Book review

Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (1977)

Magic is all over the place in this story:

That neighbourhood was full of witches. People in the same trade like to cluster together. If Cat came out of Mrs Sharp's front door and turned right down Coven Street, he passed, besides the three Accredited Witches, two Necromancy Offered, a Soothsayer, a Diviner, and a Willing Warlock. If he turned left, he passed Me Henry Nostrum a.r.c.m. Tuition in Necromancy, a Fortune-teller, a Sorcery For All Occasions, a Clairvoyant, and lastly Mr Larkins' shop. The air in the street, and for several streets around, was heavy with the scent of magic being done.

If Cat had been any good at all at magic he could have taken graded Magic exams, but he is no good at magic. He isn't even much good at music:

He was practising away one evening, when Gwendolen stormed in and shrieked a spell in his face. Cat found, to his dismay, that he was holding a large striped cat by the tail. He had its head tucked under his chin, and he was sawing at its back with the violin bow. He dropped it hurriedly. Even so, it bit him under the chin and scratched him painfully.
'What did you do that for?' he said.

Well, I don't think Gwendolen appreciated Cat's attempts to play the violin, but you can see that just because you live in a fantastic world where there is lots of magic, that doesn't necessarily mean that you will have a wonderful big sister.

Gwendolen is obnoxious. She is bossy and conceited, and unfortunately, she is a very gifted witch. Also, unfortunately, she is all Cat has got, since their parents drowned in a boating accident.

When the great enchanter Chrestomanci takes the children to live with his family in the grand Chrestomanci Castle, both Cat and Gwendolen assume that is because of her astonishing powers. But Gwendolen is disappointed to find that magic is forbidden outside of lessons. She feels Chrestomanci is not paying her enough attention and she determines to get herself noticed!

Poor Cat feels like a fish out of water, but perhaps he isn't really quite as useless as he imagines ...

What can I read next?

If you enjoyed meeting Chrestomanci you will be pleased to hear there is a whole series:

  • Charmed Life
  • The Magicians of Caprona
  • Witch Week
  • The Lives of Christopher Chant
  • Mixed Magics

Diana Wynne Jones has written other books too. You might like to read her brilliant latest book which I enjoyed enormously:

If you like books about magic, you are really spoilt for choice, but you might like to have a look at the Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell:

There is the Dead Brilliant series by Debi Gliori which might interest you:

And one of my favourites by Charlotte Haptie:

You could also have a look at anything by Stephen Elboz:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Charmed Life features in these lists: