by Diana Wynne Jones
In this installment of her Chrestomanci books, Jones goes back in time. Her earlier books (Charmed Life and The Magicians of Caprona) have the same Chrestomanci (which is a title, or office, not a proper name), Christopher Chant. In this book, we learn much more about Christopher’s childhood and how he came to be Chrestomanci. I’ve had several people tell me that this is their favorite of the Chrestomanci books, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it.
Per usual, Jones is brilliantly creative. The entire premise of the Chrestomanci books – that there are many parallel worlds, created whenever a major decision could have gone two different ways (one world for each way the decision could have gone) – is fantastic. It gives her so much freedom to have a world similar yet slightly different to ours. Throughout the entire book, I found myself constantly being surprised by yet another intriguing premise (in a good way). The story moves right along. Even though this is the first book chronologically, I am trying to read them in published order (although I somehow accidentally skipped Witch Week, whoops!), and I do think that Christopher Chant was more enjoyable and interesting because I had read two of the other books (and actually several short stories from Mixed Magics, which I haven’t reviewed yet, as well).
Negatives for me are similar to what they usually are for Jones. First off, she very rarely writes a good adult. And I don’t mean “good” in the sense of “well-written” – I mean good – an adult who is unselfish and actually cares about the children in the story. She pretty consistently writes adults who are self-centered and who use the children around them to further their own ends. After a while, this begins to wear on me. These are books written about children, for children, and I feel that the constant message that no adult is to be trusted really isn’t a positive one in the long run. In Jones’s books (the ones I’ve read, anyway), children are brilliant and clever and adults are bumbling and silly at best and selfish and cruel at worst. And while I realize that this is part of the appeal of her books for many younger readers, it just isn’t true and I don’t think it’s a healthy message.
My second negative is that, sometimes, I feel like she crosses a line into something rather gruesome. For instance, early in the book, young Christopher meets and befriends some mermaids. We don’t really learn their names or anything like that, but we know that they talked with him and were obviously intelligent beings. Later, we find that these mermaids have been murdered and harvested for their parts (!!!!!) and that just seems a bit extreme to me.
But still, overall, I loved this book – it was exciting and interesting, and I loved the way that it tied into other aspects of the Chrestomanci series (especially the Goddess!). A fun, solid read – 4/5.