Thursday, April 21, 2011

Woefully behind

I'm woefully behind on Magicians of Caprona (I might have to reread to write it), polishing all these posts up for Tordotcom (sold them! yay!), I submitted a review of Faerie Winter over at Tordot, I'm about to start working on a review of Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique for them (a circus full of magical creatures! only possibly it's science instead of magic? I don't yet know!), I signed a lease on a new flat on Tuesday night and hosted two seders not in my own flat.

So I've been pretty busy. It's not really going to subside any time soon because, as mentioned, I have to finish writing a bunch of stuff for Tordot, then I have to see if H&H still wants articles from me, this belatedly, somewhere in there I have to move and then hopefully I can start writing my own book. And all of this before the authors for whom I first-read, finish their next books!

...Kind of all I want to do is eat bread and sleep instead.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Witch Week

Goodness, I'd quite forgotten the variety of new characters that Witch Week starts off with. It's a brilliantly drawn world and the touches DWJ makes to show how close and yet how far it is both from our world and from Chrestomanci's, are lovely. They burn witches! Which makes it seem like olden days, but then there are lots of tiny details that make it feel sufficiently modern and also way creepier because you realise that they never stopped burning witches. Which is certainly one theory of what would happen if witchcraft were real and the witch trials never stopped.

I'd like to point out, very briefly, here that England rarely burnt witches. They burnt women for treason - because to be hanged, drawn and quartered you needed to be stripped naked and they preferred not to do that to women? That's what I've heard in any case - but they mostly hanged people for witchcraft; male and female. I guess they didn't need to draw and quarter them?

There were awful burnings - many in Germany and Denmark - but remarkably few in the UK.

Anyway, to return to the book. It feels kind of like it's about to  be Breakfast Club meets Mallory Towers with witchcraft.

I love remembering that some of the teachers (namely Mr. Wentworth) were witches too. Also the whole drama of Mr. Crossley loving Miss. Hodges who wants to marry Mr. Wentworth. It is smart and amusingly written. Plus the children's characters are brilliantly and wickedly drawn. Ah school, you can sometimes be so cruel.

I think one of my favourite things about this book is Estelle. The idea of people, entire families, without magic who try to help them and run the witches underground makes me all warm inside. It's just like the people in WWII or the Civil War era undergrounds. This is exactly what we should be teaching children; empathy for people who aren't like you.  Not to rest on your privilege.

I LOVE that the "very powerful spell" is just to say Chrestomanci, but love even more that it's Christopher and his first act at being dragged into another world is to check his clothes. Best silly character trait ever. I have no idea where it comes from - except maybe Christopher's Mama? And I love that Estelle has a crush on Christopher.

Ok, so here's my continuity question. In Conrad's Fate they say that Conrad can't stay in Christopher's world because he'd fade, it not being his own world. But in Willing Warlock he gets sent through to another world and appears to be ready to live there, and now in this one, Estelle says that there's another world to which the Witch Rescue League sends witches. So is it that you can't go outside your series without fading, but can within your own series?

This world - as Christopher's asking questions about it - does seem to be the most similar to ours that we've seen yet. Is it supposed to be ours? Or is it supposed to be just left of ours or something? Ah! Obviously! The one the rescue league sends you to is ours.

Wait, Christopher has a ward who used to belong to a world without magic? It's certainly not Cat or Tonino, so who is it?

This is an anti-climactic ending in the vein of Charmed Life ie. "and then I had some revelations!" but it didn't work for me quite as well. It was still pretty awesome, but there's an element of losing at least some of the memories that makes me sad.

Still I loved having an actual School Story and I loved having a large gang of characters. She shows children being selfish and concerned and self-preserving and compassionate and mature and silly and all these things all at once. And I kept thinking, oh that's the "bad kid!"..."wait, no...that is?" In the end, none of them really are. They are all just human. Which is much more interesting to me in some ways than having a traditional "baddie".


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Willing Warlock and Stealer of Souls

Willing Warlock:

When she says short, she means short. Weirdly, this totally should have gone after Charmed Life, not Conrad's Fate. The only thing that makes it possible sensible on that front is that we learn, in Conrad, about Chrestomanci having agents in other series/worlds.

I haven't much to say about the story. It's nice idea that there really is no way to escape Chrestomanci's punishment/wrath, no matter where you run, but it all seems a little pat. Plus I ended up feeling kind of sorry for the Warlock, with the dog and the kid.

Stealer of Souls
AND this one is obviously post Magicians of Caprona! Even though, it's got Cat in it. Confused.

 I do love the idea that Cat is no longer the pet and has to deal with that. But oh, Cat, be more nice and likeable! Wait, so Tonino's mother was one of the Chrestomanci kids? Was she mentioned at the end of Conrad's book?

I do like that magic has no effect on measles.

Oh I am so happy to see Mordecai again. Generally to see the old crew from Christopher's Lives, but especially Tacroy.

I love Cat's idea that being an evil enchanter comes from doing good things for bad reasons. I suspect it's kind of the opposite, but it's interesting because it shows selfishness and laziness. But also consideration for other people. So generally...a teenager?

Wait, doesn't Rosalie have magic? She is definitely married to Mordecai, right??

Aha! Drama and plot! It is occurring! They have been kidnapped back in time! And a forgetting spell has been put on them. Oh why don't people listen to dire warnings?

And then stuff occurs! Well, it's a short story. There are beans! Cat puts them in his pocket! Cat and Tonino learn to work together and love one another. Then the beans really do all the hard work, despite being kind of stupid for lack of brain. I find myself remarkably happy that Gabriel De Witt is essentially getting reborn. Surely this must show up in a story, somewhere?

I think the moral of this story is that Cat still isn't very nice, Tonino totally saved the day and I really hope Cat grows up a lot. Now on to Witch Week!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Conrad's No Good, Very Bad, Fate

I must have started this at some point because a lot of it is feeling very familiar. I love the beginning in the bookshop. Again we have three strong women, though in very different ways. The absent minded academic mother, the independent, smart sister and the manipulative Daisy.

I can't help feeling that even were I a pre-teen I'd be very suspicious about the whole bad karma thing as a reader. Maybe less so if I hadn't just read two books in the series in which pretty much everyone is duping the young male hero for their own nefarious and magical ends. But this currently makes me think a lot of the evil plot in charmed life. Which then makes me question if the Stallery folk are evil at all but then I question that doubt because why else would Christopher be investigating them? I suspect they aren't all evil but have otherworldly tech they shouldn't or something? Is that too Doctor Who-y? Is this a case of slightly formulaic plotting or her using our expectations from the previous books to lead us down the wrong path? 

Also yay Christopher! 

The whole set-up is pretty cool. This is the first book in the series in which the kids go off and work, which gives it a weirdly even more period feel than having tutors at home in a big castle. And I love the cast of characters up at Stallery. I bumbled along pretty quickly through the getting-to-know you section and bumped right into Anthea, the fabulous sister from the beginning! I don't know how I feel about the idea that she's just waiting around for her boyfriend, Count Robert, to fix things, but I assume there's more going on there that we haven't seen yet. It's also nice to see an adult who even nominally cares/is nice to the boys.

I'm really glad that everyone agreed that the "fate" thing is bogus so early, but I wish the whole wine cork/Walker thing had been more climactic. Perhaps it'll come back? 

Certainly looks like I was right, re: otherworld tech. But not at all about Christopher "investigating" it turns out! He was just looking for Millie! I'm glad, once again, that Millie has agency and does things on her own, but I don't understand why - after thinking that school was punishment for taking Christopher's life in the last book, she runs away the second she doesn't like school. And why Christopher thinks they can live on an island all by themselves?

I do like the hints of him fussing about his clothes though. We didn't see that so much in the last book, but a lot in the first.

At first I thought "The ghost" was Millie, having been stuck. I had been kind of wondering if Stallery had captured her and was using her magic, but obviously those were flights of fancy. Now I'm pretty sure the ghost is Christopher. This doesn't actually make any sense because the ghost was there before Christopher disappeared, but where is Christopher then? The ghost must be someone stuck in the possibilities or something? 

I love the actors!

A brief side note - the whole thing about Conrad's mum having spells put on her to basically forget him was quite distressing. I'd quite like the whole family situation sorted out too please.

Oh everything suddenly got excitingly good! Turns out they are all related and Conrad's mum has come to do exciting things in hilariously embarrassing dresses and HOW DID I NOT KNOW MR AMOS WAS THE COUNT. But wait, if Hugo is his son and Felice is the Countess' daughter, this is going get incestuous and problematic! KEEP READING.


Ah. Phew. There is a Lady Amos! Who is Hugo's mother! Glad that's sorted! But now some of the people I like - Robert and Hugo are going to be arrested! Also all the servants are going to be screwed! DIANA MAKE IT BETTER.

Well at least they found Christopher. It's amazing how much calmer it makes me feel to have Christopher around. But honestly Gabriel isn't such a bad guy! Although I can see why Conrad would be freaked because of the whole murder thing (which is obviously hilariously silly) but why are Millie and Christopher so determined to keep running away from Gabriel?
That, by the way, was quite a clever evil plan of Uncle Alfred's, but really, just because Conrad didn't succeed, is that a reason to blurt it all out? 

I love Gabriel scolding Conrad's mum for neglect. I'm not saying he's the best parental figure, but he really does try. And he certainly doesn't neglect people!

I am, it turns out, devastated not to get the Chrestomanci castle years in which Conrad and Christopher and Millie frolic repeatedly. It is nice to see them as teenagers though, but I want to see Christopher and Millie fall in love so much. You see delightful hints of it, but I want the whole thing!

I am also kind of sad that Stallery just collapses down and dies. I'm really glad that the staff all got jobs and so happy that Mr. Prendergast was an investigator - it was a really lovely way of wrapping things up and also showing that adults in power can be really good people. I'm also glad that Anthea cares about Conrad and wants him to hang out with her, but I can't help feeling that even she was very self-centred and forgot him a lot. The only really good family is the one you choose for yourself, in these books, which is entirely fair and a really interesting theme for children's books.

In conclusion I LOVED this one. Onwards to the short stories which I've ALSO never read, before jumping into Witch Week which I love heartily, but again has too little Chrestomanci to make me unreservedly happy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Lives of Clistoffer Chant

So far the only good depiction of parents have been christopher and Millie. Is this following the rule of ya/mg that says you can't have parents around? It's also relatively traditionally middle-upper class english to have distant parents.

I'd forgotten the mermaids who thought he was a strange animal called a clistoffer! The anywheres are so rich and brilliant a creation. I would love to have lots of stories set in them.

Something I'm noticing on this read is that I'm trying to notice when he loses a life - knowing he has them and knowing he doesn't know that I'm trying to find them - like a puzzle. I did it in the last book too but I'm not sure if I was actually being clever or if I just remembered as I was going along.

As I get to the beginning of the plot, and we meet Christopher's Evil Uncle Ralph, I find it hard to imagine that I ever actually thought he was a good guy. Did I? Was I suspicious the very first time I read through this? I don't know, because I clearly remember being devastated that Tacroy was involved in shenanigans of the evil sort (even if it was kind of against his will, a bit) but never Uncle Ralph. Also I want to shout-out the part where Christopher is confused that Ralph is pronounced Rafe. Did all Ralph's used to be pronounced Rafe? Because it still confuses me!
I also really love the governess with the "hidden prettiness". It is such a brilliant way of showing both the scheming and plotting that's going on and the charm and force of Uncle Ralph's personality without having to do overblown descriptions. One of the many ways DWJ is a genius.

And then, on only his second journey, we meet Millie! And all her cats. Both books have had cats in them so far. And there's a brilliant moment where Christopher thinks the unpleasant, vicious cat reminds him of his uncle and it confuses him because he thinks he adores his uncle. So it "must be the gingerness". Ah subconscious thoughts done perfectly! Although, OI, not all gingers are evil!

Aha! One life gone when the Arm of Asheth kills him with a spear! Well and then Throgmorten accidentally kills him with a curtain pole, since it needs to happen in this world to stick. Poor cat. 
I do find it interesting that while Christopher doesn't really want Throgmorten to be cut up for spells - and in fact helps him escape to avoid that fate - he doesn't seem to make the connection that Uncle Ralph is possibly evil, because surely - especially in children's books - someone who would cut up an animal (even a quite vicious one) can't possibly be good. 

When the governess made a comment about how it would be boring and he didn't want to go, I got bristly and thought that she was goading him into it. But when Tacroy says that hopefully they'll be able to do it without Christopher and seems reluctant to involve him more, it makes me love Tacroy all the more. And I'd forgotten about his young-music-playing-lady woes. They are hilarious.

When Millie gives him a bracelet (would I have remembered the silver allergy if it hadn't been for Charmed Life?) does he lose a life? It seems like such a wasteful way to lose one. I don't think so though, because then he'd have lost another one the second time Millie "does the bracelet trick" as it were. 

OH there's the moment when the parcel smells like fish and I'm pretty sure it's dead mermaids!

Uhoh, and here actually comes the second lost life. The crane in series 10! What is it about series 10 that seems so unfriendly to Christopher's life?

I love Dr Pawson. "Don't do some magic and let me see!" "Don't do it again!" It's brilliant and entirely sensible, but I can also see why it would be entirely confusing for poor Christopher. Why aren't there really any adults who are nice to children in these books? And particularly why doesn't anyone ever tell them what's going on? People are shoving him places and putting scarves on him and then stealing the scarves away and it's all very confusing and all he wants to do is play cricket.

I do love Throgmorten and I am so happy to see him back at the castle. I don't know why DWJ has a thing for bad-tempered cats, but they have hilarious personalities. WONG. What kind of cat says wong?

Breaking his neck - first by falling from the tower and then by falling when he tried to get to series 11 - is the third life. But here's the thing, the first death normally seems accidental and then related death seems inevitable to balance the scores, but I'm not quite sure why he fell from the tower in Chrestomanci castle. That seems more like an inevitable second death rather than an accidental one, even though apparently it was. Not just because I'm unused to the death happening in his world first but because it seems so random. Ah, and then he breaks his neck again which means that the breakage in series 11 wasn't the parallel of the tower death, but instead tripping over Throgmorten is the parallel death. So when he dies in his home world, he doesn't need to die somewhere else? It's all very confusing! And people should be teaching him to die less often! This is getting ludicrous. Even if I think two of his deaths (maybe one) were engineered by Chrestomanci's team to stop the smugglers.

I do love the way Tacroy tries to save Christopher, even if half-heartedly. He really is a good boy. Plus I love his curly hair. Considering he's Mordecai and he has tight, curly hair, I'm pretty sure he's Jewish. Though if he's a foundling, how would they know to call him Mordecai? Unless he was left outside a synagogue. CONFUSED.And there goes another life with Tacroy and the dragon. Is that four or five now? Five. I'm so glad that Christopher finally figures out the parallel deaths and stops thinking that the Anywheres are safe. But really, that took a while!

When did he lose the sixth though? This is the one that confuses me. Could it have been with Asheth?

I love that Millie makes her own way into Christopher's world. Much as I'd like Christopher to be a nice, helpful kind of boy (and I think he does become one - at least more so - after Flavian's outburst) he's not really very considerate. He doesn't think of things unless they are under his nose - just like the older version of him in Charmed Life actually! And I really like Millie having sufficient agency to do her own thing.

Ah, Tacroy/Mordecai has coffee-coloured skin. How did I miss that before? I guess he's not Jewish.

Lobster pot and cat weapon for the major win. And Gabriel had been at least trying to get other kids Christopher's age. He's not all fusty.

AHA. Millie STOLED his sixth life. At least I wasn't intentionally confused! :)

The whole ending was very fuzzy in my mind and I'm very impressed with the way they tied everything together, though I was beginning to wince everytime Christopher lost another life. Gabriel still had 8! Why couldn't he have given one to the Dright/to be burnt? I guess because they couldn't communicate effectively, but still. Frustrating.

Annnd to cap it all off, Mother Proudfoot is awesome in the face. I think the lesson of the first two books is that the women are way more awesome. Sometimes quite evil (Gwendolyn), but with the possible exception of Christopher's Mama, all very powerful. Now I just want to see a Chrestomanci book where it's a nine-lived female enchantress. Well I suppose this is what fanfiction is for?

Interestingly, I don't think I've ever read Conrad's Fate, which is up next! Onwards and upwards Horatio!