Charmed Life (Essential Modern Classics)

by Diana Wynne Jones

Paperback, 2009





HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks (2009), 288 pages


Gwendolen Chant and her brother Cat find the Chrestomancie Castle family's magic powers difficult to counter with the inferior powers of the Coven Street witches.


Gouden Griffel (Zilveren — 1981)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

288 p.; 7.8 x 5.08 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member ascexis
This is the first of Diana Wynne Jones' books that I ever read, probably shortly after it was published in the late seventies. It's one of the few books that I still go back to, and find things to admire and enjoy to this day. It's not the book that's been longest in my collection, but it's the
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book that I've loved consistently over the last thirty Or so years.

The book is from the pov of Cat, a small boy who has literally no idea of what is going on around him. The clues are all there, but he's so enmeshed in the constructed world that his sister built, and those his sister recruits maintain, that he doesn't understand it. Systematically, every piece of his world is taken away, and he is left with the weight of the world -- and an imposter that he dare not reveal to his guardian -- on his shoulders.

And nonetheless, he's not a hero or a drip (though he is a little doormattish, but he gets called on it.). He's a small boy, doing the best he can.

I love the world, a magical steampunk place. I love the Related Worlds, and Chrestomanci of the many and florid dressing gowns.The characters are different people; they walk and live and breath, misunderstand and are misunderstood; make plans, have hopes. Few are all bad, or all good, and no one is perfect. I love het deft way that a few details givesw a glimpse of an entire world, a culture and ethos that is different than our own. I have almost all DWJ's books, but this (and Power of Three) have been my favourites for an incredibly long time. And, while I'm here, IMO? Pinhoe Egg was a worthy successor to Charmed Life.
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LibraryThing member ed.pendragon
The first of the Chrestomanci books to be published but the third in order of chronology, Charmed Life exhibits many of the possible strengths and weaknesses of a book destined to be part of a series but perhaps conceived originally as a standalone: strengths such as freshness and vitality,
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weaknesses such as plot holes and inconsistencies. It is to Diana Wynne Jones' credit that she manages to avoid many of the pitfalls while retaining a charm that still manages to enchant new readers more than thirty years on.

There is no doubting the originality of her conception of the Related Series of Worlds linked by magic, and Charmed Life must have been one of the first, if not the first, of her many titles that made use of this conceit as a plot device. In addition, the idea of a powerful mage acting as a steward or even ombudsman of the use of magic in those worlds is enhanced by Chrestomanci's all-too-obvious but endearing idiosyncracies such as his obsession with fine clothes (especially embroidered dressing gowns), absentminded demeanour and apparent aloofness. Appealing to a younger age group are the two main protagonists of a young boy and his sister, orphans both, who find themselves imbued with powerful but uncontrolled magic which they then need to learn to use responsibly. All this supplies the story with powerful tropes which has been often consciously or unconsciously copied (most obviously in the Harry Potter series), not least in the motif that proposes that powerful enchanters have nine lives (rather as cats are popularly imagined to have).

Having two siblings take centre stage in the story allows Jones to point out their different responses to wearing the mantles of awareness and responsibility. She has been criticised for making these two, Gwendolen and Eric, rather one-dimensional characters: Gwendolen is selfish, spiteful and small-minded, while Eric is selfless, mild and rather innocent (one might say insipid); however, most young readers would be less concerned with such adult expectations as character development and more concerned with identifying with the underdog figure who ultimately triumphs.

An older reader may also be more aware of those plot holes and inconsistencies, such as the the confusing details of family schisms, the vaguely described hierachy of magic users in Chrestomanci's world and what precisely happens in the final magic confrontation. Nevertheless there are emerging details of Jones' enduring enjoyment of names (both whimsical and punning) and the creation of a universe which just had to be explored in future novels, both of which more than amply compensate for any reader regrets over the only just less than perfect published tale. And the final question to mull over: which came first, the perfect title or the storyline?

This 2007 edition has the added attraction of special features, in particular a fascinating question and answer session with the author and a section on her concept of Parallel Worlds, both worth seeking out for their own sake.
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LibraryThing member ejj1955
Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones. This was the first written, though not the first chronologically, of the Chrestomanci books. Having met the Chrestomanci as a boy in The Lives of Christopher Chant, it was a bit disconcerting to meet him in this book as an adult with a wife and two children, but
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it hardly matters--he's not really the focus of the book. The main character is Eric "Cat" Chant, an orphaned boy who, with his sister Gwendolen, is brought to Chrestomanci Castle to live. Gwendolen is a witch who is infuriated by being told she cannot practice magic until she's older, and she embarks on a magical series of increasingly destructive pranks to prove her power. She even manages to transport herself into another world, leaving a lookalike, Janet, in her place.

Cat desperately tries to keep this switch from Chrestomanci, finally reasoning that if he and Janet can escape into another world, he might be able to get Janet home and find Gwendolen. But is this such a good idea?

As a children's book, this was a very quick read, but nonetheless enjoyable. Wynne Jones creates a world--or worlds--in which magic is matter-of-fact for the inhabitants, but still magical for the readers. Her appealing main characters do their best even when they have very little idea of what is going on around them, and when trouble comes, they try hard to put it right in the end.
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LibraryThing member pippav
I am so envious of people who are yet to discover the Chrestomanci books - they are far and away the best children's books (aalso appealing to adults) dealing with magic and sorcery I've ever read - it's a travesty that DWJ hasn't received the acclaim of JP Rowling, but in a selfish way I am
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pleased that they haven't been mass marketed in the same was as the HP books, which seems sacriligious, somehow.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Cat and Gwendolen Chant are orphans who are taken in at the castle of the powerful Chrestomanci. Cat's sister Gwendolen has powerful gifts as a witch and great ambitions to rule the world. Gwendolen, an unpleasant girl at the best of times, reacts to the edict that no magic must be performed
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without supervision by playing the dirtiest and most unpleasant tricks on everyone. Meanwhile, Cat wants to be the perfect little brother though he is uncomfortable with magic, sits back and watches helplessly. But is he really that helpless? A charming little book which I read in a day in which the forces of right and wrong aren't so very black and white, but must nevertheless do battle.
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
An exciting page-turner of the orphans/magic/witch/wizardry/parallel worlds variety. It's a little more cynical than I'm used to in a children's book, and I also expected to like the main characters a little more than I did, but the story is really good. There was a bit too much explainin' at the
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very end though, which got a little cumbersome. Overall, a solid book with a few weak spots; I might check out #2 in this series.

Before I end this review, the 14 year old boy in me is dying to share this with you:

As they all pushed past a witch in a high green hat, the witch said, "That's right, dear. We must all hunt for the p*ss*." She turned to the crowd with a witch's piercing scream. "Hunt for p*ss*, everyone!"

Sorry, but I couldn't resist (who could?). Of course, they are referring to an innocent little cat here.
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LibraryThing member bunwat
I really really like Diana Wynne Jones and this was the first one of hers I read so I'm sure some of the love for this particular book is from the excitement I felt at the time, when I realised a) this is really good! and b) there are a lot more!! But its still a really good book with a strong
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flavor of that elusive quality of dreams and tales, where it all makes emotional sense though clearly not working within the logic of the everyday world.
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LibraryThing member phoebesmum
The story of Cat, who thinks he has no magic, and his truly evil sister, Gwendolen, and how their lives change when they're brought to live at Chrestomanci Castle – the Chrestomanci at this time being Christopher Chant. A true classic.
LibraryThing member SunnySD
Eric (Cat) Chant and his sister Gwendolyn were orphaned young. For Gwendolyn the loss was a slight bump in the road, but aspiring witch that she is, she settles in to learn her craft and reach her ultimate goal - ruling the world. Eric, with no magical talent what-so-ever, muddles along clinging to
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his sister and missing his parents. But when Gwendolyn rights to Chrestomanci, and Important Personage, the gentleman himself arrives and things take a dramatic turn.

The orphans make a sudden move up in the world - but all is not quite as it seems. Cat is in deadly danger.... if only he had the slightest clue!

Not up to Howl's Moving Castle par, and Cat is a bit wet, but Janet makes up for it somewhat.
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LibraryThing member bluesalamanders
Cat and his sister Gwendolen (who is a powerful witch) go live with Chrestomanci after their parents die. Cat does his best to stay out of trouble while Gwendolen does the opposite.

I love this book from start to finish. The characters are interesting, the setting is fantastic, and the story is
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thoroughly enjoyable. Even the minor characters are well-formed with recognizable personalities.
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LibraryThing member sandglass
This was pretty fluffy. Cat's mother and father die in a boat accident, so he and his sister are raised by their lower-class landlady (who is constantly called greedy, but I found her sad and sympathetic), until "Chrestomancy", someone they found out about in some mysterious letters of their
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parents', shows up to take them with him.

Gwendolin is frustrated by Chrestomancy and how he ignores her, so she harasses him until he takes her magic. Then she flees the house into another universe, displacing a different version of her.
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LibraryThing member FolkeB
I started reading this book because it was one of the books by my favorite author (Diana Wynne Jones) that I hadn’t already read. The book I read, Charmed Life, is the first book of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series. This particular story followed the life of Cat Chant (not actually a cat –
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his real name is Eric) and his sister Gwendolen. Diana Wynne Jones writes books for children and adults, but they are usually fantasy related. Gwendolen is a witch and Cat has so magical power whatsoever, but he doesn’t mind being in Gwendolen’s shadow because Gwendolen mainly abuses her power for her own personal gain. The book follows both their lives and focuses on Cat. The story starts out with the reader learning that Cat and Gwendolen are orphans and the only survivors of a steamer crash. They get taken care of by the town and eventually, Gwendolen gets noticed for her powers by a famous enchanter called Chrestomanci. Both Cat and Gwendolen get invited to live in Chrestomanci’s castle. But that’s only the start of things. Gwendolen wants to be noticed and get special treatment for her powers so she does all sorts of stupid things. Cat sits by and tries not to get into trouble.

I liked the story for the most part. I love Diana Wynne Jones’ writing, which is probably the only reason I kept reading this book. The storyline was boring and it took a very long time for something exciting to happen. I got attached to the characters (something the author did well – character development) and then found out that they aren’t even in any of the further books in the series, which are set much later or earlier. It was dissatisfying. But the writing is fantastic and she’s very good at describing things. If someone’s a fan of Diana Wynne Jones, I would recommend the book (perhaps it gets better in the rest of the series) but I wouldn’t say I really enjoyed it.

Laura S.
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LibraryThing member MiaThermopolis05
I thought this book would be more action, using lots of magic in this, but it turns out kind of different than I expect it to be. It has just a little bit of action, kind of mysterious when Gwendolen and Cat started to move into the Chrestomanci’s castle.

As far as I read, it’s not actually
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bad, but I don’t really like it (I usually like mysterious but not this one!). This would be a very good idea for someone who likes fiction magic and adventure. “Charmed life” was written by Diana Wynne Jones.

It starts with Gwendolen who is a witch with her younger brother, Cat who isn’t a witch, they both were adopted because their parents were died in an accident and found a letter of their parents with a mystery person, Chrestomanci…
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
An exciting page-turner of the orphans/magic/witch/wizardry/parallel worlds variety. It's a little more cynical than I'm used to in a children's book, and I also expected to like the main characters a little more than I did, but the story is really good. There was a bit too much explainin' at the
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very end though, which got a little cumbersome. Overall, a solid book with a few weak spots; I might check out #2 in this series.

Before I end this review, the 14 year old boy in me is dying to share this with you:As they all pushed past a witch in a high green hat, the witch said, "That's right, dear. We must all hunt for the p*ss*." She turned to the crowd with a witch's piercing scream. "Hunt for p*ss*, everyone!"Sorry, but I couldn't resist (who could?). Of course, they are referring to an innocent little cat here.
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LibraryThing member Foxen
I've been putting off reviewing this one because I'm not sure quite what to say about it. It's quite similar to [The Lives of Christopher Chant] in plot and characters, and I think I liked Christopher better. [Charmed Life] takes place about 25 years after The Lives of Christopher Chant (which
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means no reappearance of Throgmorton :( , an almost unforgivable offense ;) , although there is a playful dragon who almost makes up for it) and follows the life of Cat, seemingly the next generation of nine-lived presumptive-future-Chrestomanci who does not know his own power. Honestly, it seemed a bit predictable. I wouldn't have minded the formulaic plot, actually, except that Cat was a far less engaging character than Christopher was. He was just as lame to begin with, but with less reason (or at least, less elaborated on reason), and didn't grow into himself the way Christopher did. I also found Gwendolen unrealistically evil (and there really was no developmental explanation for her!), although I did like Janet. Finally, given Christopher's own background, I would have thought he would've handled Cat's situation better. However, lest you think I didn't like it, I did. It was fun, and it did keep me guessing about the details of the plot if not the final outcome. A fun fantasy read, but I suspect that whichever of Charmed Life or the Lives of Christopher Chant you read first will highly determine which you like more (and I haven't read the rest of the series yet).
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LibraryThing member katekf
This charming book is the first in the Chrestomanci series and is told from the point of view of Eric, Cat Chant who with his sister, Gwendolen, become orphaned and end up finding a new life at Chrestomanci castle. They live in a world of magic and one of the strongest parts of this book is
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Gwendolen's striving to prove that she's a powerful witch and how along the way she uses and abuses people especially her brother. As Eric adapts to his new home and starts to grow away from his sister, he begins to learn his own power and that he can do things by himself. This book would be an appropriate read for a middle school student or older elementary school student who would see themselves in Eric while getting lost in the wonderful world. All of the magic elements are done in such a way that they don't seem terribly out of place because they're normal to Eric, which allows the reader to get lost in the world. This is a funny and at time slightly heartbreaking book about what really counts about family in the midst of a fantastic magical world and is a great entry book to the works of Diana Wynne Jones.
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LibraryThing member Black_samvara
I'm totally charmed by this story, the magical duels, the characters and Chrestomanci's clothes fill me with glee.

Cat Chant and his horrible sister are adopted by Chrestomanci the magician.
LibraryThing member npl
When orphans Gwendolen and Cat are transported to a strange castle, Cat seems to be the only one who can’t do magic. However, after his sister Gwendolen gets into trouble, Cat discovers he is actually an enchanter with the potential to become the Chrestomanci, the lord of the entire castle. Read
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the entire Chronicles of Chrestomanci series to continue following Cat’s adventures.
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LibraryThing member KristySP
It's often very difficult for Harry Potter lovers to find an equally satisfying read once they finish the series--but listen up my fellow muggles: I have found it. After years of walking right past Diana Wynne Jones' books at work, I finally picked up the first of her Chrestomanci series and it was
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really, really wonderful. In fact, i think it's quite clear that Ms. Rowling is more than a little indebted to Jones.
Clever, humorous, and delightfully chock full of magic, Charmed Life introduces the magically gifted Chant family and the details of their particular world. Chrestomanci (which is the name of the many-volumed series) refers to the title given to a kind of magical master who's job is to control the magic done by witches and wizards so that ordinary, non-magical people are not taken advantage of. Interesting, eh?
I highly recommend if you are looking for a light, funny, and thoroughly engaging read. Also, if this matters to you, it's worth nothing that his book is intended for young adults.
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LibraryThing member quondame
Fanciful tale of two orphans, the elder a witch, in a Victorianesque world of magic. It went quite well until Gwendolyn left then dragged until the final action. I'm not a fan of villain driven plots as this turned out to be.
LibraryThing member NRTurner
This edition has a celebratory foreword by Neil Gaiman, and an author interview and discussion questions after the story. I'm enjoying a frisson of suspense - whose life is the charmed life of the title? Is it accomplished witch Gwendolen Chant or her modest brother Cat, or someone else?
In a
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magical world is a charmed life a blessing or a curse?
content spoiler: corporal punishment.
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LibraryThing member thatotter
Gwendolen is the worst, nastiest child, and Cat is a bit doormatty for my taste. And the real action arrived all bundled up in the last 50 pages.
LibraryThing member mutantpudding
I really love this series so I'm rereading it for what's gotta be the 5th time at least. Changing this from 4 to 5 stars because I really do love it and Janet is one of my favorite characters in the series.
LibraryThing member DzejnCrvena
I read Howl's Moving Castle before this, so I noticed a similarity in the plot.
At first I thought Cat is actually
I have to find out if they have similar universe to Howl's Moving Castle.
Looking forward to read the sequels.
LibraryThing member themulhern
This book was both funnier and darker than I remembered it. I think there is a lesson, which is that if you're a child in bad trouble, telling the powerful adult what's going on might be the wisest course. In "The Pinhoe Egg" which is the next in chronological order, Cat seems to have figured this
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out. Another lesson is that a habit of subservience is a bad one, and this theme also shows up in "The Pinhoe Egg".
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(701 ratings; 4.1)
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