The Lives of Christopher Chant
by Diana Wynne Jones
The fourth novel in the Chrestomanci Quartet was published several years after the first three books, but takes places about 25 years before the events in those books. It's basically about how the character we have come to know as the Chrestomanci, became the Chrestomanci. (Chrestomanci, after all, is a title, not a name.)
It all started with a little boy named Christopher Chant, who was a disappointment to his family of powerful enchanters and sorceresses because he couldn't seem to do magic, until one of his uncles discovered that he could travel in spirit to other worlds (in his dreams) and return with solid objects from those worlds. In due course it also turns out that he has nine lives and that, when he has no pieces of silver on his person, he is actually a very powerful enchanter.
In fact, being a nine-lived enchanter is a rare gift that entitles him to be the Chrestomanci, or keeper of the world's magic. The current Chrestomanci is an old man named Gabriel de Witt who still has eight of his lives, and is understandably dismayed to see his heir apparent burning through one life after another in a ridiculously swift manner. Young Christopher's hopes of living to be Chrestomanci himself, are hampered by a conspiracy to smuggle illegal magical products out of other worlds, a conspiracy in which Christopher unwittingly finds himself at the very center. And then there's the fact that he befriends the living avatar of a very vindictive goddess from another world. And nothing at all is helped by the fact that, after a single brief taste of happiness in a real school with real friends, Christopher is miserable and resentful about being shut up in Chrestomanci castle where there is no one his age and no one seems to have time for him.
As the manhunt for the wicked smuggler known as the Wraith draws to its climax, and the fate of both the present and future Chrestomanci's lives hang by a thread, and a deadly cruel sort of Elven King gets involved, the fact that Christopher is getting toward the end of his supply of lives begins to tell. The climax is fraught with danger, betrayal, redemption, and excitement.
The book ties up some threads that were left hanging at the end of Charmed Life, filling in details that surely every Chrestomanci fan would want to know. It gives glimpses of the parents of Cat and Gwendolen (long before there was a Cat or Gwendolen), it shows the beginning of the relationship between the great enchanter and his future wife, and it shows just how a lonely little boy evolves into the debonair man with the infuriatingly closed-off expression on his face. And though the Chrestomanci-to-be really is the main character in this story, you still see (as in the other 3 books) an adventure in which the real hero is not the great enchanter but a child who is still learning to control his magical powers.
Recommended Age: 10+
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