Monday, January 22, 2018

The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones (1980)

All Diana Wynne Jones books are complex reads.  The plots are intricate puzzles, the characters are delightfully quirky; the settings unique; the ideas and world building out of the ordinary.  There are some writers I ponder - where did they get this idea?  Diana Wynne Jones is probably number one in this respet for me; I'm always intrigued and gobsmacked at the genius of her plots and settings.  Magicians of Caprona is no exception.  Did she go see Romeo and Juliet, or read it, and hear "two houses, both alike in dignity... from ancient grudge break to new mutiny" and think "A-ha, I can set my next Chrestomanci book THERE.  But not exactly..." and her pen begins scribbling and scribbling (or typing and typing or however she wrote) and out comes this astonishing book.

And it's a book for kids.  This complicated book, complete with a Latin song towards the end, is a book for kids.

Jones is so much better than Roald Dahl.  She's better than Rowling too.  Or at least equal. 

Let's not kid ourselves here though:  Jones isn't for EVERY kid.  Jones is for smart kids, kids who not only love to read, but also love to explore, who love language, who understand a bit of history, who have quirky senses of humor.

Magicians of Caprona is also sort of scary, in several parts.  The villain is really quite terrifying - especially at the end.  There is a terrible, terrible scene involving a Punch and Judy show that was also scary as hell: listening to it read aloud (by Gerard Doyle, excellent narrator) was particularly horrifying. 

Diana Wynne Jones is really a miraculous writer; addictive.  I never want her books to end; I always want them to last and last.

The Magicians of Caprona (Chrestomanci, #4)The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to Gerard Doyle's narration; I think Gerard Doyle could read license plate numbers and I'd be happy. He's marvelous.

Diana Wynne Jones is marvelous too. I've only met a few of her books that I haven't been head over heels in love with - and this is NOT one of those. Magicians of Caprona is classic Jones: intricate, quirky, complicated (in a really great way), packed with complex characters - most of whom never act like they are "supposed to." I kept wondering - as I often do when reading her books - where these magical, marvelous ideas of hers come from. At some point, I suppose she either saw or read Romeo and Juliet, and particularly that famous beginning glowed bright in her mind: "two houses, both alike in dignity... from ancient grudge break to new mutiny" and thought "There is a Chrestomanci story in the world next door to this." And so her pen (or typewriter or word processor) starts churning the cream of her imagination into this rich, satisfying short novel. For children. Not a novel for stuffy old grown ups like me - Jones worshipper that I am - but for nine and ten and eleven year olds. That is what is particularly amazing about Jones: she always understood what children - especially children who love to read - wanted to read about, and never underestimated them. No dumbing down here: which is what makes her such a delight to read as a grown up.

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