Christopher Chant is probably my favourite of the Chrestomanci books – or perhaps Charmed Life is, I never can decide. (And of course, almost every time I say this, Kit tells me to reread The Pinhoe Egg, which I will in due time!) While this is the fourth book of the series, it is the first in chronological order, set years before the events in Charmed Life, giving us the childhood of Christopher Chant before he became the Chrestomanci.
Christopher wasn’t anything like Cat – he was an only child to wealthy parents that ignore him for the most part, leaving him to be raised by a series of nannies and servants. At night he would escape into other worlds, not realising that it wasn’t quite a normal thing to do. In fact, I think one of the most interesting things about Christopher was how the strange way he was raised influenced the person he would become. He didn’t know about a lot of normal things, learning mainly by observation and assumption. Having grown up in a household where my parents hardly ever talked to me or told me stuff as a kid (they were just too consumed with their work), I guess I related to that somewhat, although I at least had siblings!
When one of his otherworld adventures led to his first death, his mother’s brother began to take notice of him, and paid him occasional visits. His uncle was the first adult to be nice to him, so Christopher looked up to him, eager to be part of his uncle’s “experiments” in which he tried to bring things back from his dreams. One of these items was a cat, Throgmorten – who will always be the original Crookshanks to me, as well my favourite fictional cat after Benvenuto. He was sent off to school, but following yet another death his father decided to send him to Chrestomanci Castle, where he would be trained to be the next Chrestomanci. And I think I would just go on and repeat every single part in the book (because I love everything in it) so I’m just going to do this instead –
Things I liked: the characters (the Goddess, Throgmorten, Tacroy, Gabriel); Christopher’s character development; Christopher and Dr. Pawson figuring out why he couldn’t do magic; Christopher vs. Gabriel scenes; Christopher dying three times in the same day (is it odd that this is in my “favourite moments” list?); how everything was told from Christopher’s point of view so you understood or at least saw how he processed the information around him, while you pieced together the same information and could understand things differently.
Things I didn’t like: nothing, really. I read the book during its post-Harry Potter reprint (around 2000 onwards?), and it was the fourth Chrestomanci to be reprinted. At the time I had really wanted to know more about Cat, so I was a tad disappointed that it wasn’t a Cat Chant story. Now, though, I really appreciate this glimpse into Christopher’s childhood.
As always with Diana Wynne Jones’ books, it didn’t matter how many times I’ve read it – there were still new layers to uncover, and new things to think about. Like in many of her books the adults here were not very likable, although I did enjoy Tacroy and Gabriel a lot, and I liked that it had the reverse of the whole “being disillusioned by a respected adult” thing when Christopher saw what Gabriel must have went through as he slowly accepted his fate as a future Chrestomanci.
I’ve lost my original copy, which I’ve never been able to relocate, so now I have this edition with
CrookshanksThrogmorten on the cover.