Somehow, I missed Dianna Wynne Jones during my reading heyday in the ’80s. So my first introduction to her was through Hayao Miyazaki. My second introduction was slightly later through a friend who had gotten these collected volumes of the Chrestomanci series. Recently, I found my own used copies. I had already read the first book through Kindle, and planned to just skim it as a reminder before going into the second book, but I ended up re-reading the entire thing instead, which should serve as a recommendation right there.

In this volume, both Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant have a lot of structural similarities.”Chrestomanci” is the name of a government office in an alternate England. He regulates magical access to other worlds, to prevent or at least curtail illegal trade in nasty things like dragon blood and mermaid tails. How exactly this works is not explained, nor what this means for other countries, but it does require someone of great magical power. What happens if the only person available with enough power would be more likely to conduct such trade isn’t mentioned.

But, both books are from the point of view of children (around 10-12), so a lot of that is way outside the scope of the stories here. There is an underlying current of if you have the power, you’re probably also temperamentally the right person for the job, no matter how unlikely it seems at first.

Charmed Life is a fun read from start to finish, but suffers from the usual DWJ habit of the plot just collapsing into a very sudden ending. It’s a bit rushed, and people kind of just show up for it (okay, they were legitimately summoned to the big climax, but they’re more powerful than the limited viewpoint has shown so far). The Lives of Christopher Chant is kind of a re-run of some of the same themes in a prequel, but much better developed. Chris is much more proactive, and has definite goals he tries to pursue, even if some of them turn out to be bad ideas, and the ending flows out of the action in a much more satisfying way.

So, given the first book was good enough to draw me into a re-read, it just gets better from there.