Newest Review: ... Life is part of the 'Chrestomanci' series and is the first to be read although not the first in the timeline of Chrestomanci himself. I ... more
One Big Sister, One Dandy Wizard & Nine Lives
Charmed Life - Diana Wynne Jones
Member Name: MagdaDH
Charmed Life - Diana Wynne Jones
Advantages: well written, captiavting story of magic
Disadvantages: none I can think of
Charmed Life is the first book in the now semi-classic series. Written in 1977, the novel has been reissued at the time of the publication of a paperback version of Diana Wynne-Jones new novel, The Pinhoe Egg which continues the Charmed Life story.
The story is narrated exclusively from the point of view of Cat (though not technically by him) and there is a great deal of understated but very convincing emotional truth in the portrayal of his worries, feelings and attitudes. A younger brother, magicless and dominated by his rather fiery, selfish and bent on world-dominance sister, he nevertheless (and understandably) clings to her after the death of their parents and allows her to order him about and use (in more insidious ways too). Charmed Life is as much a tale of the children's adventure in Chrestomanci's Castle as of the undercurrents of sibling rivalry and emotional dependencies, as well as Cat's gradual disentangling from Gwendolen's dominance and coming to his own, if not, at least yet, coming of age.
Rarely for a children's book, there are not only twists and turns in the storyline, but one of the principal characters and a few secondary ones change their moral colours, and it's a genuine surprise not only for Cat but also for a reader. Younger children, especially girls, may need some dampening of their early enthusiasm for Gwendolen to lessen the disappointment.
Above all, though, Charmed Life is a story of magic, with a deftly drawn but not over-described world in the background. Plenty of exciting action, suspense and colourfully described magic appeal to children's sense of adventure, there is a good sprinkling of often rather surreal humour and well developed cast of main and supporting characters, colourful but not falling into a caricature while the few really scary scenes exude genuine menace.
The focus is on the adventure, the magic and the psychological relationships between the characters, while the world building is done only as far as necessary. The more anorakish of the readers can fulfil their need to know more about the construction and mechanics of the world(s) of Chrestomanci by perusing the "beyond the book" extras at the end of the volume.
Even now, when older-children's fiction veritably overflows with wizards, the tale of Cat Chant is a story worth reviving. Written in a immediately accessible but slightly old-fashioned style that reminded me of Edith Nesbit, Susanna Clarke and even C. S. Lewis, Charmed Life is a readable, exciting and very engaging fantasy that would certainly appeal to what can be loosely described as the Harry Potter audience: children aged 8 up, teens and many an adult as well. At just over 200 pages, Charmed Life left me definitely wanting more, though it's clearly a book aimed at children and accessible from relatively early age: there is little in Charmed Life that can't be enjoyed by children as young as 6 - if the parent has willingness to read it to them.
Paperback: 288 Pages, £4.99 new on Amazon
Summary: Stylish but accessible, captivating and emotionally realistic story of magic