When magic’s misused

towers

Diana Wynne Jones The Pinhoe Egg
HarperCollins Children’s Books 2007 (2006)

The last of the Chrestomanci books written by Diana Wynne Jones, The Pinhoe Egg was also the longest and, arguably, the most complicated in terms of plot. Unlike some of the novels preceding it Chrestomanci doesn’t just have a walk-on part at the end but takes on the most integrated role in proceedings since Charmed Life, the very first Chrestomanci story of all. The story actually centres on young Eric ‘Cat’ Chant, who lives at Chrestomanci Castle near Helm St Mary, and his contemporary Marianne Pinhoe, who lives about ten miles away in Ulverscote. Marianne’s grandmother appears to lose her mind in a blast of magic — did I mention this is a fantasy? — and poor Marianne’s long-anticipated summer holidays start to disappear over the horizon as her extended family gets drawn into a feud with a neighbouring village. Not only this but her family also fear the attention of Chrestomanci, the ‘Big Man’ at the Castle, whose job is to monitor any misuse of magic. And it turns out a whole lot of misuse of magic is going on.

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Chrestomanci who?

Bosch Garden of Delights

Long regarded merely as children’s fantasy, Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci novels, like most of her work for the young reader, deserve more respect from adult readership. Her mix of apparent whimsy and magic with a small pinch of science fiction, plus the alliance of young protagonists with the most curious adult magician imaginable (he has a penchant for elaborate dressing-gowns, rather like Sherlock Holmes, but with added sorcery), might persuade those of us who have reached and passed the teenage years that the series is not for us. But they would be wrong, as I hope to show in an occasional series of reposts over the next few weeks.