The Lives of Christopher Chant: A wonderful place to begin the Chrestomanci books

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Diana Wynne Jones Chrestomanci 2. The Lives of Christopher ChantThe Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

The Lives of Christopher Chant is set twenty-five years before the events told in Charmed Life, but was published after it in 1988. Although many would avidly insist that you must read such books in publishing rather than chronological order (just look at the debate that rages over how you’re supposed to read the Chronicles of Narnia) I would suggest reading this before Charmed Life. It will not ruin any of the surprises in that book, and instead drops little hints throughout (such as Chrestomanci’s aversion to silver, and the name of his future wife) that will become that much more enjoyable when you read of them in Charmed Life.

Set in a parallel world where magic is an everyday occurrence, young Christopher Chant lives a rather dull life, caught between his neglectful and feuding parents. Thank goodness for his dreams, which allow him to wander about in secret worlds — and are so vivid he often brings back objects with him into waking life! But after he meets his Uncle Ralph, things begin to get more interesting. Organising his young nephew to meet a man named Tacroy in his dreams, Ralph instructs Christopher on removing other, larger things from his dreams into the real world. Seeing it as a fun game, as well as liking both his uncle and Tacroy very much, Christopher plays along.

Between these exertions and visits to the young girl known as the Living Goddess, Christopher finds that life is not entirely what he wants it to be. With a longing only to become a professional cricketer, Christopher is horrified to find that he is destined to be the next Chrestomanci — the nine-lived enchanter in charge of governing magic in the worlds. Taken to Chrestomanci Castle, he is sulky and uncooperative until the magic smuggler known as the Wraith grows in power, and the Goddess herself escapes into his world. Now Christopher is forced to take action…

A fascinating, intricate, quirky book that takes place over several years and draws on several genres (only Diana Wynne Jones can go from English boarding school to Arabian Nights to elfish and Biblical lore), The Lives of Christopher Chant could possibly be my favourite in the Chrestomanci quartet. Once again, the author proves she is an expert at human behaviour, a fan of cats and someone who’s not afraid to tackle large and important issues in children’s books.

She’s also wonderful at portraying the lack of self-awareness in people: one of the most memorable scenes is when Christopher makes an off-handed comment and is suddenly reprimanded by his teacher for years of selfishness and snobbery. Christopher is stunned, having no idea that he was so disliked, but on closer reflection he realises it’s true. The Lives of Christopher Chant deeply explores these ideas — that we can’t always follow the dreams that we want, that we must sometimes put others before ourselves, and we have a responsibility to use our natural gifts.

The characters are wonderful as usual, from Christopher himself whom you watch grow as the novel progresses, to the spunky Goddess, to the terrifying cat Throgmorton and the amiable, elusive Uncle Ralph. Things are never quite what they appear in these novels, and it is as fun to explore the “Anywheres” along with Christopher. The Lives of Christopher Chant is a great read, and a wonderful place to begin the journeys into the rest of the Chrestomanci books.

Chrestomanci — Ages 9-12. (1977-2006) Omnibus editions are available. Mixed Magics contains four short stories set in the Chrestomanci world. Publisher: In this multiple parallel universes of the Twelve Related Worlds, only an enchanter with nine lives is powerful enough to control the rampant misuse of magic — and to hold the title Chrestomanci… The Chants are a family strong in magic, but neither Christopher Chant nor Cat Chant can work even the simplest of spells. Who could have dreamed that both Christopher and Cat were born with nine lives — or that they could lose them so quickly?

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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