Book: Mixed Magics

"Mixed Magics" by Diana Wynne JonesIn the world of Chrestomanci, being able to use magic is a distinct advantage. But ordinary people have rights too, and only the strength and skills of a nine-lifed enchanter can possibly begin to control the exploits of the numerous witches and warlocks, sorcerers and necromancers out to make mischief.

The four stories in Mixed Magics all feature the enigmatic Chrestomanci–taller and more handsome than ever. With plenty of old friends, new acquaintances–and a particularly devious enemy with an outrageously despicable plot!

In Mixed Magics, we get four short stories. But unlike the fantastical adventurous and mysteries of the other Chrestomanci books, novels, that will surely draw kids in, the ones included in this compilation seem, decidedly, more adult. Which is not a bad thing. Not at all. The dramatic set-ups, and the character conflicts, are darker than what’s usually common fare in children’s fiction. And the best thing about the book is that you can let children read it! In fact, it might even open avenues of conversation for you and your younger sibling, or your child!

The stories of Mixed Magic tackles jealousy, pride, greed, and the likes–always in the context of the Chrestomanci worlds. Save for the last story, which I think would’ve been a great new universe for Miss Jones to explore had she had the time. (May she rest in peace.) Or maybe she did, I don’t know.

I’m one of the people fortunate enough to still be discovering her books one at a time. I haven’t run out of her books to read yet. In that I am lucky. She may be gone now though, but her legacy, I’m sure, will continue with newly published writers inspired by her works.

In the meantime though, I will continue to search and treasure the wonderful books that Miss Jones have given us.

Book: Conrad’s Fate

"Conrad's Fate" by Diana Wynne JonesSomeone at Stallery Mansion is changing the world. At first, only small details, but the changes get bigger and bigger. It’s up to Conrad, a twelve-year-old with terrible karma who’s just joined the mansion’s staff, to find out who is behind it.

But he’s not the only one snooping around. His fellow servant-in-training, Christopher Chant, is charming, confident, and from another world, with a mission of his own–rescuing his friend, lost in an alternate Stallery Mansion. Can they save the day before Conrad’s awful fate catches up with them?

And with this book, I now only have three Chrestomanci books left to find and read.

Conrad’s Fate takes us to a new world, one where probabilities can be shifted–and constant physical changes in life and the way of living is normal. Wait, I think that sounds confusing. Let’s try that again. Imagine you were holding an apple. And then, suddenly, you’re holding on orange with nary an apple in sight. In fact, no one remembers apples. And then, just as suddenly, you’re holding a bowl of cherries and people can remember apples again, but don’t remember you were holding one two minutes ago. But not everyone forgets. There’s you, and there are a handful of other people who remember for a while–and then forgets. By then, they’ve accepted that you’ve been holding the bowl of cherries the whole time.

Imagine a world like that. And imagine you were living in it.

I have to say, I love how Miss Jones creates world that are basically off-shoots of the one we live in. Especially since she creates them in such a way that you can’t mistake them for our world–and yet manages to make them familiar enough that you don’t spend too much time wondering about the environment. You just delve right into the characters and the story. I also love the fact that the Chrestomanci books are so expansive. That there are treasure troves of stories waiting to be told. If only Miss Jones were still alive to tell them.

But let’s not dwell on what can no longer happen, and go back to what has already been written. Specifically, the story of Conrad’s Fate.

I highly enjoyed the unlikely-hero vibe that Conrad employs throughout the whole story. It probably helped that Conrad wasn’t exactly hero material–nor did he aspire to be one. He was just looking out for himself. With most fantasy books always having big magical mishaps/apocalypse about to happen, it’s nice to see one where our main protagonist just wants to save himself. Aside from being refreshing, it’s also more plausible. I mean, seriously, unless you’re the most powerful enchanter in the world, would you really choose to save the lives of many first before your sense of self-preservation kicks in?

With Conrad, we really do get the everyday man. Sure he has powers too. But reading the book, his powers felt more like a device to make sure we readers can follow the story–and the gravity of what is happening in Stallery Mansion. Conrad didn’t really do anything grand. Well, save for three things that are too important to the storytelling for me to spoil it for you. If you haven’t read the book yet. If you have–yes, I’m talking about those three things. Don’t pretend you don’t know. Okay, well the one thing isn’t really that important. And it has already been spoiled by the book’s synopsis, so I’ll share: Conrad can take photos of alternate worlds–on top of one another. I don’t know how useful that power is, but it’s a power. Apparently.

Well, at least it helps him identify shifts in probabilites.

Also, I love how the story tackles the problem with destiny premises. I mean, we get so many stories that have heroes go up against evil wizards, dark lords, etc, because they were told it’s their destiny. This gets turned around in Conrad’s Fate when Conrad goes to Stallery Mansion to clear his karma, because of his supposed destiny, only to find out otherwise. I want to expound on this more (and I did, but I had to erase it.) It spoils too much of the story. And I really want people to read the story and uncover the secrets of Stallery Mansion on their own.

Overall, Conrad’s Fate was highly enjoyable. Took me a while to finish the book, but it was more because of work than the quality of the book.

Check out what other people have to say about the book:
Dear J
Sonder Books
Fantasy Book Review

Book: The Magicians of Caprona

"The Magicians of Caprona" by Diana Wynne JonesCasa Montana and Casa Petrocchi look after the magical business in the Dukedom of Caprona, where music is enchantment and spells are as slippery as spaghetti. The families have been feuding for years, so when all the spells start going wrong, each naturally blames the other.

When Chrestomanci turns up, it confirms all their suspicions–something is terribly wrong. Can the rumours of a White Devil who threatens Caprona be true after all?

I want to start this blog post by saying that I completely enjoyed reading The Magicians of Caprona. For a book written thirty years ago, it has held up very well–but this is hardly surprising. After all, it was written by the late Diana Wynne Jones, a fantastic weaver of words, and a genius in creating worlds.

Like with The Lives of Christopher Chant, our main protagonist is a child. I guess there’s something more magical about fantasy worlds when they are seen through a child’s eyes. And like The Lives…, The Magicians of Caprona is also a Chrestomanci story. Except, it really isn’t. Sure the Chrestomanci (a sort-of guardian of the use of magic) does appear in the story, but I feel like he is hardly important. I mean, the story could move forward even without his presence. Which is why I don’t get why he’s even needed in the story–why it’s even necessary for this to be part of the Chrestomanci collection.

In Miss Jones’ other saga, with the Wizard Howl, the stories are weaved in such a way that the wizard is actually integral to the events that will unfold in the story. And while such is also the case for the Chrestomanci here in The Magicians of Caprona, it could also be portrayed by any other characters. Heck, the part can even be written out!

This is only my second Chrestomanci story, so I don’t know if all the books in the series are like this. I hope they aren’t.

But, as I said earlier on, I did enjoy The Magicians of Caprona. I thought it was a brilliant story of how teamwork and communication are two very important things to employ in one’s life.

As the blurb says, we have two warring families that are blaming each other for the weakening of magic in Caprona. What they don’t realize is that there is an outside force that is doing its best to bring down the two magical families so Caprona will be left defenseless. And it’s because of the families’ prejudice against each other that they are further put in danger. And so it becomes up to four children from the two families, and a Romeo-and-Juliet-type lovers, to try to break the feud between the families and unite them against the White Devil.

I liked how the story brings up the values of teamwork and proper communication in the book, and I think it would be a great book to ask children to read. The values aren’t forced down their throats, and children will definitely enjoy the adventures our hero Tonino and his newfound friend goes through just to help save Caprona from the White Devil.

This is one book I’d actually like to see as a film, or TV-Movie. Miss Jones writes her scenes with such vision that you’re actually not just reading the book–you’re living the story in full color. But sometimes, even imagination isn’t enough. For a story this grand, I’d like to see actual people (or even animated people) going through the adventures she’s describing.

And now that I’ve finished reading The Magicians of Caprona, I’m on the lookout for the rest of the Chrestomanci books–hoping that the Chrestomanci will be playing a larger role–if not a more integral one.

Check out what other people have to say about the book:
Fantasy Book Review
A Garden Carried in the Pocket
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