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Charmed Life

(Chrestomanci #1)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  32,677 ratings  ·  1,480 reviews
Cat doesn't mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack. ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published 2000 by HarperCollins Children's Books (first published 1977)
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Kellen Thank you! There's two in this list I haven't read and didn't know about.…moreThank you! There's two in this list I haven't read and didn't know about.(less)

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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  32,677 ratings  ·  1,480 reviews

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Mark Lawrence
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've just finished reading this to my daughter Celyn (11, too disabled to read for herself).

It's a fun story of Cat and his witchy sister Gwendolin living in a world that's almost ours but where witches and wizards exist and are well-known.

Like an enormous wedge of literature it's one of those adventures that would be over really quite quickly and with very little fun if the man (or woman) at the top just sat down and told everyone what was going on. Dumbledore could probably have reduced the H
Sibling rivalry can feel like life or death when you are a kid. I mean, probably. I have an older brother* but I think the roughest thing that ever went down between us was maybe at ages 4 and 6 when he kept all the toys at one end of the bathtub. We've never had a physical fight. I don't see one in the offing, since we're both pushing/well past 30, agree on everything (well, not politics, but the important stuff like the Star Wars prequels suck and Mario games are the best, plus he lets me borr ...more
mark monday
this is a winning intro to what looks to be an enjoyable children's fantasy series. the young Chant siblings exist in a world with magic, one of many such worlds - or, rather, dimensions. after a tragic accident that leaves them orphans, older sister and talented witch Gwendolen takes to learning magic the old-fashioned way, through some sort of hedge wizard, while so-passive-it-hurts younger brother Cat blithely assumes he is magic-free. soon they are taken to the castle of Chrestomanci, an enc ...more
Spencer Orey
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mg-fantasy
A solid classic. The beginning of every Diana Wynn Jones book I’ve read so far has always been so great, grounded in daily magical life, and this one shines most at the start. She makes getting to know the little routines of the characters in their towns into a riveting read.

I see the Harry Potter paralells but they’re very different stories and worlds. Overall I didn’t love this like I wanted to, but I’ll go back for the next book. This one set up an interesting world, and the characters are al
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
My kids got super into this, trying to figure out why Gwendolen was so horrible and why Cat put up with it. Reading it aloud made me realize how deceptively simple it is, which sometimes made it seem like there was a lot of padding for such a small book, but it all came into play later. Which was hard to remember since reading it aloud took us a while.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
It may seem odd that I can give 4 stars to a book that I the label under "favourites", but my reasoning is this: The book is not perfect, nor is it quite close. However, since the first time I read it over a decade ago, and in the many times since, it has never failed to pull me into its world and allow me a brief escape from the mundanity of everyday life. Books like this may not be technically the best I have ever read, but nonetheless remain among my all-time favourites ...more
What a perfect book for my mood. Thank you, Fiona! And a terrific introduction to a new (for me) series. Diana Wynne Jones was a talented writer, and I so enjoyed wandering through the pages of this book. Don't let the YA throw you off. If you like Harry Potter, I think you would like this also. Not saying they're very similar, really, but the magical worlds created are so interesting and fun. I just love her writing and the audio performance was also well done. Will definitely be continuing wit ...more
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Gwendolen was just as horrid as I remembered, but oddly I somehwat disliked Cat this time around - though nothing's exactly his fault, he is so terribly attached to his sister... who is horrid to him! I agree completely with Janet that it's infuriating Chrestomanci and the Family said nothing about what was going on to Cat. But most of all, I want one of those dressing gowns! ...more
J. Aleksandr Wootton
Oct 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
On the evolution chart of middle-grade fantasy stories, Jones' Chrestomanci appears somewhere between E. Nesbitt and Harry Potter - closer to the latter than the former, both chronologically and artistically. In fact, one sees in Charmed Life many of the original ingredients Rowling snapped up for Potter, in much the same way that C.S. Lewis repurposed details from MacDonald's Phantastes for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Chrestomanci series is set in a "many worlds" multiverse, in wh
Jayanth - A Capricious Reader
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
I guess I'll read the complete series, this book was good.

While reading this, I realized that J. K. Rowling might have had some inspiration from this series for Harry Potter, not in terms of story or characters, but the fantasy and magical elements. The name 'You know who', the moving paintings, chess pieces that are animated and so on.

Cat Chant and Gwendolen Chant are orphan siblings. Gwendolen is a witch and she is a very ambitious one at that. Cat is quite a mellow and reserved kid and stays
Sheila Beaumont
I love this book! I've already reread it several times, and it seems to get better every time I revisit it. The same goes for the rest of the Chrestomanci series, and indeed for all the books by the late, great Diana Wynne Jones I've read. This book, published in 1977, was the beginning of the craze for kids' books about witches and wizards and schools of magic, and the Chrestomanci series obviously was a major influence on J.K. Rowling, who DWJ said had likely read them when she was young and, ...more
Katie Lumsden
Mar 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this - a great fun read. I look forward to carrying on with the series.
Jul 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Stories of learning magic have become commonplace these days: I've even heard Diana Wynne Jones dismissed unfairly as a ripoff of JK Rowling when Diana Wynne Jones came first. There's nothing commonplace about Charmed Life: this is a fantastic story about a boy, Cat, who lives with a very ambitious witch sister after their parents drown. He goes to live with an impressively powerful man, Chrestomanci, and becomes involved in a strange political war between those who want to use magic without reg ...more
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
the story was about a boy named Cat and his wicked witch sister Gwendolen. well , they're orphans now and after going to a couple of other people they find their way to the castle of mr.Chrestomanci.
there , Gwendolen wants to show this warlock that she has magical talents but he keeps ignoring her which makes her all the more evil.

well, first about the characters, the sister is a monster, nothing special about her, i hated her. Cat , i don't know how to feel about him, but i didn't like his mee
Brick Orrock
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
Well, I read book one of the Chrestomanci Chronicles: Charmed Life, written by Diana Wynne Jones. I was excited for this book as I’m excited to read the other books that she has on this list (Howl’s Moving Castle), and after reading this one I can say that I still am.
This book is written well and I found myself getting lost in the writing and the story. With that being said I didn’t really like it. I didn’t like the characters. They are whiny and cruel, mostly all of them. Except, the main char
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A couple of things struck me on this re-reading. It hit me anew just how unflinching Jones is about Gwendolen - (view spoiler). She is unflinching about a lot of things that I think might be avoided in children's books today. At the same time, there is some compassion exten ...more
Nov 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rating-pg, fantasy
I was really excited to pick this up at an op shop the other week! It starts off as a very bright, sunny, deceptively simple little children's book that then takes some shocking swerves at the end and turns into a story I definitely didn't see coming. I thought it was about Gwendolen, an outrageously selfish yet surprisingly powerful little girl locked into a battle of wills with her new enchanter guardian. And then SUDDENLY there was TERRIBLE BACKSTABBERY. I may even have gasped aloud. ...more
Ivana - Diary of Difference
I found about this book whilst reading "We Were Liars", so adding it to my TBR. ...more
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Eric and Gwendolen Chant have been left orphans by a steamboat accident. Cat, as Eric is known, seems an ordinary, very nice little boy, but his sister Gwendolen is a powerful young witch.

Cat and Gwendolen are taken to live at Chrestomanci Castle with Chrestomanci, a man who controls all magic use, and his family. There, Gwendolen's arrogance and selfish nature becomes evident, and makes life extremely uncomfortable for Cat, until one morning he awakes to find that she has disappeared, and in he
~ Giulia ~
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Once again, Diana Wynne Jones did not disappoint.
Gwendolen has to be one of the most cruel, ruthless, self-serving, self-important villains I've ever encountered!
The world is magical, the writing is good and the main character, Scaredy Cat, endearing. Too bad that everything could have been solved, young girls would not have been uprooted from their lives and family, and lives could not have been lost from the very beginning, if only the characters had communicated with each other. sigh
Floor Flawless
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2019
Listened to the audioboek.

I heard some great things about this series, so I wanted to give it a shot.
So I listened to it whilst doing some household chores. I liked it, but it had less impact on me than I thought it would have. The story was okay, but I won't continue the series I think.
Jul 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Charming children's story for sure. Listened to this and it was short and sweet. Excited to see where this adventure series goes. ...more
I’m doing a Chrestomanci full-series (re)read with my best friend, following Diana Wynne Jones’ recommended reading order, particularly since I missed a couple of these back in the day:
1. Charmed Life (1977)
2. The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988)
3. Conrad's Fate (2005)
4. Witch Week (1982)
5. The Magicians of Caprona (1980)

Revisiting Charmed Life in particular is a delight, as it sets the stage for this world where magic is fairly humdrum and everyday, with witches and warlocks setting up shop ju
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book began with five stars for nostalgia (I read it ages ago, when I was just starting out on my fantasy-reading journeys).

I docked 1.5 stars for the ending, which -- while it was foreshadowed well in little sprinkles throughout the book -- felt sudden and left quite a deus-ex-machina taste in my mouth.

I docked another .5 stars for Chrestomanci himself; I remember such a larger-than-life character, but it seemed, upon my re-reading of the book, that we hardly got to know him at all. Nor do
I've loved everything from DWJ that I've read. From Howl's Moving Castle to Castle in the Air to House of Many Ways to Charmed Life to The Lives of Christopher Chant, Diana Wynne Jones showed such wonderful imagination. I never quite know where her plots will head or how her quirky characters will fare, and I love every minute I spend in her worlds. ...more
this is the only chrestomanci book i don't love to pieces :') ...more
Juho Pohjalainen
Dec 04, 2021 rated it liked it
I don't usually notice Diana Wynne Jones's characters all that much - they serve the story and its needs, that's about it - but here I find them to be both Charmed Life's biggest merit, and its greatest flaw.

On the good side, I enjoyed the characterization of the main villain. There from the very beginning, at first she just came across as a fairly standard childlike brat - one I figured would grow out of it eventually and become the hero she was obviously to be. But no, instead she crossed some
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
After the parents of Gwendolen and Cat are killed in an accident, the siblings go to live with the world's most powerful enchanter, Chrestomanci, in the hopes that Gwendolen, the only one of the two with magical abilities (or so it is thought) can be tutored by the enchanter. Gwendolen becomes angry after Chrestomanci fails to make much of her magical abilities and disappears, only to be replaced by a decidedly nonmagical duplicate, Janet.

The story is great fun, with a big alternative world wher
Erin Smith
Jan 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: childrens
This is one of those books I read as a child that I actually remembered somewhat accurately. The plot, and basic feel, minus bits and pieces. I of course did not recognize at that time fat shamming, which it seems is in many of her books. The overweight people in this series, are not evil or bad even, but their fatness is used as a learning experience for the readers, basically saying overweight people are not disgusting or without talent. When the main character begins to understand that appear ...more
Jul 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
Some aspects of the story were frustrating, but I thought things were resolved well in the end.
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Diana was born in London, the daughter of Marjorie (née Jackson) and Richard Aneurin Jones, both of whom were teachers. When war was announced, shortly after her fifth birthday, she was evacuated to Wales, and thereafter moved several times, including periods in Coniston Water, in York, and back in London. In 1943 her family finally settled in Thaxted, Essex, where her parents worked running an ed ...more

Other books in the series

Chrestomanci (6 books)
  • The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci, #2)
  • Witch Week (Chrestomanci, #3)
  • The Magicians of Caprona (Chrestomanci, #4)
  • Conrad's Fate (Chrestomanci, #5)
  • The Pinhoe Egg  (Chrestomanci, #6)

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