After rereading all of Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, I think I may finally have a favorite–the final book, The Pinhoe Egg. It’s a perfect blend of new characters, old friends, and high hilarity. And a great fit for Once Upon a Time!
The Pinhoe family has been practicing their secret magic for generations, avoiding the eye of “the Big Man,” Chrestomanci, who is a kind of magic regulator for the government. The plot beyond that is…complicated. When Gammer Pinhoe, clan matriarch, goes insane (possibly cursed by a rival magical family), chaos, upheaval, and magical feuds are inevitable. And there’s a magical egg, long-held by the Pinhoes, which comes into the possession of Cat, ward of Chrestomanci Castle, and hatches into a baby gryphon.
I loved seeing Cat take center-stage again, even more than he did in the first (written, though not chronological) book, Charmed Life. Cat in this book still struggles with trust and openness, but has also come into more confidence about himself and his abilities. It’s a nice development from his previous book, while being remarkably consistent for two books written almost 30 years apart!
Centering much of the book around Chrestomanci Castle also meant seeing more of its other residents, and here was where I was especially glad that I’d read the whole series in order pretty quickly. I’m sure that when I read this before, I’d forgotten who most of the supporting characters were. This time I still had everyone in mind and could draw all the connections between books.
Along with familiar faces, there were delightful new characters too. Marianne Pinhoe is our second major character, alongside Cat. She has some parallels to Cat in the first book, actually, as someone with strong magic who has never fully realized it. She’s less passive than Cat was, and spends much of the book trying to deal with problems no one else seems to be able to see.
The Pinhoes en masse (and especially Gammer Pinhoe) are a wonderful group, mixing humor deftly with much more sinister undertones. They form an interesting contrast to the spell families in The Magicians of Caprona. In both cases we have a busy, clannish family, full of aunts and uncles, fiercely proud of their magic and having an uncanny ability to know what’s going on with family members. There, however, the Montanas clearly care about their young family members and want to protect, teach and encourage them. The Pinhoes seem largely bent on stifling Marianne, or at least forcing her into the mold they consider appropriate. Parents often come off very badly in Jones’ books, and this is a definite case where that happens.
But even with some sinister undertones, there are still hilarious incidents of magical mayhem, including a runaway kitchen table that rampages through town…
If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that I had to suspend disbelief on one of the central plot points. The Pinhoes are supposed to be practicing magic secretly–and yet they seem to be very bad at hiding anything. They’re practically on Chrestomanci’s doorstep, they fly around on brooms, and a cursed table runs down Main Street. I honestly don’t know how Chrestomanci managed to not notice them. Possibly they were only keeping their particular method of magic secret, not the fact of doing magic in general…but if that was the point, it wasn’t clear to me. However…the rest of the book is so good that I’m willing to just run with that one idea and not ask too many questions!
So now that I’m at the end of my chronological reread, I do have some thoughts on reading order! I think there’s actually a lot of room for flexibility, but the books can generally be looked at in pairs. Charmed Life and The Pinhoe Egg; and The Lives of Christopher Chant and Conrad’s Fate each pair together and should be read in order–although you could make a case for reading either pair first! Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona are much more removed from the series and could be read at any point, although probably not first. And the short stories in Mixed Magics really are best when read in connection to their relative books (see review for details!)
Got all that? :) Maybe the real conclusion here is that it doesn’t matter all that much which order these are read in…because they’re just wonderful books anyway! My favorites are chronologically at the beginning and the end, The Lives of Christopher Chant and The Pinhoe Egg, but every installment is excellent!
Author’s Site: http://dianawynnejones.com/
Buy it here: The Pinhoe Egg