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Charmed Life (Chrestomanci Series #1)

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci Series #1)

4.4 42
by Diana Wynne Jones

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A bewitching comic fantasy by a master of the supernatural

Cat doesn't mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents,


A bewitching comic fantasy by a master of the supernatural

Cat doesn't mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
The concept is ingenious.
Times Literary Supplement
An outstandingly inventive and entertaining novel. Altogether a delightful book.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Part of the series featuring debonair enchanter Chrestomanci, this comic fantasy follows two orphans, one of whom is a witch, when they are summoned to live in a castle full of necromancers. Ages 10-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Christopher Moning
When the enchanter Chrestomanci invites orphans Eric "Cat" Chant and his sister, Gwendolyn, to live in his strange castle, Cat thinks his troubles are over. Little does he realize they've only begun. The castle, with its strange aura and its even stranger inhabitants, gives Cat the creeps. Also, he needs 20 pounds by Monday to pay for dragon's blood. Then his talented witch of a sister flees to an alternate world and leaves him with a replacement sister who doesn't know a single spell. And he has a date with a bully who plans on shape shifting into a ferocious lion. All his life Cat has been happy living in his sister Gwendolyn's shadow. Now he must fend for himself. Not knowing whom to trust, Cat finds himself caught up in predicament after predicament. In this imaginative novel, the first in Diana Wynne Jones's "Chrestomanci" series, quiet, reserved Cat learns that there are consequences when you make poor decisions. Fans of magic, fantasy, and adventure tales will enjoy this fast-paced book. 1998 (orig.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Chrestomanci Series , #1
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Sales rank:
File size:
524 KB
Age Range:
8 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Cat Chant admired his elder sister Gwendolen. She was a witch. He admired her and he clung to her. Great changes came about in their lives and left him no one else to cling to.

The first great change came about when their parents took them out for a day trip down the river in a paddle steamer. They set out in great style, Gwendolen and her mother in white dresses with ribbons, Cat and his father in prickly blue-serge Sunday suits. It was a hot day. The steamer was crammed with other people in holiday clothes, talking, laughing, eating whelks with thin slices of white bread and butter, while the paddleboat steam organ wheezed out popular tunes so that no one could hear themselves talk.

In fact the steamer was too crowded and too old. Something went wrong with the steering. The whole laughing, whelk-eating, Sunday-dressed crowd was swept away in the current from the dam. They hit one of the posts which were supposed to stop people being swept away, and the paddle steamer, being old, simply broke into pieces. Cat remembered the organ playing and. the paddles beating the blue sky. Clouds of steam screamed from broken pipes and drowned the screams from the crowd, as every single person aboard was swept away through the dam. It was a terrible accident. The papers called it the Saucy Nancy Disaster. The ladies in their clinging skirts were quite unable to swim. The men in tight blue serge were very little better off. But Gwendolen was a witch, so she could not drown. And Cat, who flung his arms around Gwendolen when the boat hit the post, survived too. There were very few other survivors.

The whole country was shocked by it. The paddleboatcompany and the town of Wolvercote between them paid for the funerals. Gwendolen and Cat were given heavy black clothes at public expense, and rode behind the procession of hearses in a carriage pulled by black horses with black plumes on their heads. The other survivors rode with them. Cat looked at them and wondered if they were witches and warlocks, but he never found out. The Mayor of Wolvercote had set up a Fund for the survivors. Money poured in from all over the country. All the other survivors took their share and went away to start new lives elsewhere. Only Cat and Gwendolen were left and, since nobody could discover any of their relations, they stayed in Wolvercote.

They became celebrities for a time. Everyone was very kind. Everyone said what beautiful little orphans they were. It was true. They were both fair and pale, with blue eyes, and looked good in black. Gwendolen was very pretty, and tall for her age. Cat was small for his age. Gwendolen was very motherly to Cat, and people were touched. Cat did not mind. It made up a little for the empty, lost way he was feeling. Ladies gave him cake and toys. Town Councillors came and asked how he was getting on; and the Mayor called and patted him on the head. The Mayor explained that the money from the Fund was being put into a Trust for them until they were

grown up. Meanwhile, the town would pay for their education and upbringing.

"And where would you little people like to live?" he asked kindly.

Gwendolen at once said that old Mrs. Sharp downstairs had offered to take them in. "She's been ever so kind to us," she explained. "We'd love to live with her."

Mrs. Sharp had been very kind. She was a witch toothe printed sign in her parlor window said Certified Witch -and interested in Gwendolen. The Mayor was a little dubious. Like all people who had no talent for witchcraft, he did not approve of those who had. He asked Cat how he felt about Gwendolen's plan. Cat did not mind. He preferred living in the house he was used to, even if it was downstairs. Since the Mayor felt that the two orphans ought to be made as happy as possible, he agreed. Gwendolen and Cat moved in with Mrs. Sharp.

Looking back on it, Cat supposed that it was from this time on that he was certain Gwendolen was a witch. He had not been sure before. When he had asked his parents, they had shaken their heads, sighed, and looked unhappy. Cat had been puzzled, because he remembered the terrible trouble there had been when Gwendolen gave him cramps. He could not see how his parents could blame Gwendolen for it unless she truly was a witch. But all that was changed now. Mrs. Sharp made no secret of it.

"You've a real talent for magic, dearie," she said, beaming at Gwendolen, "and I wouldn't be doing my duty by you if I let it go to waste. We must see about a teacher for you right away. You could do worse than go to Mr. Nostrum next door for a start. He may be the worst necromancer in town, but he knows how to teach. He'll give you a good grounding, my love."

Mr. Nostrum's charges for teaching magic turned out to be Ll an hour for the Elementary Grades, and a guinea an hour for the Advanced Grades beyond. Rather expensive, as Mrs. Sharp said. She put on her best hat with black beads and ran around to the Town Hall to see if the Fund would pay for Gwendolen's lessons.

To her annoyance, the Mayor refused. He told Mrs. Sharp that witchcraft was not part of an ordinary education. Mrs. Sharp came back rattling the beads on her hat with irritation, and carrying a flat cardboard box the Mayor had given her, full of the odds and ends the kind ladies had cleared out of Gwendolen's parents' bedroom...

Meet the Author

In a career spanning four decades, award-winning author Diana Wynne Jones (1934‒2011) wrote more than forty books of fantasy for young readers. Characterized by magic, multiple universes, witches and wizards—and a charismatic nine-lived enchanter—her books are filled with unlimited imagination, dazzling plots, and an effervescent sense of humor that earned her legendary status in the world of fantasy.

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Charmed Life (Chrestomanci Series #1) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome. It's the book the introduced me to the wonderful world of Diana Wynne Jones! (Read her other books.) It's funny and has a great story. But, it might be a little confusing. Read the rest of the series too, then you'll get it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read half of the second book in the Crestomanci Chronicles and didn't like enough to read the rest, but the first one is good. I think it's rather fairytale-ish in how wimsy it can be. I'd recomend this to someone who isn't a big fantasy reader, but is interested.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was really magical. I can't say it's like Harry Potter, which is modern fantasy. I liked this book because it was exciting, adventurous, and it feels like you're part of the scene too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the way Diana writes! She is inventive, imaginative, witty, and funny, all in one! Has any one else noticed how in most of her books she kind of gives clues that all of the books are some how connected? I have! Many of the stories are just in another world from the other. I like the way she stays with her original idea no matter what. This is a great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cant find it i lost it in the thousands of books i have!!!!!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book because: 1. The characters are not perfect. Gwendolen is a spoiled brat and Cat clings to her. 2. Chrestomanci is like Dumbledore, I love them both! 3. Great plot, nice twists and turns. 4. Lovely setting, who doesn't love a castle! This book is for people who enjoy: 1. JK Rowling 2. Magic 3. Characters who change 4. Dumbledore 5. Fantasy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this a long tome ago and actually thought this was by another author who is now out of print. I lost the book in one of my moves over the years. I loved it then and cant wait to read it again
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
CMM49 More than 1 year ago
I chose this book because I love stories with adventure and magic, and this fit the description. I wasn’t disappointed. Charmed Life is a very fun and entertaining read. Diana Wynne Jones’ writing style makes every scene imaginable and vivid. The story line is clear and well thought out with several interesting twists. The idea of parallel worlds she incorporated is clever. It made the story seem even more magical and fascinating. The ending of the book ties up the loose ends nicely. I gave this book four stars, because although the book as a whole was very good, you have to get past the first several pages before it becomes interesting. Also, the characters are interesting enough, but it took a while before I could really identify with any of them. I was worried when I began disliking one of the main characters, Gwendolyn. (I thought you were supposed to always root for the main characters!) Gwendolyn started to annoy me, and then I started to really dislike her. Then I realized that was the author’s intention! I think Gwendolyn makes many poor choices throughout the entire book. As for Cat, her brother, I think he was rather spineless for staying loyal to his rotten sister, so I’m glad he stands up for himself in the end. I would have liked to have seen more of Chrestomanci, and learn more about him. This book as a whole was very enjoyable to read and easy to understand (I think this is a children’s book),and I finished it feeling satisfied. I would recommend this book if you have free time and are looking for a quick read. However, I would not recommend Charmed Life as one of those books you " ABSOLUTELY MUST READ".
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elainemaine More than 1 year ago
This book is 1) the first book I bought and read myself, 2) the only book I have read at least 4 times, 3) the best book I've ever read, and 4) the book I'd pick if I could only have one. We'll miss you, Diana. :)
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