Review of The Lives of Christopher Chant – Book 1 of The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones

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This book was written and published after Charmed Life – see my review here – but occurs at least twenty-five years before the events that take place in Charmed Life. I’ve have the pleasure of reading this book to my granddaughter for the past month or so when she’s come to stay and this week-end we finally finished it. Would it be as much fun as I recalled?

livesofchristopherchantDiscovering that he has nine lives and is destined to be the next ‘Chrestomanci’ is not part of Christopher’s plans for the future: he’d much rather play cricket and wander around his secret dream worlds. But he soon finds that destiny is difficult to avoid, and that having more than the usual number of lives is pretty inconvenient – especially when you lose them as easily as he does!

The joy of re-reading this book aloud is that I was able to thoroughly appreciate Wynne Jones’ technique, as she steadily builds the story. Christopher is an interesting character – he is misunderstood by the adults around him, coming across as arrogant and haughty, when in fact he is bitterly unhappy. It is a joy to read an adult who gets that miserable, traumatised children don’t necessarily sob becomingly into a hanky and pour all their unhappiness out to the nearest available grown up as often depicted in Hollywood. More commonly, they become one of the awkward squad…

That said, Christopher may be fundamentally unhappy, but this book is still brimful of biting humour, some of it laugh-aloud, some of it just deliciously sharp and grinworthy. If your taste runs to well-constructed fantasy, then consider giving it a go – because it happens to be parked in the Children’s section in the library doesn’t mean it isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable read. Wynne Jones is one of those marvellous authors who doesn’t write down to her audience. Christopher is also surrounded by a cast of enjoyable characters, ranging from Tacroy, his spirit guide in the other Words, to the Goddess of Asheth, who yearns to become a schoolgirl. The antagonist is also very well depicted and all too plausible.

As for the denouement – it is beautifully handled and had me reading to Frankie faaar later than I should, because neither of us were unable to pull away from the story. It is always a risk introducing her to books I’ve previously read and loved – what if they fall short? Not only do am I stuck with reading a disappointing book, but it also compromises my earlier pleasure. It’s one reason why I am not an enthusiastic re-reader. But Wynne Jones is worth the risk, because her writing is so enjoyable and wonderfully crafted.

It doesn’t hurt my rep with my granddaughter for picking great books, either!
10/10

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4 responses »

  1. We’ve read that one, too! We’re currently enjoying being adrift in space with the glorious Space Hostages (which I shall be reviewing in due course), which is the sequel to Mars Evacuees, one of the best children’s books I’ve read and Frankie LOVED it. I’ll be reading the Pinhoe Egg afterwards:)

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