The third and fourth books featured in this collection are better than the first two. Interestingly, they also don’t focus on Chrestomanci, and seem to happen around the same time as the first book (as opposed to decades before as in the second book).

Book three, The Magicians of Caprona, takes place in an alternate Italy that is still a collection of regional city-states (DWJ states that Chrestomanci’s world is a bit more ‘old fashioned’ than ours, so things are roughly like they were in the first half of the Nineteenth Century). So, you have a city-state, Caprona, with founding myth of being protected by an angel, and two feuding families that specialize in crafting magic. Things have apparently been going downhill in Caprona for a while, but the viewpoint young characters aren’t overly aware of that. Overall, the story is a lot of fun, though it gets more serious for much of the climax. Chrestomanci is basically the ‘special guest star’, as he shows up for parts of the second half as the plot gets moving. I saw some of the twists coming, but they weren’t really the important parts. Definitely my favorite of the series so far.

Book four, Witch Week, is even odder. Chrestomanci doesn’t show up until very late, and is fairly mystified as to what’s going for much of his time there. Though he has a fair amount of fun with the situation in usual DWJ style. This time, we have a boarding school farce. A dreary, depressing, institutional English boarding school, absolutely ordinary from our contemporary point of view. Oh, but witches are a thing in this world, and witchcraft is against the law, and punishable by burning at the stake. Which is an instant signal that this isn’t the normal world of magic we’ve been seeing in the series. A world that sounds a lot like ours, but burnings at the stake happen might seem like something of a stretch, but that turns out to be the point of all the action. Like most of her books, this one has a lot of flailing around until the ending just suddenly collapses into place, but it doesn’t feature characters just popping out of the woodwork like some of her’s do.

Overall, the Chrestomanci series is a lot of fun, and while these books feel more… peripheral thanks to Chrestomanci not being a major part, they’re also very much their own thing. I felt the first book suffered to much from characters just showing up for the ending, and the second mirrored the first too strongly, so I definitely like the change of pace here, even if seeing more directly with Chrestomanci and/or Cat would be good.