You’re probably all getting really fed up of me reviewing Diana Wynne Jones’ books right now, never fear, this is the last series I’ll be reviewing of hers for a while, I’ll move on to something else after I’ve done these.
Charmed Life is the first in a series called Chrestomanci. It’s set in a world similar to our own, yet distinctly different. According to the back of the book, it’s a “Related World” and that means that where our world began looking into science and stuff around the 14th and 15th century, this world focused on Magic. Which is great because that makes it fun. I picked up this book and was told to expect something similar to Harry Potter. I was told portraits and pictures moved and expected that to be a normal thing, but it wasn’t. In fact, other than the fact that a lot of people use magic, I couldn’t really see any similarities to Harry Potter.
The story focuses around a young boy named Eric (nicknamed Cat because his sister once said he has nine lives) and his sister, Gwendoline. Gwendoline is a truly terrible person and I despise her. She thinks herself more important than she is, is thoroughly horrible to her brother, who is her last living relative, and uses her magic to most selfish means. Until about half way through the book, the siblings are living with a neighbour who sends Gwendoline to another neighbour to learn magic while expecting that when Gwendoline is rich and famous as everyone seems to hope she will become, she’ll remember her. She sends Cat to learn how to play the violin because he doesn’t seem to have a speck of magic in him. Of course Gwendoline ruins this for him and turns his violin into a cat because “that’s what it sounded like when he was playing”. Like I said, a truly despicable girl.
Halfway through the book they meet Chrestomanci, a public servant (not that Chrestomanci is his title, not his name) and he takes the siblings to live in a castle with his family. The first thing he does is forbid them to use magic. Gwendoline of course thinks this rule is dumb and does a great many things trying to get the attention of Chrestomanci and make him acknowledge her. I think it’s safe to say he does acknowledge her but he also takes away her magic so she can’t do it any more “until she learns to behave”.
This is when the story really begins. Gwendoline somehow magics herself into another world and brings a replacement called Janet through to replace her. Janet looks a lot like Gwendoline, so much so that Cat seems to be the only one to notice the difference.
Before she left however, Gwendoline caused a great deal of mayhem for Cat and Janet to clean up. They owe people money, a servant gets turned into a frog and her boyfriend claims that he’s going to make Cat pay, not to mention that Gwendoline seemed to be planning something with her old teacher that Cat and Janet know nothing about.
Over all the story is brilliant. The characters are believable, sometimes too much so (Gwendoline, I’m looking at you) and everyone in the story seems to play a part. As I’ve said before, I wish I had discovered this author as a child but I will gladly take a mini-second-childhood right now to experience these books.