Tag Archives: The Worlds of Chrestomanci

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?

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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

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