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The Lives of Christopher Chant, Diana Wynne Jones

I had read only one book by Jones before this (Howl’s Moving Castle), which was nice amiable fluff, but nothing to scour out-of-the-way used bookstores for. While browsing the children’s shelves at our local public library recently (I was helping a young acquaintance move beyond Tintin), I ran across several books by Jones, including this one, the title familiar to me from my recommendation list.

Wow. What a difference. This is an incredibly detailed fantasy world that is revealed to you slowly in the best “show, don’t tell manner.” Our protagonist Christopher is a young boy in England, which we slowly come to realize is not the same place that we know. When Christopher dreams, he visits strange places and admits that the governesses sometimes complain about the sand in his bed. Christopher only has one governess at a time, as they usually quit after six months or so due to the hostile atmosphere created by Christopher’s parents. This is fortunate for Christopher, because then they can’t notice the strange gifts he returns with from his dreams.

And that’s just in the first 15 pages. It gets wilder from there, as Christopher gets involved with Ashreth, the Living Goddess, and finds himself enrolled as the next Chrestomanci. Are these names strange and otherworldly? You bet, and that is the amazing thing about this novel: Jones creates a fantasy world that is tied to ours close enough for it to seem familiar, yet far enough away for it to also be alien.

[Finished 3 February 1998]


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