Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Oh No Witches

That does it!  I'm taking a quick packing break to do a quick ramble.  Why?  'Cause I desperately need to do something literary related and if I pick up a book I will probably not put it down until moving day.  Let's ramble about Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones.  Part of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci and the second story in my special volume, it made me as happy as the other ones have.  Lets get on with it shall we?  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!

 This story again takes us out of Chrestomanci's home world and let's us explore an entirely new one.  This world is one where magic and especially witches (both male and female) are feared to the point that they are burned any time one of them is discovered.  Our story takes place in a boarding school where a significant portion of the student body are what are called witch orphans.  These are children that have been orphaned after one or more of their parents have been executed for being witches.  The school is thrown into turmoil when a teacher is slipped a note informing him that one of his students is a witch.  We are then introduced to a whole bunch of kids who belong to various social groups with in the school.  Nan Pilgrim is the descendant of a very powerful witch who was known for starting a rebellion. Charles Morgan an unpopular boy who uses his ferocious looks to keep people at bay.  Brian Wentworth, the son of the vice principle who is harassed by the popular group.  Theresa Mullett and Simon Silverson, popular and cruel.  And a whole host of other kids who make up this school.  Weird going ons start to happen all of which points to a witch among the students.  As the story progresses each child becomes suspicious of each other, and then of themselves as they realize that most of them possess some sort of mage.  It get's bad enough that the teachers call in the witch hunters to rid the school of whoever is causing the problem.  All of this eventually catches the attention of Chrestomanci who travels to this world to see what is going on.  He is confused as the profusion of magic should make this world embrace witches not fear them.  He discovers that this particular world experienced a schism at some point trapping all the witches on this side and all the embracing of magic on the other.  He uses the witch children to work some big magic, the worlds merge and it appears that people live happier ever after.

World Building - This world is full and slightly unsetteling.  There is the feel of a modernish day England boarding school that most British/Fantasy lovers will recognize.  There is also the feeling that something is slightly off about the whole thing...which considering the ending of the book makes this world feel very carefully built.  It is very different from Chrestomanci's open and pastoral world and really gives us the impression of being in a different place.  It was effective, appropriate and complete.

Story - The story had a beginning, middle and end.  It had layers and depth.  It made sense, we were given all the information we needed with out getting bored by a lecture.  Most off all I kept turning the pages.  I never once got bored with the story and wanted to finish it as fast as possible and at the same time was very sad when it was over.  It is very appropriate for the age group it is written for and as with all stories by this author it is just phenomenal.

Characters - Another strong point to this book, the characters were varied and interesting.  Each character stayed true to how they were written, while still being given the chance to change and grow.  The children and adults all interacted in believable ways.  I liked how the author gave us characters that originally fit into very stereotypical school niches, the popular kids, the bully, the loner, the teachers pet, the stranger, the head of the school, etc...but then gave them all a chance to become something else.  I also liked that not every single character chose the best path, that the author recognized that just 'cause you get the choice to do does not mean everybody does.

Editing - Props to the editor.  This book was readable and made perfect sense.  We get the information we need when we need it and the pacing was wonderful.  The book as a whole fits into the Chrestomanci world.  I feel this type of editing and pacing is perfect for the intended age group, which is the Middle Grade/Young Adult crowd.

The Kids - I loved the children as a whole in this book.  I loved the world with in a world that a bunch of children can create with their own rules, moral, code of conduct and way of thinking.  It is entirely different from the world of adults and I remember as a kid how when a group of us got together we lived a completely different life from the adults.  This book very much sends me back to those days and it is nice to see a children's author who seems to understand children.

The Spells - The various spells the kids used, both intentional and otherwise where very original and refreshing.  The way that a child's mind works to create spells is so different then a "logical and educated" adult and really adds a different dimension to this book about magic.  I also just found the results of the spells amusing...especially when the hundreds of shoes appeared and needed sorting, what a great visual.

The Solution - I very much appreciate that Chrestomanci used the kids to solve this worlds problems.  He recognized that they were the ones with the magic (for the most part) and that they were more open to a solution that involved magic.  Instead of going to the adults to talk or fight the problem, he used his best resources, the children and came up with a complete and elegant solution.

Overall Impression - I really really really wish I had known about this author as a kid.  I feel like these would have been some of my favorite books and this book in particular would have appealed to me.  I give it 8 out of 10 flying carpets and recommend it to any kid who needs a book to read, fans of British fantasy and anybody who just wants a fun read.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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