No, I'm sorry ... not The Chronicles of Narnia. Today we have The Chronicles of Chrestomanci! I discovered Diana Wynne Jones about a year ago when I was watching one of my favorite films, Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle". I noticed that the movie was based on one of her stories so I decided to read it. The book is not very similar to the movie but both are fantastic in their own ways. Then I read a sequel book to that one and was really enjoying her style of writing YA fantasy fiction so I picked up the first volume of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci in March. There are three volumes, each with two books from the series. I just finished reading all six books this past week.
First we have Charmed Life which is the story of a young boy named Eric "Cat" Chant. He is an orphan who lives with his forceful older sister, Gwendolen. They find some old letters of their parents' from Chrestomanci -- a very powerful enchanter who works with the government to manage the use of magic through various universes. Gwendolen writes to him and he decides to take the children back to his castle for their education. Gwendolen is excited because she has plans to be a famous witch. Cat doesn't think that he has the ability to do magic but as time passes, he discovers that someone he trusted may have been holding him back all along. This was a good story about a young boy who finds his own strength and learns to believe in himself. The world is not as complex as, say, the Harry Potter universe but it is very vivid and believable.
The second book is The Lives of Christopher Chant. This book is about another boy named Christopher Chant who has the ability to travel between universes. He is asked by his uncle to perform certain tasks in these worlds and he is enjoying himself and feeling important until he becomes suspicious of his uncle's motives. Eventually he meets the Chrestomanci of his time (a different man from the one we met in the first book) and has to decide to be loyal to his family or to stand up for what is right. Christopher is an entirely different sort of boy from Cat and this book greatly expanded the universe and also introduced us to many different universes and parallel worlds.
The second volume has two stories that are based in two of these other worlds. Chrestomanci only has a small (but significant) role in these two: The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week. They are both about children who need to discover their own strengths and powers or face the end of their worlds. I didn't enjoy these stories as much as the ones in the main world, especially Witch Week. It just didn't seem to have the same flow as the rest.
The fifth book is Conrad's Fate which is about a young boy named Conrad and also the teenaged Christopher Chant. Both boys take menial jobs in a magical castle but have ulterior motives for why they are there. Eventually they trust each other and help each other in their quests. Christopher has become mature and cocky and yet is a positive influence on Conrad in some ways - if only by helping him find his confidence. Even though this story was set in a different world than the original one, it flowed with the first two.
Finally we have The Pinhoe Egg. This book focuses on the villages around Chrestomanci Castle and returns to the story of Cat Chant. There is some bad magic going on and it takes the strength of a few brave children to set everything right. I thought this was the best story of the bunch, with the most complex plot and the most character development.
This is a great series of YA fiction. It is in a world of magic but where magic is rather common place and isn't the main focus. It is all about empowerment for children that, for various reasons, have not been taught to believe in themselves. I have just read that there is one more collection of four short Chrestomanci stories called "Mixed Magics" that I will need to find. I have really enjoyed everything that I've read by Diana Wynne Jones so far and I hope that you will too!
Buy The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume I, Volume II and Volume III on Amazon or find them at your local library.