YA Book Review: Become Enchanted by the Chronicles of Chrestomanci
If you know anything about fantasy and science fiction, you must be familiar with the idea of multiple worlds. Surely you may have wondered what it would be like if there was another place with another you. Perhaps they’re married while you are not. Perhaps they really like macadamia nut cookies and you’re allergic. If your imagination really goes wild, perhaps you think the other you could be a lazy vampire. One who prefers to pay people to feed on instead of stalking the night for victims when he could be home watching This is Us. Whatever you may imagine, there’s a good chance that your flights of fancy don’t quite measure up to the imagination of this author.
If you like YA and or fantasy novels, you can do no wrong by delving into the Chrestomanci books. Diana Wynne Jones is rightly a multiple awards winning author. She used her unlimited imagination to write more than thirty books with astonishing creativity. She is probably best known in recent years as the author of Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequel. Jones has actually written many other book series which are just as fascinating and inventive.
One of her greatest creations in her extensive bibliography is the nine-lived enchanter Chrestomanci. Her chronicles of this character went on for several full-length books and short stories. She not only developed Chrestomanci but introduced many more complex and unforgettable characters who play out Jones’ trademark twisty and intricate plots. As you fall into the creations of Diana Wynne Jones, be assured that you’re in for an amazing odyssey. The Chrestomanci stories are some of the best places to discover her own form of enchantment.
Diana Wynne Jones – Mistress of Many Worlds
Fantasy writers have to create worlds out of nothing except the materials harvested from their own imaginations. Jones was blessed with a bountiful supply. And she writes intriguingly and confidently about the multiple worlds where the Chrestomanci characters live.
There are huge numbers of worlds, but they are grouped together into series. When huge events happen in certain worlds, another is created. Life proceeds based on the new circumstances, so of course, there are infinite possibilities and differences. Countries cease to exist, languages change, mountains may shift. In most of the nine worlds in Chrestomanci’s series, most individuals can find a variation of themselves. When by chance all of the other versions of a person dies, their lives, power and potential go to the remaining one. That person becomes the most powerful person in the nine worlds. He is not a mere wizard or magician, but an enchanter. He’s not only gifted with nine times the magic, but he also has nine lives.
Chrestomanci is the title of this enchanter who must take on this government post to police the magic across the worlds. The “current” Chrestomanci is Christopher Chant and around him, the fantasy explodes with possibility.
Jones writes her stories as if she’s seen the multiple worlds herself and learned the rules about them like a science. In each of her books, she expertly builds upon her magical foundation. Each story adds to the richness, and it’s easy to imagine the stories about this universe can stretch into infinity. For instance, in one world, which seems to be ours, there is no magic. In The Lives of Christopher Chant young Christopher meets a girl housed and worshiped in a temple full of cats who is an incarnation of a powerful goddess. Rival Italian families have magical brawls in the street casting spells by singing in harmony in The Magicians of Caprona. While in Witch Week, magic is outlawed in a modern world where witches are still burned.
Few stories pass without characters from the different worlds crossing the boundaries. The ways they cross over are as varied as the plots. Young Christopher finds he can leave part of himself behind and cross into other worlds as he dreams. In Conrad’s Fate, travelers cross between the worlds in caravans. In the right world, in the right place, at the right time, say “Chrestomanci” three times and the man himself will appear.
A description of these amazing landscapes and places would be fun to explore on their own. You are caught up in this environment which seems so plausible as you read and as Jones masterfully pulls together the threads of her creation. Her inventiveness, of course, does not stop there…
Intricate Plotting Done Here
Like any accomplished writer, Jones is well versed in the lore she has created, and she masterfully crafts her plots and her characters she created.
Be assured that if you pick up a Diana Wynne Jones book, you will be drawn into a story full of unexpected twists, turns, and surprises. Take my advice and pay close attention. While I admit that I am still a little lost from some of Jones’ other books, I was simply captivated by the stories in the Chrestomanci series.
While these are not mysteries, her stories are still full of astonishing discoveries. Characters who you thought were on your side might turn out to be villains, and your whole view of the plot can be turned upside down. Caught up in one character’s point of view, you might buy into their unreliable ideas and find yourself shaken by revelations you might not have considered. In one of the best books in the series, Charmed Life, Eric “Cat” Chant and his sister are sent to live in Chrestomanci Castle after they are orphaned. Eric is miserable in this strange place with Chrestomanci’s family and finds himself getting deeper and deeper into intrigue. By the end he discovers so much about himself, his family and his friends, the ending is a whirlwind of revelation.
In Conrad’s Fate, young Conrad’s magician uncle sends him in disguise to work as a servant at the huge house near their village. The magician has used his spells to determine that if Conrad does not kill a mystery person living in the house, the boy himself will die a horrible death. In disguise, hopefully, Conrad will discover who this deadly person is, but when he reluctantly goes to the castle he finds many of the staff there involved with various intrigues and complicated relationships. A teen-aged Christopher Chant appears from another world searching for a lost friend. Magic is going haywire at the place and no one knows why and to top it off a poltergeist seems to be haunting the place.
This is the typical Diana Wynne Jones plot which is wound up in the end in a satisfying way. Even if you may have guessed some of the hidden secrets of the plot, you will never pick up on all of them. Be assured that the ending of Jones’ books is well worth the journey.
So Many Charmed Lives
Like a true master, Jones can invent characters which are quite unforgettable. If you fell in love with Howl or Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, you’re sure to find people you like or who intrigue you in these tales. The complexity of her characters is fantastic. We might be very fond of a particular individual, but don’t be too surprised to find that they’ve made terrible choices in their past. Now your whole view of them may change. Quite like real life!
If you’re looking for strong female characters, these books have many of them. One of the best villains I’ve read about in fiction is a young girl in one of the books. She is as cunning and ruthless as many characters I’ve ever discovered. Though he is the most powerful enchanter while traveling in his dreams, Christopher discovers the Goddess (as he calls her) is probably as mighty as he is. When she tries to divine the future and realizes that she must try to escape her temple home, she uses her ingenuity and power and rescues herself. Even though most of the books have boys as the main characters, the girls in the stories are often as complicated and vital to the story as they are.
The characters also change throughout the stories. By the end of Charmed Life, Eric is becoming a different boy than the timid and fearful orphan who first came to the castle in the beginning.
Meet The Man Himself
Chrestomanci himself as a central character is especially well crafted. As either the main character or an important side character, his presence at various stages in his life is the fascinating thread that holds the series together. The reader grows to know him so well. It’s fun to look out for the development of his various quirks.
If you thought the wizard Howl may have been a bit vain, you might be taken aback with Chrestomanci’s obsession with clothes. In Conrad’s Fate, he and Conrad are dressed in servant uniform. Poor Conrad realizes with irritation that somehow Christopher manages to look better dressed than he does. This enchanter wears fantastic, perfectly tailored and expensive suits. The children in Charmed Life are astonished to see him wearing a different, brilliant dressing gown when they come across him after hours even one with peacocks all over it.
When he appears to the children in Witch Week, the effect is breathtaking.
As always Chrestomanci knows how to make an entrance and he’s always impeccably dressed when he does.
In some books, Chrestomanci comes in only briefly to do his job as the chief magic user, so you only see certain aspects of his impressive character. In other books where he plays a larger part, we grow to learn more and more about him. We see him develop into the enigmatic leader he becomes later on.
His growth is one of the most satisfying aspects of the books. As a child and a teenager, he discovers that his powers dictate that he must be the next Chrestomanci. He is immediately enraged that his destiny is decided for him. We watch him learn to cope with his responsibilities in The Lives of Christopher Chant. Years later in Conrad’s Fate, he is still struggling with dealing with the previous Chrestomanci, his stern guardian.
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As an adult in the later books, we see that he’s grown and learned to fit as well into his role as he fits into his suits. In many ways, he’s the attractive, skilled and enigmatic hero that is so enjoyable when well done. We’re impressed with his well-honed magic skills, his aplomb in the face of some unnerving situations and his mysterious ways. Yet there are the faults which make him human. That love of good clothes. His temper that occasionally erupts when he’s pushed to the limits. Someone that good looking and accomplished can’t help but be a little too pleased with himself sometimes. It’s gratifying when the Goddess and Conrad make fun of him and his tendency to boss everyone else around.
The overall package is charming, endearing and enchanting (see what I did there). Make no mistake you’ll always be glad when Chrestomanci comes into the picture. Give this series a chance. You’ll find yourself inevitably falling under the spell of the most powerful enchanter in nine worlds.
Adapting the Chronicles
There are no film or television adaptations of the Chrestomanci books that I know of. I imagine it would be difficult as usual to adapt an entire series though it would not be impossible. Years ago I would have said without hesitation that Pierce Brosnan would be the image of Chrestomanci. He’s, unfortunately, a bit old for the role. I reluctantly would have to accept someone else if an adaptation of this magical series is ever developed.
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Dive Right In!
Like The Chronicles of Narnia books, there are differing opinions on the order to read this series. Diana Wynne Jones herself suggested reading it in chronological order: The Lives of Christopher Chant; Conrad’s Fate; Charmed Life; Witch Week; The Magicians of Caprona and The Pinhoe Egg. I read them in publishing order, starting with Chrestomanci as an adult in Charmed Life; Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona. The Lives of Christopher Chant and Conrad’s Fate are prequels. The Pinhoe Egg is a sequel. I like my order better. It means more surprises in Charmed Life. And the reader has fun picking out traits of adult Christopher in The Lives of Christopher Chant and Conrad’s Fate. But whatever order you read in, you will be sure to have an unforgettable experience. Enjoy.
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”