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.
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: