Tag Archives: Diana Wynne Jones

Friday Faceoff – There was once a princess who lived in the highest tower…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we are looking at covers featuring castles and I have chosen Howl’s Moving Castle by the awesome Diana Wynne Jones.

 

howlsmovingcastle3This is one of the early covers on the Greenwillow Book edition of 1986. It effectively captures the zany humour and amazing imagination of the author.

 

 

howlsmovingcastleThis offering again reflects the humour and quirky storyline and was brought out by Greenwillow Books in 2012. I really enjoy this one – it draws me in and makes me want to read it.

 

howlsmovingcastle1This offering, produced in 2009 by Harper Collins, seems to be the adult version for those who don’t like to be seen reading children’s books. I think it’s rather cluttered and trying a bit too hard to appear cool and quirky, despite the attractive colours.

 

 

howlsmovingcastle2This Spanish cover, produced by Berenice in 2007 nails it, as far as I’m concerned. I love the steampunkish echoes that work well with the tone of the book and the detail is a delight, while the muted colour palette gives the cover a punchy different look, when surrounded by the often lurid colours used for many children’s books. What about you, which one is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Which Witch is Which?

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This is a new meme started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s topic is covers featuring witches or witchcraft. And for me it had to be this book: Witch Week – Book 3 of the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones , which should be FAR better known. If you like the Harry Potter series, then you’ll love Chrestomanci’s world.

All three covers are British. This first offering is on the book that I own, published in 2000 by Harper Collins. It’s okay, featuring the main protagonists but doesn’t have the darkness or the quirkiness of this memorable book.

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This next cover was produced by Greenwillow Publishing back in 1997 and far more captures the darkness and sense of threat that runs through the story. There is also a nod to the enigmatic enchanter who is in charge of all things magical within the worlds, which I like.

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But this is my favourite by a long country mile.

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I love the bright boldness of the colours and the wonderful curling font. I reckon Harper Collins nailed it with this vastly improved effort, featuring Chrestomanci himself in the foreground, with all the additional quirky characters and events popping up in and around the title. What do you think?

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 2

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I posted my first five Favourite Fantasy Worlds a few weeks ago, so here are the next group. All of these worlds are well developed, nicely complex and provide satisfying backdrops for the stories. It’s no accident they are all series. One of the reasons I really enjoy multi-book story arcs is the extra layers of detail that can be built into the worldbuilding.

The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
This original, remarkable series is set in the equivalent age of the Tudors, with horse-drawn conveyances Touchstoneand charts the fortunes of a magical travelling theatre company. In the first book, Touchstone, they form their group and the next three books in the series records their highs and lows as they steadily get more prosperous and successful. Though that brings its own pressures. The glass thorns of the series title, are the drugs the actors dose themselves with, in order to heighten their emotions – or help them relax after the excitement of performance. I eagerly await each book and so far, have not been disappointed at the unfolding drama of these enormously talented, difficult people battling to produce their best work in less than ideal circumstances.

The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones
This series of books covers the adventures of the state-appointed enchanter Chrestomanci, who is taskedCharmedLife with keeping law and order amongst the magical community. I have read most of these books to my granddaughter, after having devoured them myself several decades ago – my favourite is Charmed Life. And rereading them aloud has not only proved they can stand the test of time, but increased my respect at the quality of the writing, the crafting of the story arcs and the sheer quirky genius of Jones’ imagination. Yes – I know they are supposed to be for children, but give them a go if you appreciate magical mayhem. They are a joy for any age group.

The Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
nohumansinvolvedThis world is extensively portrayed in the thirteen-book series, with a number of accompanying novellas and short stories. It all kicks off with Bitten, where werewolf Clay accidentally bites his girlfriend – and her life is never the same again. But don’t go away with the idea that the series is all about werewolves – it also encompasses witches, necromancers and vampires. In short, anyone who dabbles with the paranormal or magic. Read my review of No Humans Involved. The world is enjoyable – I love the way Armstrong manages to slide from everyday normality into something else.

Einarinn by Juliet E. McKenna
Again, this extensive, detailed world has been produced over a long period of time through several series dangerous watersof books – there are five books within The Tales of Einarinn; four books in The Aldabreshin Compass; three books and a novella in The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution and her latest trilogy, still set within the same world – The Hadrumal Crisis. Juliet provides an excellent explanation of her world on her blog. They are all great reads – but my personal favourites are The Aldabreshin Compass series and The Hadrumal Crisis – see my review of Dangerous Waters.

The Inheritance trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
thehundredthousandkingdomsThis is an extraordinary series – particularly the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which is set in the city Sky where gods and mortal co-exist. See my review here. The book is pervaded by the sense of threat and a feeling that a set of rules apply here that our protagonist needs to know, but doesn’t fully understand. The second book, The Broken Kingdoms had me in tears at the end – and that doesn’t happen all that often, these days. If you like remarkable fantasy on an epic scale focusing on gods, then give it a go.

And there you have it… a few of my favourite fantasy worlds to date. What are your favourite fantastic worlds?

Review of Charmed Life – Book 1 of The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones

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I’ve been reading this entertaining series – see my review of Witch Week here – to my granddaughter, who is becoming a confirmed fan of speculative fiction, and during the summer holidays we have recently completed this classic. Would she enjoy it as much as I did?

Everybody says that Gwendolen Chant is a gifted witch with astonishing powers, so it suits her enormously when she is taken to live in Chestomanci Castle. Her brother Eric (better known as Cat) is not so keen, for he has no talent for magic at all. However life with the great enchanter and his family is not what either of them expects and sparks soon begin to fly…

CharmedLifeThis book is from the viewpoint of Cat, Gwendolen’s younger brother. I initially read it years ago and it simply blew me away. The writing is so sharply witty, the humour knockabout – but with a sharp poignancy underneath that also left me with a lump in my throat several times. So rereading it to a young audience, would the magic still stir again?

Oh yes. Reading it aloud, and knowing what happens next, I was able to appreciate the technical skill and storytelling genius of Wynne Jones, as Cat experiences the fireworks his wilful and lethally gifted sister produces. Cat is a wonderful character – quiet and unassuming, trying to slide through life without drawing any attention to himself and always looking to Gwendolen for guidance. We make assumptions alongside him, to find them blown away in the amazing, shocking denouement that is so delightfully pitch perfect in pacing, heightening the drama, providing the switch moment when Cat learns exactly what Gwendolen is up to and how it impacts upon him that I get goose pimples when I think of it.

If you are considering writing any form of fiction where a climactic moment is important, I urge you to go and hunt for this book. If you loved the Harry Potter series, then track down Charmed Life. It is a classic for a solid reason – quality fantasy action pings off every page and I don’t see why children should have all the fun, anyway.
10/10

Review of Witch Week – Book 3 of The Worlds of Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones

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After reading Mars Evacuees, Frankie asked for ‘another of your awesome books, Granny,’ so I had to oblige with something special after a request like that. And came up with this…

Here is a world where witchcraft is utterly forbidden, yet where magic still seems to break out like measles – all over the place! When a note, written in ordinary blue ballpoint, appears between two of the homework books Mr Crossley is marking, he is very upset.
It says: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH
Anyone could have written it, but the most awful thing is, the note might be true for Larwood House is a school for witch orphans. And the last thing Mr Crossley needs is a visit from the Divisional Inquisitor…

witchweekThe story is mostly told through the viewpoint of four miserable pupils in Class 2Y – Charles Morgan, Nan Pilgrim, Brian Wentworth and Nirupam Singh. Right from the beginning, there is a strong sense of tension running through the narrative – for witches are strictly forbidden and the fate of anyone using magic is to be interrogated, tortured and then burnt. This being Wynne Jones, we don’t just have a strong sense of fear and tension running throughout the story – there are also moments of farce and laugh-aloud humour.

One of the things I love most about these books is that Wynne Jones doesn’t underestimate how much children understand. There is a whole lot within the story that is implied, rather than spelt out. Mr Wentworth’s fractured relationship with his son, Brian; Charles’ constant black fury and Nan’s desperate yearning to be good at something – even if it is riding around the bathroom on a frisky broomstick tired of being cooped up in the groundsman’s shed.

Although there are shafts of humour, life at Larwood House is no Mallory Towers. The children are divided into cliques, or mercilessly picked upon if they stand out – like Nan and Brian. While the class leaders, Simon and Theresa, spend most of their time mocking their less fortunate peers.

Frankie strongly connected with poor Nan Pilgrim, who takes comfort in being descended from the infamous Dulcinea Wilkes, but to be honest, none of the children are particularly pleasant, apart from Estelle. And this is one of the reasons why Wynne Jones is such a clever writer – their surly/victimised attitudes didn’t stop both of us really caring what happens to them,or poor harrowed Mr Wentworth.

And before the end, Wynne Jones throws in a fair dollop of chaotic chicanery into the mix that had the pair of us spluttering with laughter as I was reading. Another gem of a book that continues to inspire Frankie to go on battling through her severe dyslexia to become an independent reader. Another book that has given us yet another tranche of shared golden memories. If you have a youngster in your life old enough for the earlier Harry Potter tales, but perhaps not quite ready for the bleakness of the later books – track down the Chrestomanci series. They deserve to be far better known…
9/10