I’m a little late to the party, as per usual, but Kristen over at WeBeReading has been having a glorious month of March Magics over on her website this month, celebrating in particular the writings of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett. Sadly, I have only ever read one book by Terry Prachett, which my very dear friend gave me as a gift, the book is called Maskerade, and while I remember enjoying it quite a lot — though the parody of Phantom of the Opera (which I don’t believe I had ever actually seen at that point) went right over my head and I was unable to appreciate the satire in its fullest form — it was still a rolicking good romp of a read. I have a feeling I would enjoy his books more if I didn’t start on book #18, as well… but that’s just a sneaking suspicion I have.
Diana Wynne Jones and I, however, go back quite a ways. I don’t talk about her books much, mostly because I have recently learned just how few of her books I’ve actually read. My library back “home” in West Chicago didn’t have a very large selection of her works, so I never realized how massive her portfolio really was. But I started reading her books back when I was approximately 12, and read and re-read them so much that I suspect the librarians were about ready to just give me the copies that I had battered (just kidding, I don’t batter books, I’ve always been nice to them). Until even more recently, I hadn’t actually met anyone else who had even heard of this author, let alone loved her books as much as I did. Thank you, blogging-land, for introducing me to new DWJ fans!
Since I missed out on most of the fun, I’m going to take a cue from Deborah and tell you a little bit about the DWJ books I’ve read. If you’ve never read Diana Wynne Jones, I’ll just sum her up the way I do whenever I recommend her books in person. She’s JK Rowling, but before JK Rowling ever even thought about writing. She’s British, was born in 1934 and passed away about 5 years ago. She wrote many, many YA and children’s books, primarily specializing in fantasy. Her books definitely contain magic, wizards, warlocks, and witches akin to what you’ll find in the Harry Potter series, so if that bothers you, then you probably won’t enjoy her books. Her characters are rich and her sense of humor is limitless. Her worlds are usually based in alternate versions of our own – and she dabbles a little in the sci-fi “alternate or parallel universes” device. Often there are excellent themes subtly woven through the pages of her books teaching lessons about selflessness, bravery, sacrifice, and when it might be a good idea to turn to someone older and wiser than yourself for help.
So, which books of hers have I read? Well, the first book of hers was Charmed Life. To this day, it remains up there on my list of all-time favorite fantasy books. It takes place within the world of Chrestomanci, one of the most brilliant characters ever written. Sometimes he seems a bit befuddled and maybe a little bit scatter-brained, but don’t let his mild manners or his exquisite dressing gowns fool you. He’s the most powerful wizard in the world. The story itself revolves around Cat Chant and his sister, Gwendolyn, who end up in the care and training of Chrestomanci and his family. This is a magical story chock-full of fun, mystery, and excitement.
After reading Charmed Life half a dozen times or so, I discovered that there were more books about Chrestomanci, and devoured them in a completely haphazard order (as the versions my library carried were not labelled at all). I’m pretty sure I read Witch Week first (since it was advertised on the cover of Charmed Life), followed by The Lives of Christopher Chant.
Several years later, I read The Magicians of Caprona (probably my least favorite of the series).
And that was where I stopped… because my library didn’t have any of her other books.
Fast forward about fifteen years.
I happened across The Pinhoe Egg, and was absolutely delighted to return to Cat Chant and friends from Charmed Life! I love discovering random sequels I was unaware of that transport me back to my oldest and dearest book friends!
Somewhere around the blogosphere, I suddenly started seeing the acronym DWJ popping up, and people talking about a book called Howl’s Moving Castle. After hearing raving reviews of this story, I looked it up and found it at the library. I promptly devoured it and loved it. Howl is also an extremely powerful wizard, though he is much more of an egomaniac than Chrestomanci… he’s still kind of scatterbrained and a bit eccentric… moody would also be a good word for him. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, because Chrestomanci is my favorite, and Howl is her favorite, and I think perhaps this is a bit like the Doctor Who conundrum. Whichever one you read first is probably going to be your favorite…. even if it’s only by a small margin!
A year or so later I happened upon Castle in the Air, which is a loose sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, and I enjoyed that as well.
I also read The Game, which is not at all related to either the Chrestomanci or the Howl universe, but was quite entertaining anyway, if a little odd.
Last year I read House of Many Ways (the third and final, I believe?) book in the Howl series, and Enchanted Glass, which is another stand-alone (as far as I know) and also quite good.
I am very excited to read more of this author, and kind of deliriously happy to discover that I’ve read only a fraction of what she wrote – as I recently discovered she wrote over 30 books, and I, as you can see, have only read 10 of them.
Have you read any books by this amazing author? I’d love to hear which ones and what you thought of them!