Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: Charmed Life

Charmed Life
Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diana Wynne Jones has a wonderfully whimsical ability to worldbuild (of which J.K. Rowling should be jealous). Books with magic in are slowly tending to become more technological (as our technology becomes more magical, perhaps, or maybe it's just because of games in which magic has to be "balanced"); there are clear rules for what can and can't be done. This author was writing before that trend, or ignored it, and her magic is like the magic of folktales. It works because it ought to work, because having it work that way is cool.

She was also writing before "head-hopping" (switching between third-person viewpoints in the middle of a scene) became so denigrated, and a couple of times it's disorientating. Her style is the simple, declarative style of books for younger readers, but there's nothing wrong with that, though if I'd been her editor I would have said "show, don't tell" a couple of times and suggested more active phrasings for a few sentences. The writing, in other words, isn't flawless, but the story, the characters and especially the world make up for it.

The main viewpoint character is a boy known as Cat, for reasons that, when explained, turn out to be very important. He's afflicted with a sister named Gwendolen, who is as self-centred as a gyroscope and reacts badly to being thwarted, causing a cascade of trouble for poor Cat. By the middle of the book he's in not just one, but four or five bad situations, with no solution in sight, and all of them are Gwendolen's fault.

The secondary characters are delightful. The powerful Chrestomanci, in particular, with his beautiful clothes, is like a less self-centred Howl, but each one of them has some characteristic of appearance or mannerism that makes them distinct and memorable.

This is the first of a series of six books, and I'll be reading the others too, I think.

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