The note said: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH.
Wooh! It’s week 3 of our Chrestomanci series, and we are back in school, baby!
A lot of the Chrestomanci stories are school stories, and I would say the best of them are. This one is the schooliest of the novels though, as it takes place in a universe similar to ours – where parliament was actually blown up on the 5th of November. The world (i.e. the UK) is terrified of witches, as is made clear by the institutionalised witch hunt headed by the inquisition. The protagonist(s?) are school children, who start noticing strange things going on. They suspect one of them is a witch, and whoever it is would be in grave danger were it to become public. Lucky for the witches of the world, Chrestomanci, my knight in fabulous dandy armour, comes to save the day.
I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it is very clever and funny, and some of the twists I genuinely didn’t see coming. The setup of the teachers, showing once again that adults definitely do not know best, worked well and I enjoyed the pay off. The way Jones played with the formula was witty and surprising, and I really liked that. That said, the children are all terrible. They’re mean, selfish and cruel – some more than others. When you expect the outcasts to band together and to be shown to be nice on the inside – they’re not.
Is this what boarding school is like? Because that is just awful!
But let’s talk about some of those twists, shall we? If you want to be surprised, scroll down to the safe point. The picture marks the spot!
There are a couple of kids who get picked on a lot in this novel; mainly Charles and Nan. Charles gets picked on because he’s a jerk, and Nan because…she’s ugly? Something like that. When the note at the top gets found, suspicion falls immediately on these two, and they end up coming to terms with being witches – merely because the group tells them they are. After some magical incidents, an Inquisitor gets invited to the school, and Charles, Nan, and 2 other children flee the school. They summon Chrestomanci for help, and he goes back to the school with them, pretending to be an Inquisitor. There, he reveals that almost all of the students are witches (and those who aren’t, are disappointed), as well as some teachers. He also reveals that their universe split from ours because of a time issue (the gunpowder plot). Luckily (?), Charles cursed (?) another child, Simon, so that everything he says becomes true (Simon Says, haha), and then back to it becoming untrue. To merge their world with ours, bringing balance to both and safety for witches, they need to use Simon’s curse – and loose all of their powers. Reluctantly, they do so, and the day is saved.
Charles has gone a bit mental with his powers, and is very rude to Chrestomanci and every body else. He is the type of kid no one can get along with – and he is our main protagonist.. None of the children like each other or even get along, but Charles really takes the cake. It’s hard to follow him around, and when he almost ruins the happy ending I just wanted to reach into the page and smack him! Luckily, he does turn around, and it is pretty satisfying to see Chrestomanci not taking any of his shit.
It was funny to see all the girls and women fall in love with Chrestomanci, pretty much on the spot, and he was delightfully charming and sarcastic in this one. The parallel universe thing will become clearer when we discuss The Lives of Christopher Chant, but it doesn’t feel awkward here. The explanation is fine, and I really liked the consequences to solving the world’s issues. Everyone has to give up their powers, and that is not am easy sacrifice to make. There is no loophole or anything like that, and it makes the stakes very …stakey.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable read. The kids, although they are definitely not the best students, are really interesting characters. Although it is a bit sad, it is very interesting to see this group dynamic and herd behaviour in a school situations. You may want to avoid this read if you’re sensitive to stories about bullying though. It’s not that anything really bad happens, it’s just sad that it happens at all and that everyone seems so malicious and complacent about it..
Chrestomanci is wonderful, as always, and unlike last week’s etry, plays an actual part in the story. Yes, the story is a bit sad at points, and yes, the children are horrible to each other. But the book is good!
So let’s talk tea!
Because this is such a British story, set in an English boarding school and everything, it needs a very English tea. As it’s a school story, I was thinking of a sweet, biscuity flavoured tea. Lo and behold, the Whittard Milk Oolong!
This tea is an Oolong which has been fermented with milk. Now there are not many things to do with tea that I can imagine that sound that terrifying, but there you go. The milk aspect actually gives it a creamy, biscuity flavour that is a bit reminiscent of those cheap Marie or Rich Tea biscuits. Yum! The scent is very strong and sweet, and to get a similar cookie level you’ll have to let it infuse for at least 5 minutes – and when it does… Takes me right back to childhood! The slight hint of bitterness you get when letting it infuse for a while also fits the mood of the story at points..
One of the benefits of Oolong teas is that you can use 1 “bag” (filter bag? infuser portion? You know what I mean, right?) a couple of times, and the flavour stays strong. So yay, good for your wallet!
So get your copy of Witch Week out and let Diana Wynne Jones’ writing, and your steaming cuppa Milk Oolong fly you right back to your childhood – but then with brooms!