Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #56: The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones

I'm not sure if I can entirely accept new books in series that I think of as "done" in my head. Sure, four books that only really share one major character and a universe are a pretty loose series to begin with, and leaves a lot of room for further stories. But, still -- there's something in me that thinks things should stay the way they were when I first noticed them.

(That voice would not have been very strong back in the days when I edited and sold SFF for a living. Then, new books in established series were great -- they had a built-in audience, and a lot of the time I was a fan as well. Perhaps I'm just getting more crotchety and set in my ways as I get older; I wouldn't be the first.)

In any case, I've long-since learned the world does not change to suit me. And so there was a seventh Chrestomanci book from Diana Wynne Jones -- a series that, in my mind, still has only four "real" books, and then some late additions -- in 2006, which I finally brought myself to read.

That book, dear reader, is The Pinhoe Egg. And for quite a while it looks as it it might become a screed against Christianity, which would have been an exciting thing in a book for young readers this century. But, sadly, the nasty, anti-magic, oppressive religion repeatedly mentioned earlier in the book is carefully explained away as a pre-Roman religion (no, nothing specific, nothing you ever would have heard of, nothing to see here, please move along) at the end.

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

This a a Chrestomanci book, and the Chrestomanci in question here is still Christopher Chant, as usual. But he's a paternal figure here, just slightly distant, as the action of the novel concentrates on his son Eric and some other magical teenagers in the vicinity of Chrestomanci Castle.

(When I wrote about the last couple of late Wynne Jones books I read -- Enchanted Glass and House of Many Ways --I noted that late Wynne Jones was OK on the semblance of conflict, but that those conflicts were generally minor and happy endings sprouted almost without effort at the slightest provocation. Pinhoe Egg is a step earlier on that path: the setting is as cozy as a Sunday-evening PBS British import, set in some charming village full of quaint local characters, but the ending does manage to maintain a plausible possibility of ruin for a long time.)

Eric is called Cat by everyone, for some reason that was probably explained in a book I read far too long ago. This serves only to be confusing. He, like his father, is a nine-lived enchanter, and one of the very, very most powerful magical people on Earth or anywhere. (Along with his father and mother of course! All of the good people in fantasy YAs must be better in every possible way than everyone else.)

In the villages around Chrestomanci Castle, there are villagers, who secretly have their own magic, which they keep secret from their lords. (No, sadly, it's not that kind of book -- this is firmly a late-Victorian fantasy, in which the lord is right because he's lord because he's right.) There are three magically powerful families, Pinhoes and Farleighs and Cleeves, and they manage to be both matriarchal and patriarchal in a way that only makes sense for an audience that isn't used to thinking about sex while reading yet.

The Gammer (matriarch) of the Pinhoe family is old and crotchety as the book opens, and is tormenting her grandchildren Marianne and Joe (both of whom are semi-main characters, and so therefore amazingly special and possessed of powers and abilities beyond those of mortal man). Soon Gammer Pinhoe breaks entirely from reality -- possibly because of a magical attack from someone else -- and her large family has to step in and take over her affairs and sell off her huge old house, which of course has been in the family since the Battle of Hastings. (Or perhaps Badon Hill.)

During the clearing of that house, Marianne gives the titular egg to Eric/Cat, out of the usual "I feel I should do this, even though I have no good reason to do it." Meanwhile, Joe is in the Castle as a spy (and not the only one) for his family, though he's no good at that job, preferring to instead tinker with magical technology with another son of the Chrestomanci.

Also meanwhile, a lot of unlucky things are happening to a lot of people in the surrounding countryside, almost as if the Pinhoes and Farleighs are conducting a quiet magic war against each other. But the Pinhoes don't think they are. And Eric/Cat is discovering that there are magical barriers set up criss-crossing the countryside, keeping him (or anyone not a Pinhoe, Farleigh, or Cleeve, depending on the particular barrier) from crossing them. And then that egg hatches.

It all ends up with a big crowd scene in one of those rustic villages in which all of the characters above (and several dozen more) take vociferous part, and All Is Revealed. That nasty pre-historic religion is given a non-specific tsk-tsking, and things by magic made wrong are by magic made right. And all of our main characters are confirmed as smart and correct and super-duperly magically more powerful than anyone else.

This is a fairly minor Wynne Jones book, as you might tell by my excess of sarcasm above. It's perfectly pleasant to read, but it's full of cliche and wishful-thinking-as-plotting. If you are a Chrestomanci fan and managed to miss this one, you didn't miss a whole lot, but you'll probably enjoy it when you do read it. But Wynne Jones gets vastly better than this: I'd recommend looking at Deep Secret instead, particularly if you are already adult.

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