Saturday, December 17, 2016
Review: Charmed Life by Dianna Wynne Jones
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As a huge fan of Dianna Wynne Jones's "Howl's Moving Castle", I was delighted to find this highly intriguing-looking book on the shelves of my local book store. I know it's almost Christmas and I shouldn't have bought myself a new book, but I just couldn't resist. After skimming over the back cover summary I went straight to the checkout and bought it- which is something I hardly ever do with books.
Usually I prefer to mail order my books only after I've researched them and read reviews, or if I've already read them from the library and want them for my own shelves. This is mostly because I'm pretty choosy about what I read, and more choosy about what I actually want on my personal shelves. If a book doesn't grab me, I don't want it, and it would be a waste of money to buy all the books that reguarly catch my eye! ;)
But this book did not disappoint. In typical Dianna Wynne Jones fashion, it had me from the first words of the first chapter, and I settled down in a rocking chair and happily stayed there practically until I finished reading it (aside from the part where I had to get up and dig my sister's car out of the snow when she got stuck...).
Book One in The Chronicles of Chrestomanci. In "Charmed Life", young Eric Chant (or Cat) and his older sister Gwendolyn, are orphans. Gwendolyn has a powerful gift of magic, and she's determined to become the most masterful magician she can be. Cat watches as she hones her talents with admiration, but things go awry when his willful sister clashes with their enigmatic host and benefactor, the Great Chrestomanci.
PROS: This book, though not connected directly to Howl or his bunch, is similar in feel. The laws of magic seem to work the same way, though in this story we get to see it up close. But Charmed Life is a bit darker in my opinion, but I won't get into why just yet.
The characters were suitably whimsical and mysterious. Cat was an innocent, trusting boy who was believably childish and naive, unlike most fictional heroes. Gwendolyn... boy oh boy, don't get me started on Gwendolyn. The book is really about two people, and that's her and Chrestomanci, even though neither are the main character. So if I were to talk much about Gwendolyn, I would be giving away too much of the story.
My favorite character was probably Chrestomanci himself. Distant and dreamy, kind, yet simultaneously terrifying, this mysterious character steals every scene he's in as you, the reader, try to figure him out. I also very much liked his assistant, Michael. (MICHAEL, you say?? Not A-Certain-Other-Michael-from-Ingary, is he? I don't know...)
Like in Jones's other books, every detail counts. There are clues hidden everywhere, and it isn't until you reach the end that it all makes sense. I was extremely proud of myself for being able to predict one of the revelations, which I've never been able to do before in one of her books. This isn't to say that Charmed Life is predictable, but rather that Jones did a good job of weaving the answer throughout the whole story, instead of just dropping it on you at the end.
CONS: Like I said earlier though, this books is darker than the Howl's Moving Castle books. Dark magic is played with here, and though it is most definitely shown to be evil and forbidden, the way it figured into the plot was very sad.
There is a scene in which a group of characters attend a church, and one of them causes the stained-glass artwork to come alive during the sermon in an attempt to draw attention to herself. This is set in a fantasy world, and no direct mention of God is made, but some people may find this offensive anyway. The character is scolded and told that she went too far, but still.
Fortunately, there are no significant red-flags as far as the actual magic use in the book goes. Magic words and incantations are mentioned, but not written directly. A pentagram is mentioned to be painted on the floor of Chrestomanci's office, but that was the only objectionable element I noticed throughout the book.
Mostly, it is the nature of the great crime committed by the villain of the story that children (and parents) may find disturbing:
It is revealed that a beloved character who unwittingly possesses nine lives has been killed several times without their knowledge by Someone who should have protected them in order for that Someone to obtain the nine-lived-character's magic.
***END BIG SPOILER***
Aside from that, there are a few magical-apparitions that appear in quite a frightening manner.
Charmed Life was a fun, exciting, quick-to-finish book with a great mystery and decent conclusion. Being book one in a series, the ending left you wondering what else might happen, but there are several other books I have not yet read. The second book takes us back in time several years to explore the backstory of one of the most important character, so I'm looking forward to finding some answers there.
I would recommend this book to people 13 and up. Adults can enjoy it as much as children, so don't be shy. Parents of young children should be aware that magic and the use of it is a major theme throughout this book, and it can be compared to Harry Potter, though unlike Harry Potter the magic words are not written out for readers to memorize.
To people who loved Howl's Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, or House of Many Ways, this is the book for you!
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