And Then I Read: THE PINHOE EGG by Diana Wynne Jones

Pinhoe Egg cover
┬ęDiana Wynne Jones.

The sixth book in the Chrestomanci series is full of charm, and I liked it quite a lot. It takes place in the Chrestomanci homeworld, a place of much magic and enchantment, but not necessarily in a fairy tale way, involves familiar characters like Chrestomanci himself, a sort of prime minister of magic, his ward Cat (from “Charmed Life”) and many other new and familiar characters. Chief among the new ones is Marianne Pinhoe, a girl in a large family living not far from Chrestomanci Castle. Her family has lots of magic, many of them are witches, even though using their power is forbidden by Chrestomanci, so they must keep it hidden. Needless to say, that doesn’t work well or for long!

Like many of Jones’ books, this has what I think of as a spinning top plot. I don’t know if anyone actually plays with tops anymore, but it you’ve seen one, this description should make sense. She begins by introducing the setting and major characters, while creating interest by giving them problems to deal with, then sets the story spinning. As things move along, events gradually get more and more out of control for the main characters, as a top will begin to teeter and wobble. The characters interact, the problems grow and intertwine, and finally, in a climactic rush, everything tumbles to a climax. Dire events occur, all seems hopeless and impossible. Then Chrestomanci (really Jones) picks up the top, winds it up, and sets it spinning again, resolving all the problems, and the story twirls nicely to a conclusion.

Some of her books overdo the out-of-control parts for me…I found that true with the last Chrestomanci book, “Conrad’s Fate”, but this one works very well. Imaginative characters, lots of interesting creatures, spells with unexpected consequences, humor, and just enough danger and evil. If you’ve never tried a book by Diana Wynne Jones, this wouldn’t be a bad one to start with. And you don’t have to have read the other Chrestomanci books first, though that will add some background if you have.

Recommended! My picture above is of the British hardcover, here’s the U.S. paperback, for the best price.

4 thoughts on “And Then I Read: THE PINHOE EGG by Diana Wynne Jones

  1. RAB

    I’ve found a big subset of DWJ readers who are also comics fans (or is that the other way around?) and there are certain values they have in common. Jones is exceptionally good at using action and events to build her worlds rather than relying on lengthy exposition. All too often in fantasy, you find authors who have just fallen too much in love with their backstory and cannot resist giving us a walking tour through every filip and detail whether or not these lovingly-crafted gems are relevant to the story. By contrast, Jones keeps her descriptions economical and the reader is surprised at just how much information she manages to convey without resorting to a lecture. Having a universe with a shared chronology helps her pack in even more — a little throwaway line might be an offhand quip in the context of the present story, but the reader who’s read another book in the series will appreciate it on an entirely different level. Not so different from a shared superhero continuity in the Marvel or DC universes. The role of multiple Earths in this series hearkens back to the multiverse I love so much in comics…and finally, Chrestomanci himself is a “flawed but likeable” hero in the vein of the best superheroes, not the insufferably pious type that often turns up in sub-Tolkein fantasy. I’d say there’s a lot here for comics reading types to latch onto!

  2. Todd Post author

    Good comments, RAB, thanks! I hadn’t thought about the multiverse in the Chrestomanci being like the ones in comics, but it is. Certainly not a new idea, but handled in a similar way. Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is another one that comes to mind.

  3. RAB

    Pullman makes no bones about his childhood love of comics. He often mentions Superman and Batman as favorites, besides the obligatory Dan Dare, and talks freely about them influencing his writing. For all I know, the use of parallel Earths in his fiction may have been directly inspired by Earth-1, Earth-2 et al. He would have been around fifteen when “Flash of Two Worlds” was published in the States…hmm, I dunno, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch but a connection there is within the realm of possibility. Jones is a dozen years older than Pullman…so in her case any stylistic similarity with Silver Age comics is the result of, dare I say, parallel evolution.

    I plan on being in the front row for the opening of “The Golden Compass” by the way — I’ve been looking forward to this for years!

  4. Todd Post author

    Yes, I’m looking forward to that as well. The promotional display they had at last year’s San Diego Comicon was impressive. Hope the movie is as well.

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