Aug 14, 2010

Charmed Life

by Diana Wynne Jones

I'm reading The Chronicles of Chrestomanci which includes two books,
Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant, but I thought I'd write about them separately. And yes, I was drawn to the book at first (seeing it up for trade on Paperback Swap) because it has a pugnacious looking tomcat on the front, but no, the story is not about a cat. Although there is a cat in it.

Charmed Life is about a boy named Eric whom everyone calls Cat, and his overbearing ambitious sister Gwendolen. They live in one of many worlds close to ours, and in this particular one magic is an everyday thing. Gwendolen has a natural aptitude for magic, but isn't well-taught and thinks too much of herself. She flounces around everywhere trying to get her own way and using magic to play mean tricks on people who thwart her. Rather like a great spoiled child, only one with an inordinate amount of power. Her brother Cat on the other hand, through whose eyes we see the story (although it's told in third-person, the reader only gets as much info as Cat himself is privy to) cannot seem to work magic at all, so he follows around in Gwendolen's shadow. He does, however, have extra lives, a thing which is so rare that its significance is not realized by many, it seems to be just considered another magical oddity in this world of wizards, enchanters and soothsayers. But his sister is making use of Cat's nine lives in a terrible way.

I really despised Gwendolen's character, but at the same time it was intriguing to read about her. When the children get sent from their humble beginnings to live in Chrestomanci castle with rich enchanters, their two stout children (who view magic as an everyday practicality) a slew of magic-working servants and a stern tutor, Gwendolen rebells against the rules and lack of attention she thinks she's due. The power struggle between her and the enchanter Chrestomanci, who seems to be simply ignoring her outbursts, slowly builds up tension until things really get out of control. That girl just did not know when to stop. I was sorry she didn't stay gone in the other world, because I liked her replacement much better! And I was puzzled why Cat never stood up to his sister or stepped out to be his own person, until I realized the full nature of that parasitic relationship.

I'm hoping I didn't say too much here and spoil the story, because part of the fun for me was not realizing what exactly was going on until the end. Let's just say I enjoyed this far more than Castle in the Air, and I'm once again eager to read more Diana Wynne Jones books, to find others I like. I'm so glad I didn't give up on her!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 263 pages, 1977

More opinions at:
Voracious Reader


Jenny said...

Yay! This post made me so happy! I am glad Dogsbody isn't the only DWJ book you can ever love. :p I hope you enjoy Lives of Christopher Chant too--it has also got a cat, and the cat does more interesting things than Fiddle in Charmed Life.

Nymeth said...

Hooray - I'm also glad you didn't! Between you and all the DWJ Week participants, I now really want to re-read all the Chrestomanci books.

Zibilee said...

you've really intrigued me with your review and summary! It sounds like this is the first book that I should pick up by Jones. I am glad you liked it and will be looking forward to reading it!