Thursday, March 29, 2012

DWJ March: Witch Week

The fourth tale in the Chrestomanci series, Witch Week is another reread for me that I just finished late last night. I liked it better than on first read but there are so many unlikable children and adults in it (almost all of them, in fact) that it's hard for me to say I loved it. I wouldn't want to spend much more time with any of these characters than I already had to! Chrestomanci is quite fabulous in it though -- better than in Magicians of Caprona. It makes me want to pick up Conrad's Fate, The Pinhoe Egg and Mixed Magics immediately.

This story is set in a world almost identical to ours except for one thing -- magic. The world is full of it and yet it is illegal and witches are burnt in bonfires, as they have been for over 400 years. Some of the students of 6B at Larwood House are witch orphans and so they are especially suspect. When a note slipped between exercise books insists that there is, in fact, a witch in 6B, students start accusing not only each other but also suspect their own selves of being witches. Unfortunately, the inquisitor is on his way and whoever gets caught out is going to get burned.

Coincidentally, BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a radio play version of this story earlier this week. It's available to listen to worldwide for four more days so I wanted to share the link with you before it's too late. I'm listening as I write this and it's pretty good. The voices are a bit too pleasant for such unpleasant children but the plot is fairly intact. (Update: Chrestomanci's voice and character is ALL sorts of wrong. Just so you know before you listen. He doesn't sound suave or wonderful.) If you want a taste of Diana Wynne Jones, have a listen -- it's only 60 minutes long. It is a bit confusing that I just finished reading about class 6B though and in the radio play it's 2Y. But Wikipedia explains it like this --
It is interesting to note that, in almost every version of the book published, the class the story focuses on has a different name, according to the age group the publishers were aiming the book at the time. For instance:
  • The current UK edition calls the class 3Y (which suggests they are in the third year of secondary school and therefore around thirteen).
  • Another UK edition of the book, published by Collins in 2000, calls it 2Y (which suggests that they are in the second year of secondary school and therefore around twelve).
  • The current U.S. edition calls it 6B (which implies the children are in the sixth grade and therefore about eleven).
If you're a fan of boarding school stories, you might want to try this one. I don't know if anyone has seen the show House of Anubis (on Nickelodeon in the US) but the radio play is reminding me a lot of that show -- a bit overdramatic and full of saucy British kids but still fun.

Enjoying a multimedia experience,


  1. I DO love this one! I read it years before I "discovered" Diana Wynne Jones, and somehow at the time never realized it was part of a series or that she had written anything else! I think maybe I loved the set-up of the alternate world. Or the idea of kids trapped in this dreadful drab boarding school, who start to discover wonderful--but dangerous--powers!

  2. Oh my gosh, I'm so excited that my busy week didn't keep me occupied long enough to stop me listening to the radio play. I AM LISTENING TO THIS RIGHT NOW.

    (I've been absolutely craving Witch Week, Lives of Christopher Chant, and to a lesser extent Magicians of Caprona. My copies are in Louisiana.)

  3. Oh no, I'm going to have to stop reading all these posts - it just makes me want to add YET more books. This sounds like something i would like.

  4. Marvelous - It's certainly growing on me. I didn't like it much at all the first time and then I did this time so maybe the next time will be love. ;)

    Jenny - I hope you liked the radio play. I thought it was fun and it would have been a solid A if they had cast Chrestomanci properly. :)

    Lynn - I know the feeling. Just reading everyone else's DWJ posts is making me realize how many books I still need to find!

  5. For some reason, I didn't mind the kids and adults in this world, especially given that they're basically living in a world where magic isn't supposed to exist, but does everywhere. Everyone is hiding. And when you hide, you have to disguise yourself. Some people stay quiet, others adamently anti-the-thing-they-are-hiding. Like in Orwell's 1984, the contrast between Winston and Julia. I loved the way this one wrapped up, even if not everyone was a wonderful human being in it.

  6. I really need to just buy this series; I've read the first one from the library (but now I want to re-read and read on), but there are always hold lists for them (so popular, y'know?). I do really like boarding school stories, so I've got this one in mind as being a possible-particular-favourite when I finally get there!

  7. Amanda - I totally see the different way you approached it. I'll try and be more sympathetic the next time I read it. :)

    Buried - I own the three volume (two books per volume) set so it wasn't that expensive. I'm glad to know that they're still popular at the library though!