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.