Thoughts on ‘Chrestomanci: Vol. 2’ and a poll question

I finished this book some time ago, but figured I might as well give it a brief review, since time with the best-dressed wizard in all fiction is never badly spent. And though I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did the first set of stories, there’s still quite a lot to like in Chrestomanci: Vol. 2 by Diana Wynne Jones, which consists of two stories: The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week.

The biggest complaint I had about these two books? Not enough Chrestomanci. I don’t know if it was clear from my review of the first set of Chrestomanci books, but Christopher Chant has since become one of my favorite characters in children’s literature. Granted, this could be because I’m reading this series at an age that’s rather far past the intended demographic, but I don’t think that changes the fact that this nine-lived wizard has too many levels of awesome to count. He’s perfection in a crisis, impeccably dressed, and has enough real human flaws that I can relate to him even when he’s wielding magic in a way that would impress the best of the Harry Potter universe.

So why doesn’t he show up more?

I do like that Diana Wynne Jones allows the stories to have a broader focus than just Chrestomanci, but sometimes the characters through whom we see the story just aren’t as interesting as the wizard himself. I want to know more about his world and the way his magic works, and though I love seeing the kind of situations for which he gets called in, I really want to see more about the man himself and how he works. And I’d prefer it to be seen from someone who knows him and not the eyes of a stranger, which is pretty much the only way we got see Chrestomanci in the two stories of this volume.

Regardless of my complaints about not seeing enough of my latest literary heartthrob Chrestomanci, this volume was a fun read, though I had a really hard time finishing The Magicians of Caprona. It’s a rehash of Romeo and Juliet that starts off well, but gets bogged down in the ridiculous amount of characters in a way that stalls the plot and makes it hard to understand what’s going on. It was a very cluttered story, and while there were a lot of fun moments (and some really scary ones. Tonino and Angelica being trapped as PUPPETS, unable to move or speak in front of their families? Hello, nightmares…), it wasn’t quite enough to get the story moving- the novel seemed to drag in the middle and rush through the end. DWJ has an occasional problem with pacing, and it was rather apparent in this story, making enjoying it a lot harder. There was a lot to like- Benvenuto the cat was probably the coolest character second to Chrestomanci- but I found the pacing problematic enough that I struggled finishing.

Witch Week, on the other hand, was amazing.

It was also a lot darker than The Magicians of Caprona. While some of the situations described in the latter could be justly described as nightmare fuel, Witch Week mirrored some of the more uncomfortable parts of middle and high school very well. The cliques determined by those regarded as the ‘normal’ children- the ones who are cheerful and good mannered and have friends were really uncomfortably familiar. There was surprisingly little overt exclusion, but Diana Wynne Jones nailed the more subtle ways in which teenagers can make each other feel unwanted, such as through muttered words and small side glances. So that brought the story uncomfortably close to home; toss in the fact that many of the children are magic-wielders in a world where they can be executed for such abilities, and you have a rather dark and stressful tale. I think it was easily the best written of the two- where I’d struggled with The Magicians of Caprona, I could barely put Witch Week down. It had some very cool characters, to the point that I didn’t mind not seeing much of Chrestomanci. Not to mention this was the story that gave us this gem of a description of the great wizard:

“There was a gentle rustling as the suspended leaves dropped back to the ground. Where they had been, there was a man standing.

He seemed utterly bewildered. His first act was to put his hands up and smooth his hair, which was a thing that hardly needed doing, since the wind had not disturbed even the merest wisp of it. It was smooth and black and shiny as new tar. Having smoothed his hair, this man rearranged his starched white shirt cuffs, and straightened his already straight pale gray cravat. After that, he carefully pulled down his dove-mauve waistcoat and, equally carefully, brushed some imaginary dust off his beautiful dove-gray suit. All the while he was doing this, he was looking from one to the other of the five of them in increasing perplexity. His eyebrows rose higher with everything he saw.”

The first thing he does after being yanked from his own world is to straighten his clothing. He then immediately proceeds to straighten out all the difficulties that got him yanked into this alternate universe without batting an eyelash or raising his voice. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of man I would instantly fall in love with.

Now for the poll question! I’m thinking about doing video reviews for books that are awful, partly so I can rant and partly so my video editing skills don’t go completely down the drain over the summer. If this happens, the videos wouldn’t be too long- 5-10 minutes tops and would go up in conjunction with a full-length written review. The question for you guys is:

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9 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Chrestomanci: Vol. 2’ and a poll question

  1. Ooooooh, oooh, that was such a difficult poll. I would love to watch you rip apart Hush Hush, Mortal Instruments or Fifty Shades of Grey but in the end I went for the latter. I despise the idea of that book. I’ve actually started reading her fan fiction version (because I don’t want to waste my money paying for it) out of sheer curiosity. Curiosity killed the cat though. It’s absolutely terrible but hey, maybe the published version is better!? *sarcasm*
    I feel sorry for you though, if it wins it means you actually have to read it!

    Nice review also, love the little excerpt it sounds like a quirky book! 🙂

    • I would not count on the published version being much better; somewhere- I think it was either on Dear Author- someone ran a comparison of the two things and apparently 89% of the words are the same. 89%!!!!! I remember a comment saying that “In college that would get you a zero in the class and an appearance before the Academic Integrity Panel.”
      The only good thing about doing 50 Shades would be that I could throw a magnificent fit. I write fanfic, and there’s a reason you’re supposed to put a disclaimer saying you don’t make any profit from the thing- not to mention I’ve read much better stories than Master of the *damn* Universe. (yes, I started reading the fanfic too. It makes me simultaneously laugh and want to gouge my eyes out).

      • Yeah I saw that comparison somewhere too, and it doesn’t suprize me! I got around 44 pages in and could hardly stand it anymore, I haven’t read any since, although I’ll probably try and go back to it at some point – to skim at least. I mean saying things like “my inner godess” Need I say more? Ugh.
        Still the annoying thing is, I don’t feel like I can trash it because I haven’t officialy read it. -_-

        • That one doesn’t strike me half as much as the scene where he’s… uh… with her for the first time and his words before the act are “Be prepared.” I remember choking on my tea reading it. It was so unintentionally hilarious and awful.

          • Haha ughh I know! I mean the reason it’s supposedly so popular is because all these middle aged women are reading it and saying it’s re-lighting their marriges etc. It’s not even good erotica it’s just like you said unintentionally hilarious and awful.

            • What I can’t fathom is why this one of all the sex stories out there doing so well. She’s hardly the first author to write bondage porn, yet people are reacting like she’s established a groundbreaking new trend. Maybe it was just good marketing or something, but if a porn novel has to be a best seller, I’d like the characters to have more substance than being bland imitations of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan.

              • I know it’s ridiculous! It’s like they were competely oblivious to the genre before this book. It’s nothing new or different. I think it is literally just that she has a great advertising team, they’ve done well creating a buzz around the book, so now people will buy it – whether it’s because they’re genuinely interested or because they just want to slate it. It’s become a self furfilling prophecy.
                I think the reasonably appealing front covers also have an impact, there’s nothing overtly sexual about them or offensive, unlike with a lot of erotica. Which makes it appear more accessible or politically correct I guess…

                • The covers definitely didn’t hurt, though the only one I really liked was the one with the mask (50 Shades Darker?)- that one looked really cool. But yeah, now that everyone’s buying it, it’s not going away any time soon. Which is so unfair to authors who are trying to write their own original stories,working really hard, and then getting turned down because there’s no slot in the market for their work.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ | I Could Be Arguing In My Spare Time

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