“Charmed Life” by Diana Wynne Jones

I have a feeling that I may have read these books as a kid, but I really cannot remember having done so.

This is the kind of story I’d have loved as a kid: Those fantasy stories where the characters sit around eating marmalade (whatever that is) and drinking cocoa and having picnics on lawns and there’s a beautiful garden somewhere that they can visit and portals to other worlds as well. Yep, such stories were catnip for me as a kid, and it seems that’s still the case because I loved Charmed Life.


MG Fantasy


Chrestomanci, book 1



Quick summary

Charmed Life is about Cat, who’s apparently a normal boy. He lives on Coven Street among many witches with his beautiful, talented sister, Gwendolen, under the care of Mrs. Sharp because his parents had died in a boating accident. Through some contrivance of Gwendolen, they move to Chrestomanci Castle, where Gwendolen grows increasingly frustrated since folks there do not acknowledge her amazingness and fawn over her. Cat, on the other hand, seems overlooked and always does what his sister says. But there’s more to Cat and something odd about Gwendolen’s powers. (Goodreads)

My thoughts

I had a wonderful time reading this, especially since it helped with my bout of reading slump. I could also see that many middle grade fantasy authors most likely drew inspiration from these books for their stories. The wardrobe style and character traits of the Chrestomanci, which is the title given to a powerful magic user with many lives who can travel to different worlds, is mirrored in Jupiter North from the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend. The more I read, the more I thought he and Jupiter are the same, even their jobs are similar. I could also see similarities to the Harry Potter series, namely in how the necromancer, Mr. Nostrum, avoids saying “Chrestomanci” — because saying his name calls him to you. It’s like the characters in the Harry Potter series avoiding saying Voldemort.

Unlike MG and YA fantasy these days, the story takes its time to build. It’s not very slow paced, but it’s not as fast paced as modern MG and YA fantasy, which was refreshing and appreciated because sometimes modern fantasy starts out with something amazing simply to catch the reader’s attention and then rushes off, losing the reader along the way because it’s moving too fast and failing to adequately develop certain elements.

However, I was annoyed by how long it takes Cat to begin being more independent of Gwendolen. I wish his character development had kicked off earlier. I liked the world and am curious about the magic system and how the Chrestomanci figures into it. The idea that there are multiple worlds with duplicates of everyone in each one was interesting, and I also thought it interesting that the witches from Coven Street are portrayed as evil. I want to see how those things will develop, so I look forward to reading more from this series.

Overall: ★★★☆☆ ½

I had such a great time reading it and was so hooked! I’ll most likely start the next book soon.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I think it’s worth it.


14 thoughts on ““Charmed Life” by Diana Wynne Jones

  1. I felt similarly with the first, and so far only, book of hers I’ve read, Howl’s Moving Castle. I loved it. And I loved realizing how long ago it was written and how it might have influenced so much of what came after. I can’t wait to read more of her work. This sounds like a series I’d also enjoy.


    1. Oh I’d love to read Howl’s too! Have you seen the Miyazaki film? I keep intending to watch that too but haven’t yet.
      But yes, Chrestomanci is worth checking out.


      1. I actually only discovered the book after having watched the film, and I loved them both. The film felt true to the spirit of the book and was able to create such a magical world through the animation (I love all Miyazaki’s works). And of course the book had more room to tell the story in so it was, perhaps, a richer experience to some degree. I recommend them both, especially knowing you’ve already enjoyed other work by the author. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! It’s great. And although Gwen is horrible, I kinda admire her spirit, how committed she was to prove she’s great and be acknowledged as such — although she was using Cat to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You probably did! It’s such a fun read, and I wish it was still popular because it’s so obvious that many currently popular middle grade fantasy books were probably influenced by it.


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