Charmed Life (Chrestomanci)

Title: Charmed Life

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Series: Chrestomanci

Eric Chant (aka Cat) looks up to his older sister Gwendolyn. She’s been the only constant in his life after a steamboat accident drowns both of their parents and nearly drowns them. Even if Gwendolyn is the one getting all the accolades and attention, and Cat is left to muddle through in the background, he’s happy with his life. Then the mysterious Chrestomanci takes both of them to live in his castle. And for the first time in her life, Gwendolyn isn’t getting what she wants . . .

I would probably like this book more except Gwendolyn bugs me so much. She works very well as a villain—she’s a sociopath of the highest order, with an entitlement mentality to match. But to Cat, she’s his older sister, and he goes along with a lot of what she has planned, even when it’s not in his own best interest. I particularly like the bit where Chrestomanci boxes Cat around the ears as punishment for NOT speaking out. Cat’s passiveness works against him, but by the end he starts to realize that, and it’s heartening to see him take a stand against the sister who has no regard for him.

Chronologically, this is actually one of the middle Chrestomanci books (The Lives of Christopher Chant would come first), but it’s perfectly readable without having read the other. This being a shorter book, the world isn’t as on display as some of the others, but the little details are still interesting. This is a world much more open about magic, and it’s practiced by many sorts of people. Cat grew up under the shadier sorts, which shaped his sense of morality a bit (one also gets the sense, based on Gwendolyn alone, that his parents weren’t exactly stellar role models either, since the beautiful spanking scene in the castle appears to be the first time she was ever punished for doing wrong).

Overall this is a very quick read. The story peers into some darker corners, but nothing too graphic, and it all wraps up in a mostly happy ending (it would’ve been happier if Gwendolyn had gotten more of a comeuppance….). If you want to see more of Cat and Janet, the next book to read would be The Pinhoe Egg. I rate this book Recommended.

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