The Magicians of Caprona
by Diana Wynne Jones
In the second Chrestomanci novel, cats once again have a pivotal role. In the first book (Charmed Life
) there was not only a character named Cat (and there were reasons for that), but also a real cat that ended up being very important. In this novel, a big, old, battle-scarred, mean cat, boss of the cats in the Casa Montana, is a major player in the plot.
Now suppose Italy is still made up of a bunch of city-states or duchies, and one of them is Caprona. And suppose Caprona is world-famous for the quality of the spells you can buy there, spells for any purpose from growing tomatoes to fighting wars. And suppose the two great spell-houses of the city are feuding families, the Montanas and the Petrocchis. Each one thinks the other is scum, capable of the blackest evil. They are about evenly matched in terms of magical ability, and they are both called upon to defend their city when danger threatens. But they seem more interested in fighting each other than a common enemy. Sort of like Capulets and Montagues, only with spells.
Now suppose the leader of Casa Montana is Old Niccolo, and his oldest son Antonio is next in line to run the show. And suppose Antonio has three daughters and two sons, and the youngest of all is Tonino-who, in spite of being a voracious reader, is a very slow learner, both in school and in spells. But suppose that Tonino is the only person besides Old Niccolo who can talk to cats, and cats are important for a lot of spells. Moreover, the boss cat of the Montana compound (name of Benvenuto) prefers Tonino's company to Old Niccolo's or anyone else's. This makes slow, young Tonino quite important. Never mind that this is an Italian family-a HUGE Italian family, mind you-and they look out for their own, regardless.
War seems to be creeping up on Caprona. The neighboring states of Pisa, Siena, and Florence want to take turns taking bites out of Caprona until there is none left. The English archwizard Chrestomanci is concerned. The Duke seems to be a booby. Things are going downhill so fast that spells may not be able to save Caprona-and worst of all, the spells of Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi seem to be losing strength.
Some say there's another enchanter abroad, interfering with Caprona's destiny. Most say that the only thing that can save Caprona is for the citizens to find out what were the original words to the song that, legend says, an angel gave them long ago, to defend the city. They have the music, but the words aren't quite right, and no one can remember the right ones. And while danger grows, the two Houses are duking it out in the streets.
The one-on-one duel between Antonio Montana and Guido Petrocchi is not to be missed! DWJ is indeed a master of inventing wizard duels!
Also, a couple of star-crossed lovers are trying to deceive both of their families. A couple of younger, not-so-star-crossed kids are trying to make both their families see the truth. And the most important child from both families-including Tonino and a bright Petrocchi girl whose spells never come out quite as planned-have been kidnapped by the evil enchanter who has been manipulating the whole situation from the very beginning. It doesn't look like she'll ever let them go alive.
The result is an adventure full of Punch and Judy puppets (that's a surprisingly scary part), flying iron griffins, children scaling the dome of a cathedral, cats trying to communicate with people, and grown men turning each other into giant tomatoes. And once again, the hero is a sweet, simple little boy who unexpectedly finds courage and power within himself. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Recommended Age: 10+
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