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Friday, November 07, 2008

cover of Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 1

It was so delightful to read the newer Chrestomanci books and re-acquaint myself with the wonderful characters of Cat and Christopher Chant that I found myself wanting to go back and read their own stories again. Both stories tell stories about young boys with nine lives, destined to be the Chrestomanci, the only magic-user powerful enough to police the rest of the magics in the twelve related worlds. But when we meet them, both boys are quite powerless and pretty lonely, and don't have any idea that they are actually powerful magicians. In Charmed Life, the orphan Cat lives with his beloved sister Gwendolyn, who is very pretty and seems to be a talented young witch. What he (and we) don't realize for quite some time is that Gwendolyn isn't all that powerful on her own; she has simply been using Cat's magic. In The Lives of Christopher Chant, young Christopher isn't an actual orphan but he might as well be-- his rich, society mother drives away his kind, worried father (who has enough premonition to sense something bad is going to happen to Christopher, but not enough power to know what to do about it). In his dreams, Christopher travels to strange and wonderful lands, but the gifts from strangers that he carries back in his dreams actually end up in his bedroom. When a clever nanny figures out what this means, Christopher's uncle begins making use of this ability to do some "experiments"; the young, lonely Christopher is so eager to please his uncle that it doesn't occur to him for quite some time that he might be doing something dangerous or illegal.

Cat and Gwendolyn eventually go to live with Chrestomanci (the grown-up Christopher Chant). Chrestomanci decides that Gwendolyn cannot be taught or practice magic until she has caught up on other things (which she neglected entirely, devoting herself to magic). Her tantrums and spiteful magic on the castle grounds, in the house, at the dinner table, and the like are quite entertaining and an interesting look at what it might be like to live with a powerful and capricious teenager (hopefully anyone who has to deal with that has a staff of trained magicians to clean up and keep them in check, as Chrestomanci does). Eventually, she decides she isn't going to get what she wants so she decides to jump to a different reality where she will be worshipped and adored-- but in doing so, she burns up another of Cat's nine lives and shifts a whole sequence of alternate Gwendolyn doubles into different realities, leaving a girl named Janet from an unmagical world like ours in her place. Finally, Cat makes the painful discovery that Gwendolyn was completely selfish and uncarinng, and he finally decides that he does mind having his magic borrowed and used without his permission, and is able to use some of his powers to help save the day in the climactic fight.

The young Christopher Chant seems to have no aptitude for magic because of an undiagnosed magical "allergy" that inhibits his powers. When he finally goes to a teacher that his father finds, he is instructed to empty his pockets, and then when he does the spell that's asked of him he had so much power he lifts the whole roof of the house off. The travelling between worlds that he does is also quite powerful and beyond what most people can do; because of his nine lives, he can just leave a life behind in bed and go somewhere else. But there are consequences, too-- when an accident kills his dream-self, then something similar happens in real life to finish the job and takes on of his lives. In the midst of his world travels and unknown black-market smuggling for his uncle, Christopher meets and strikes up a friendship with a girl who is the living Asheth, a goddess-- in exchange for a temple cat named Throgmorten, he brings her books to read.

Although he is pretty unhappy about it, Christopher eventually goes to live with the current Chrestomanci, Gabriel de Witt. When de Witt is incapacitated in the fight against the mysterious smuggler they can't seem to catch (Christopher's uncle), Christopher has to take over organizing the fight (with some help from Throgmorten and Millie, the former Living Asheth, who chose a name from her favorite series of books about a schoolgirl), Christopher has a revelation-- he sees that de Witt doesn't enjoy his duties as Chrestomanci at all, but finds that he, Christopher, loves it and is actually pretty good at it.

Title:The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 1 consists of Charmed Life (1977) and The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988)
Author:Diana Wynne Jones
Date published:2001
Genre:Young Adult Fantasy
Number of pages:598
Notes:second reading


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