Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Magicians Magician

Hola Readers!  Ready for some rambling?  Awesome!  Let's see, I'm starting to amass a stack of books to ramble about...Um...Let's go with The Magicians of Caprona by my lovely and much missed Diana Wynne Jones.  This is one of the entery's into the Chronicles of Chrestomanci and this time we get away from England and his castle.  This book was a great expansion into the world of Chrestomanci and gives a bigger glimpse into this wonderful and varied universe.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
This is a tale of two households, both alike in dignity...wait...wrong book...still...  Anyways in the Italianish city of Caprona, magic is part of everyday reality.  It is used to keep pests away, bridges intact and any number of other conveniences.  Most of the magic and spells are created by two families, the Montana's and the Petrocchi's.  At some forgotten point in history these two houses had a falling out and now they have a deep seated dislike of each other.  In Casa Montana we meet Paolo and Tonio two children who are trying to learn the family magic.  Paolo does a respectable job, but Tonio has problems remembering even the simplest of spells.  Tonio however is one of the very few in the house who can converse with the cat Benvenuto.  While we meet the family, we also learn that a mysterious enchanter is running around Caprona causing problems and both Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi have been admonished by the child like Duke to figure out just what in the heck is going on.  Eventually the idea that they need to find the original protection spell/song of the Angel who came so long ago and is now revered as an almost religious icon of Caprona.  All of this chaos is just added two when Tonio and Angelica (a young Petrocchi girl) are kidnapped and the blame put on the opposing family's, a huge fight breaks and the fighting threatens to end the city until Chrestomanci the great enchanter shows up and reveals that there is in fact a malevolent enchanter running around.  Back with Tonio and Angelica we find them trapped in a box and turned into Punch and Judy puppets for the amusement of the Duke and his friends.  Turns out his wife, the Duchess is the evil magician, hell bent on destroying Caprona. Tonio and Angelica find a way to combine both of their unique magics to all sorts of interesting results.  They are still in miniature form when they are rescued by the Duke, who is not as child like as he seems.  The Duchess has been keeping him in a sort of cloud.  The Duke uses everybody's assumption of his dimwittedness to sneak the kids out of the castle.   All kinds of confusion and fighting and angst occur and we find many of the Montana and Petrocchi kids teaming up to save Caprona.  Eventually six of them end up on top of the huge angel statue, able to read the words of the long forgotten song and save Caprona.  The story ends with a wedding between a Montana girl and a Petrocchi boy who start a new era of family ties and much magic between the two houses.
World Building - I always love reading Diana Wynne Jones in particular for her world building skills.  This book is no exception.  Caprona is a fully realized placed with it's own asthetic, layout, customs, politics and people. After reading this book I feel like I could actually go to Caprona (even though it doesn't exist) and live their comfortably.  She does a great job of blending places you may already be familiar with (Italy, Venice, Europe) and adding her own fantastical twist to make a world that is complete and amazing.

Story - In this book the story intertwines with the world building in a sublime way.  We definitely get a story with a beginning middle and end, but we also get a sense of history and a glimpse of the future of the families and city with which the story is told.  The story moves along at a great pace, with plenty of unexpected moments, humor, morals and magic.  The story is so clear and so entertaining...everything a great story should be.

Character - Again this author shows her chops when it comes to characters.  I feel her books are known for having a huge cast of characters, and yet I am never confused about who is who.  Every character has their own sort of story and their own contributions to furthering the book.  In this book in particular I liked the pairing of the Montana family with their counterparts in the Petrocchi family and how they were similar in some ways and complimentary in others...once they put aside their differences anyways.  I love how she makes you give a damn about the characters and you can actually cheer them on, or root for their downfall, or sympathize or whatever it is you are supposed to do.

Editing - This book fits in nicely with the series as a whole, with no errors or continuity issues.  The book was eminently readable to the point I did not realize how many pages I had read without realizing it.  A complicated book like this can be tricky to edit as you have to make sure that everything is explained while not boring the reader with to much exposition.  This book has the perfect balance of complexity and readability that I have to give the editor props for.

Chrestomanci - I always look forward to our great enchanters entrance into any of his stories.  This time his role is less prominent then in earlier books, but no less important.  I like how the author used him this time as more of a catalyst or helper then as a savior.  His compassion, limitations and ability to get people to help themselves while not over simplifying the situation is great to read.  His character is always one of my favorites, quietly powerful while still able to assess and adjust to a situation and retain his sense of humor.

New Places - I very much enjoyed taking a trip away from Chrestomanci's estate.  The first two books I read in the series took place on his home turf and were awesome, but getting a look at another place in the same world just adds even more flavor.  I liked seeing how this paticular world related to each other in the sense of how Caprona associated with England, how Caprona had issues with their fellow city states, how some things were similar to Chrestomanci's area vs their own regional flavor.  It was like a little travelouge into World 12 (Chrestomanci's world) and added even more dimension to this awesome universe.

Caprona Magic - Much of the magic done in Caprona is manifested in some sort of physical form.  We have songs, which I feel is the perfect medium for magic.  We see it written into special ribbons and papers (YEAH FOR THE POWER OF THE WRITTEN WORD).  The description of a long cherry colored strip stamped with a black leopard or a leaf green envelope bearing a silver winged horse evoke awesome images of corporal magic.  One of my favorite things about magic is how different authors have their characters use it in a myriad of ways and this book is no exception.

Overall Impression - Obviously I really enjoyed this book.  I feel like I haven't been able to successfully impart the complexity, yet readability of this book...I have that problem every time I try and ramble about this authors books.  These are the kind of books I like best, ones that get you completely immersed into the world, the story and the character, a book that sticks with you after you put it down, but does not require you to puzzle anything out.  Reading this book was a wonderful literary experience and I can't wait to read the next one.  I give it 9 out of 10 Punch and Judy dolls and recommend it to pretty much everybody!  Happy Reading Everybody!

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