entirely convinced by my efforts.

Another thing I loved about the book's plot was the song The Angel of Caprona. The Latin text was concocted by Diana's husband John (to whom the book is dedicated), helped by another academic the late Basil Cottle (who I remember lecturing once when I lived in Bristol, Diana's home). Because I'm a musician I tried to fit the words to the medieval Latin hymn Tantum Ergo Sacramentum (which I used to sing when I was an angelic Catholic schoolboy; alas now I am neither angelic, Catholic nor a schoolboy). And it worked! (You could YouTube the hymn if you wanted to try it yourself.) Even the English 'translation' earlier in the book fits to the tune.

One final point (for now, at least!): on one visit to Tuscany I remember being impressed by the giant angel at the top of the cathedral's facade, and that may have been an inspiration for Caprona's angel. Or it could have been the gilded angel on the spire of Mont Saint Michel in France. Or, closer to home, the massive bronze angel on the facade of Coventry Cathedral in England. None of them have a scroll, however...


Scurra | 13 comments I agree completely about the song - and the Angel - it provides a wonderful spine to the book, even though it turns out to be something of a maguffin in the way that a solution to the puzzle is tantalisingly offered and then negated almost instantly (rather nice to have a slightly competent adversary for once, even if they clearly forget the key artefact solely for plot purposes.)

(In passing, I'd like to recommend Mary Hoffman's wonderful Stravaganza series, another one of those great YA authors who makes the hack writers look like, well, hacks. That's a series set in an "alternate" Italy that has similar fun with the cliché traditions.)


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Scurra wrote: "I agree completely about the song - and the Angel - it provides a wonderful spine to the book, even though it turns out to be something of a maguffin in the way that a solution to the puzzle is tan..."

Yes, the Angel plot is nicely set up but then rather squandered, reducing the Angel to a deus ex machina. Still, I very much admired this addition to the Chrestomanci series, particularly its Italian setting, even if its apparent hero Tonino is almost a carbon copy of Cat, Conrad or Christopher in a reprise of the innocent discovering unknown inner resources.

I acquired one of the Stravaganza books after noting Mary Hoffman was Rhiannon Lassiter's mother; but as it's not the first in the series I've put it to one side for the moment. Another YA title set in Italy, in Venice in fact, is Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord, which has some magical elements in it. I haven't seen the film yet, though I gather it's not highly rated, much in the same way as the film version of her Inkheart which I haven't yet seen either. I find Funke's books inventive but rather depressing compared with DWJ's witty and largely optimistic YA titles.


message 43: by Chris (last edited Dec 22, 2011 03:46AM) (new)

Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments I'm in two minds about which to read next: Witch Week which I missed out before, or Mixed Magics in which Stealer of Souls follows on from The Magicians of Caprona. I think I'd better go for Witch Week or I'll never get round to it. But I'd better review the Caprona book first...*

* 22/12 Just reviewed!


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Chris wrote: "I'm in two minds about which to read next: Witch Week which I missed out before, or Mixed Magics ..."

I went for Witch Week in the end, and am now collecting my thoughts for a review. I largely agree with Kaion ("I actually think Witch Week is the best of the Chrestomanci lot") in that it really focuses on the mystery of who in the class is the witch (as Kaion says, "It's really strong thematically, and it helps it's a hoot and a half"). This drives the plot along (it helps that the story turns on a particular Plot!) and is full of wit and distinctive characters.

I'm going to mention the dreaded P word, only because so many readers seem to latch on to the very superficial similarities with the Harry Potter books. But Larwood House is the antithesis of Hogwarts (as well as significantly predating the appearance of Rowling's books). Interestingly, there is the similar-sounding and equally unpleasant Lowood House in Jane Eyre which many commentators point to as an influence, but I've also found out that there is a Larwood School, founded in 1971, in Stevenage, Hertfordshire (the county where Witch Week is set); however, this is a modern building, purpose-built for primary schoolchildren with special needs, and though witches could be said to have special needs in this Series 12 world I don't think that was what DWJ had in mind.

I loved the final resolution, though I was still left with the logical confusion familiar from other DWJ books. If that world split off from our own world (12B is it?) in 1605 when Parliament was blown up, why was it necessary to merge the two worlds again when it wasn't necessary to do the same with others in Series 12?

Finally, I see that in North American books the pupils are in class 6B, which makes them sixth grade and therefore 11 years old, going on 12. In the UK the pupils are in 2Y which, in the old system before the National Curriculum was established, would have made them 12 going on 13. The UK version seems to me to render the children more believable--more mature, more bolshy, less awkward than if they had just moved from primary school.


message 45: by Kaion (last edited Jan 06, 2012 03:59PM) (new)

Kaion (kaionvin) | 26 comments Hmm, I never knew that they were one year older in the British version! Actually, at least in my own schooling experience in the United States, 6th graders were 10 years old going on 11, though I think it depends on your area (fun fact: most schooling aspects are controlled by the states in the US, yay federations are weird) and the age of starting school has changed over the years... though I never thought the Witch Week characters to be 10. Eleven or twelve sounds about right. Thirteen sounds rather too old for a classroom to be split down the middle in terms of gender as Nan describes. (Certainly, I wouldn't imagine a teacher's pet being very popular among teenagers, nor Charles' unpleasantness to stand out so. Also, dating and crushes would likely play a part in the classroom politics... after all, they're young enough the Nan considers Estelle somewhat precocious/strange to find Christopher so very dashing.)

I suspect the choice of localizing "2Y" to 6th rather than 7th grade has to do with the type of education the students of Larwood are receiving: which is general topic education, in one classroom, with the same classmates all day). This is the type of education generally confined to primary school in the US. Sixth grade can belong either to primary school or jr high/middle school (where students typically have many specialized periods and schedules with different teachers and classmates), whereas 7th grade is firmly on the middle school side of the divide. From a US context, it would be rather incongruous to have 7th graders in the one classroom situation portrayed in Witch Week, if one thinks localization is necessary at all, of course.


Chris (edpendragon) | 106 comments Kaion wrote: "Hmm, I never knew that they were one year older in the British version! Actually, at least in my own schooling experience in the United States, 6th graders were 10 years old going on 11, though I t..."

I went to school in the UK in the 60s, when not only was 2Y likely to consist of 12+-year-olds but also were likely to be taught many of their lessons, even some specialist ones, in the same classroom. I did English, Maths, History and French in our form room, with specialist teachers coming to us (as in Witch Week); for Art, Geography, Science subjects and, obviously, PE and Games, we went elsewhere. And though it was a boys-only school, I've no doubt it was also typical of girls' schools and co-ed schools at the time. In the early 80s, when the novel is set, it was not a lot different, and it seems as though Larwood, as a boarding school for troublesome pupils, was rather more backward than most.

And, remember, this is an alternate world novel! I would imagine transplanting the story to a N American context would be problematic, and conjuring up a sixth-grade '6B' doesn't entirely resolve it, as I guess from your comments.


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Lives of Christopher Chant (other topics)
Conrad's Fate (other topics)
Charmed Life (other topics)
Mixed Magics: Four Tales of Chrestomanci (other topics)
The Magicians of Caprona (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

Mary Hoffman (other topics)
Rhiannon Lassiter (other topics)