Monday, August 22, 2011

Entry 11: Chrestomanci!

Recently I encountered a series of children's fantasy books by Dianna Wynne Jones that I absolutely love: the Chrestomanci series. It includes the following books: Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Magicians of Caprona, Witch Week, Conrad's Fate, and The Pinhoe Egg. (These are often found in three volumes of two books each.) There is also a volume of Chrestomanci short stories called Mixed Magics, but I have not read it, so from now on I will not mention it in this post. Hopefully I will read it someday and discuss it then.

I use the term "series" loosely here. Each book is a stand-alone story, and, while there is an internal chronological order, it's not really that important. The books could be read in any order, I think (I would make one caveat to that statement: You may enjoy the mystery of Charmed Life most if you read it first, but I did not read it first, and still enjoyed it. I read the books by internal chronology-- see below) . They all feature a character called "Chrestomanci." In a world where using magic is a part of everyday life, Chrestomanci is a government official who must monitor magic users and make sure they do not misuse their magic to harm others.

I have seen the books listed in several orders. The order in which I listed them in the above paragraph is what I would call the "recommended reading order": it is currently the most commonly found order, especially if one reads them in the three volumes as opposed to six separate books. However, there are two other prominent orders:

The order of original publishing:
1. Charmed Life
2. Magicians of Caprona
3. Witch Week
4. The Lives of Christopher Chant
5. Conrad's Fate
6. The Pinhoe Egg

And, the order of internal chronology (the order of time passing in the books):
1. The Lives of Christopher Chant
2. Conrad's Fate
3. Charmed Life
4. Magicians of Caprona*
5. Witch Week*
6. The Pinhoe Egg
Places 4 & 5 are interchangeable: The chronology of these two books is not as clearly defined as the others'.

There are several reasons I like these books:
1.) They are FUNNY. I read these books aloud with my husband, and every single one had us laughing out loud. Whether we were chuckling appreciatively at the sarcastic wit of one of the characters, or laughing uncontrollably at some of the slap-stick scenes and outrageous misunderstandings, these books never failed to tickle our funny-bones.
2.) They are mysteries. It wasn't until after I started reading Harry Potter (some 8 years ago now!), and then went back to other fantasy, that I realized my favorite type of fantasy is (possibly) the magical mystery, of which I think Harry Potter is a great example. I've been searching for more great examples of this sub-genre ever since. Chrestomanci definitely fits the bill. Each book usually consists of not one, but several mysteries, all woven together in an intricate plot. Since these books are written for children/young adults, the mysteries are probably fairly easy for most adult readers to solve (especially once they are familiar with the author's style), but I still love that the books keep me on my toes, constantly on the lookout for important, revelatory details that usually lead to exciting, suspenseful, and sometimes surprising, conclusions.
3.) The principal characters are interesting, sympathetic, and well-developed. This is a must-have for me in almost any book. Enough said.

I will finish by saying that I am very glad I read these books. I will probably continue to re-read them in the future. If you are looking for some good J/YA Fantasy, you could not do better than these. They are exceptionally well-written. I would caution, however, that I do not recommend them for children under twelve or so, for various reasons. If you read this ridiculously long review, then I congratulate you! Happy reading.

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