Book: The Chronicles of Chrestomanci volume 1 (Chrestomanci 1-2) by Diana Wynne Jones
Release Date: 1988
Charmed Life – 3 stars
The Many Lives of Christopher Chant – 4 stars
In this multiple parallel universes of the Twelve Related Worlds, only an enchanter with nine lives is powerful enough to control the rampant misuse of magic–and to hold the title Chrestomanci… The Chants are a family strong in magic, but neither Christopher Chant nor Cat Chant can work even the simplest of spells. Who could have dreamed that both Christopher and Cat were born with nine lives–or that they could lose them so quickly?
After reading Howl’s Moving Castle and loving the characters I have been interested in checking out Diana Wynne Jones other books, other than the companion books to Howl. And first up is the Chronicles of Chrestomanci. This first volume consists of the first two books of this series, Charmed Life and The Many Lives of Christopher Chant.
One thing after reading this bind-up is that the core of the stories of these two are the same. Both focus on a young boy who discover that their family has magic and that they are a Chrestomanci, someone who has nine lives, connected to other worlds. And those aren’t the only similarities. The two stories are not only connected through that. The Many Lives of Christopher Chant is in fact a prequel story to Charmed Life. The main character of the second book is a character in Charmed Life.
This might make you think that the second book would be more boring to read. But story and character wise I felt that The Many Lives of Christopher Chant was a lot stronger. The story and world has so many more layers in this second book than the first book did. In the first book you wonder about the overall plot for the first half of the book. It doesn’t become quite clear where this was going until the last bit. But that last third or so of the first book was really strong and showed a glimpse of what I was expecting from a Diana Wynne Jones book. Magical world building and adventure.
Also the magic and world building is somewhat lacking in this first book. But in the second book we get a lot more magic and world building and I got a clearer image of the magic and other world rules. And how the Chrestomanci fit into this even more. It reminded me more of the rich magical world like in Howl’s Moving Castle. Charmed Life missed that for most of the book.
Character wise I felt that Cat, our main character from Charmed Life, lacked a bit of strength to his character. The way his sister used him was appalling to see. But worse was the way he didn’t stand up for himself throughout the book even though it was obvious she didn’t care about him in this at all. There was nothing very redeeming about her that would make him think she did so I feel like he should have stood up for himself earlier. But Chrestomanci and his wife were interesting characters that I wanted to learn more about. And that we got in the second book.
Christopher was easier to identify with. It was easier to see how he would be sucked into his uncle’s claws. He just wanted to feel like he wasn’t being used by anyone. That he could make his own decisions and be his own person and be liked for that. I also liked how his relationship with the cat came to be. Millie was a bit of a mystery in the first book, but it was great to see where she originated from and came to be.
So please if you give this series a try, don’t let the first book discourage you. The chronicles of Chrestomanci has a layered magical world that after these first two books still leaves a lot to be discovered.