Monday, April 20, 2015

Nine Lives Plus A Horrid Sister

Hello All!  Did you miss me and my long rambley rambles?  Well you are in luck, 'cause to make up for all my short skimpy posts that last week you are gonna get a double header!  Yep that's right. two ramblings in a row.  They are two books that have been combined into one volume and I liked them both so much that I didn't take a breather in between stories, so two ramblings it is.  Today's rambling is Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones and is the first story in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 1.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
Eric "Cat" Chant and his older sister Gwendolyn are left orphans after their parents drown in an unfortunate steamboat accident.  Gwendolyn survives because she is a witch and everybody know's witches can't drown, Cat survived by hanging on to Gwendolyn.  After some discussion, the children are placed in the care of a Mrs Sharp, a hedge witch who does the most minor of magics, but is well connected and gets Gwendolyn and her astounding talent some teaching by a man of not so good intentions.  Gwendolyn appears to have a vast amount of power, especially for one so young while Cat appears to have none.  Eventually both children are brought to Chrestomanci Castle, to live with the Chrestomanci and his family.  In case you have never heard the term before Chrestomanci is the term of office and title of the most powerful enchanter in World 12B (where magic is as common as music) and has the responsibility of keeping all the other magic users in line.  What is World 12A?  It is a world in a series of worlds that are all connected in some way, shape, or form and World 12A is where the Chrestomanci is in least of the magic.  Anyways our young friends are brought to Chrestomanci Castle to live with the Chrestomanci (also known as Christopher Chant), his wife Millie, his children Julia and Robert and other various magical staff members.  Cat is torn between excitement (he gets his own room with a shower) and wishing he was back with Old Mrs. Sharp.  Gwendolyn does not make things any better when she finds she is to be a mere student along with Cat and the other two children.  Gwendolyn feels that her immense talent sets her above everybody else and goes into rages when Chrestomanci won't even so much as look in her direction.  To attempt to get Chrestomanci's attention, Gwendolyn uses her magic to pull all kind of grotesque and trouble causing pranks.  This culminates in Chrestomanci taking her magic and forbidding the use of witchcraft.  Meanwhile, Gwendolyn has been in communication with her former teacher and with him and his dastardly group forming some kind of insidious plan.  After her magic is supposedly taken away Cat awakens to find that Gwendolyn has gone and in her place is Janet, another
"Gwendolyn" from one of the Related Worlds.  Turns out that Gwendolyn, using illicit dragon's blood and some sort of magic had gotten into a world where she is queen, the result is that all the other "Gwendolyns" from the other worlds all slid up one to fill the void, leaving Janet trapped in World 12A.  Cat is terrified that his sister will get in trouble (never mind that she abandoned him) and he and Janet get themselves into even more trouble trying to keep it a secret.   Eventually Janet and Cat discover a book of matches among Gwendolyns things and when Cat lights one, goes up in flames himself.  Chrestomanci finally tells Cat that it is he, not his sister that has the power, being one of the rare people who do not have counterparts in the Related Worlds, but instead have all the lives concentrated into one person.  This also makes a person one of the most powerful enchanters and next in line for the title of Chrestomanci.  Gwendolyn figured this out when Cat was a baby and leaned heavily on his power to augment her own.  Still leery of Chrestomanci and unable to fully believe his sister meant him harm, Cat and Janet get into Chrestomanci's secret garden and let in Gwendolyns old teacher and his cronies.  The nefarious group informs Cat that they must kill him to fully break the special garden of Chrestomanci's and take his power.  Cat is frightened but knows that he has a couple lives left so no biggie.  The group capture Chrestomanci with silver (which is his weakness) and go about tying Cat up.  Gwendolyn reappears to tell the group that Cat has multiple lives so that they will have to kill him several times.  Cat finally realizes what a heinous person his sister is and helps Chrestomanci (along with the rest of the household) vanqauish the bad guys.  Gwendolyn flees to another world causing Janet to reappear when she begs to be allowed to stay as the other Janet/Gwendolyn appears to be happy at her world.  Chrestomanci agrees at it appears that all the Gwendolyns are happiest in their new worlds.  Cat is to be taught magic and groomed as the next Chrestomanci and they all appear to be in good shape.
Soooo...that was much longer then intended, but so much stuff needed to be explained...also it might help with understanding the next rambling as well...maybe.  Anyways what did I love about this book?  Well I love this author in general, she also wrote my beloved Howl's Moving Castle and really knows how to write a book that is both complicated, yet easy to follow.  As you can tell from my synopsis a lot goes on in this story, yet I always felt I could follow along.  Part of this is that she doesn't over detail things, a quick description, a comment, a short lesson is all it takes to build this familiar, yet magical world.  I will say, it is a bit frustrating on occasion that the Related Worlds are not fully explained...or really explained at all, but the next story does a good job of remedying that.  I loved Gwendolyn and Cat and their twisted relationship.  Cat clung to Gwendolyn no matter how horrid she was towards him, and up until the very end she would actually treat him quit well on
occasion, playing with him when he was bored, comforting him when he was scared, getting him treats and so forth.  I thing that is what made so much more horrifying at the end when she was not only willing to kill him, but came back on purpose to make sure he lost ALL of his lives.  For a kids book this gets a little dark, I mean seriously could you imagine the psychological ramifications of your beloved sister turning on you like that?  At least if she had been horrid to him the whole time it would not have come as such a blow.  That being said, Gwendolyn was one of my favorite characters if for nothing other then the flavor she added to the book.  I liked the idea of Cat's various lives and the ways you could lose them without even realizing it.  Robert and Julia, Chrestomanci's children added a great perspective and dimension to the story as they come from a house of magic, that is both normal and controlled.  These are children who are taught to control their impulses (mostly...Julia can have a bit of a temper) and use magic to it's best potential.  Really the only thing that drove me crazy about this story was the deliberate lack of communication, so much of the bad stuff could have been avoided if the adults had just let the kiddo's know even a little bit of what was going on!  This is one of my biggest pet peeves...though I'll admit the author did attempt to put in a plausible reason for it, it still irritated me.  Overall I very much enjoyed this book, the characters, and the sheer amount of magic tidbits the author stuffed in.  I recommend it to anybody who likes magic, the English countryside or had a bratty big sister growing up.  I give this book 8 out of 10 fiddles turned cats.
What would you do with nine lives?  Did you have a bratty sibling growing up?  Do you think my siblings would classify me as a bratty older sister?

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