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Sunday, October 26, 2008

cover of Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 3

Two new installments set in the always-delightful many related worlds of Chrestomanci. If there's a common thread between these stories, it's the idea of talented young people learning to trust themselves and their own abilities, even if the adults around them underestimate them or don't believe in them. The title character of Conrad's Fate is a young man convinced by his uncle that he has a bad karma hanging over him because of something he failed to do in a past life-- at his uncle's insistence he takes a job as a servant at the Stallery mansion to take care of his undone karmic task before he's too late, but things don't go quite the way his uncle hoped. The Pinhoe Egg centers largely on Marianne, a young woman who is sort of the "heir apparent" to the old Gammer of her extended family, sort of the magical head of the clan. A rivalry with a neighboring magic-wielding family turns ugly, the Gammer seems to be going crazy, but no one besides Marianne seems to see what is going on. Both of these stories also feature current or future Chrestomancis that we've met in the other books in the series, and it is fun to see more of them.

Things are always shifting in Conrad's town. One day, suddenly, all the mailboxes might be blue instead of red (and most people don't seem to notice). Once or twice the series of books he is reading in his uncle's bookshop changes, so the new one he was planning to read has a different title or isn't there at all. His uncle explains that someone up at Stallery Mansion is "playing the possibilities", using magic to shift things to their own financial benefit without ano care for how the changes might affect anyone else. Conrad goes to work at the Mansion, and meets up with a youngish Christopher Chant, who is there looking for Millie. The two of them are chosen to be trained as valet for the next master of Stallery, which means they have to learn a bit of everything-- and this gives Christopher plenty of opportunity for wisecracks about the way things work in the big house, such as the seemingly infinite regression of groups of servants eating earlier so they can wait on the next, more important group. In the midst of all their training, Conrad and Christopher notice that something strange is going on-- it turns out that the whole castle is sitting on top of a probability fault, where things and people can suddenly shift from one version of reality to another. When they eventually find the place that's being used to try to harness the probability shifts for financial gain, there is a computer set up, which gives Jones the chance to present something I found particularly clever and amusing-- there is a "shift" key on the computer that actually does exactly what it says.

The Pinhoe Egg is set in the area around Chrestomanci Castle, and takes place when Christopher Chant is the current Chrestomanci and Cat lives there with them (sometime after the events of Nine Lives). Among other things, this book gives an idea what it might be like if we had cantankerous magic-users going senile (a frightening thought!). Because Gammer Pinhoe is unwell, the family has to move her out of her old house-- and she goes pretty unwillingly: she roots herself into her bed, she makes the huge old table go careering through the town, and generally makes things difficult. At some point, Cat meets Marianne and her brother Joe, and he is up in the attic of the old house. He is inexplicably drawn to something, what looks like a huge egg, and Marianne gives it to him. With Cat's special care and magic, the egg hatches and something rare and wonderful and delightful emerges (you think at first it might be a dragon-- that's close, but not quite right). But as Cat learns to care for and understand his new friend Klartch, he learns something about the strange silent woods where he has been riding his horse, and the sacred duty that the Pinhoe family have taken on themselves for generations, a duty of protection that got twisted into something else by the time and forgetfulness of generations.

This story highlights the many different kinds of magic and power - the "dwimmer" of Marianne's family, the mechanical cleverness of Joe and Roger, Cat's creature magic and connection with the horse Syracuse (while Christopher Chant can't stand horses), Jason's fascination with rare plants, Irene's artistic magic-infused patterns and designs, Marianne's magic being different because she is a sorceress in a family of witches, and even Janet's non-magical practicality.
Title:Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 3 - consists of Conrad's Fate (2005) and The Pinhoe Egg (2006)
Author:Diana Wynne Jones
Date published:2008
Genre:Young Adult Fantasy
Number of pages:688


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