Alright, so last week’s review didn’t happen – but in all fairness, I have some pretty exciting life stuff going on at the moment (squee fingers crossed!) that has been taking up a lot of energy and time, that I will only disclose when it’s done (and it’s super exciting)! Also I downloaded and finished Undertale over the weekend, so I’ve been busy.
But this week we’re back again, and it’s time for the 5th* instalment of Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series: Conrad’s Fate.
Conrad’s Fate tells the tale of ..well, Conrad. Conrad lives with his feminist author mother (wouldn’t mention it if I wasn’t going to make a point, no worries) and uncle in Stallery, in the English Alps. He works and lives in his uncles bookshop, which his uncle claims is always on the verge of bankrupcy. After school Conrad wants to go to university – but to no avail. Money is too tight and he will have to work. Oh, and minor detail, his entire life his uncle has been warning him of his fate, which is a bad thing and caused by some evildoer in Stallery Mansion. This mystery person is somebody Conrad was supposed to have killed in a previous life – the failure to do so cause major bad Karma and bad, bad luck. Oh, another minor detail – somebody at the mansion is pulling possibilities, causing tiny changes in the world, like changing book titles, colours of mail boxes etc. Conrad is sent to Stallery Mansion to work as a lackey, and to find and kill the person responsible of his bad fate – or else he will die in a year’s time. His competition/coworker? A mysterious chap who goes by the name of Christopher “Smith”, who seems to be there for reasons other than work as well…
This plot is probably one of the more interesting ones in this series. It’s got really high stakes – Conrad’s life – and horrible choices: as far as Conrad knows he will have to murder someone to save himself. His life is kind of bad too, he has no control over it whatsoever and seems to be stuck in his little village, working for free in his uncle’s bookshop and taking care of the two adults in his life – his lazy uncle and his mother, who believes that housework is the yoke of all women and therefore does not do any of it – ever – and leaves it for her children. That’s not feminism. That’s being a bad parent. (Seriously, what is Jones’ deal with dysfunctional families?)
Like too many young kids he cannot further his education due to monetary reasons, and has to give up his talents to go for a surefied income doing something he hates. This issue is so relevant, especially here in the UK where going to university will throw you neck deep into debt. Many gifted students will not get their chance to shine just because of their financial background, and that sucks.
I love the bit of humour Jones throws in with the possibility changes – nobody cares to a point further than annoyance. ‘Ugh, that box was red yesterday, I like red’ is about has interested as the average Joe is in their entire world changing on the daily. This complete lack of interest in the world is hilarious, and a typical example of Jones’ humour.
Another thing I love? The so incredibly not subtle Christopher “Smith”. Dude is shady as can be, has obvious strong magical capabilities, seems to know exactly what’s going on, has nightly adventures, charms the socks off of everyone, and doesn’t even convince Conrad (who is rather gullible) of his last name. Bless this legendarily charming lad.
Right, you know the drill. All those who do not want to read spoilers for this story, rendez-vous at the pretty picture! See you soon!
So Conrad’s uncle? Straight-up evil lying scumbag. The shop is making loads of money and Conrad could easily have gone to university or whatever instead of working for free and having to beg for anything. Oh, and Conrad doesn’t have bad Karma. In fact, he doesn’t have any at all. He doesn’t have to kill anyone, he isn’t going to die within a year – it’s all a lie so his cowardly uncle can have a child do his dirty work. He even brings Conrad to a meeting with some “important” people from the village, who all claim that they can totally see Conrad’s bad fate and it’s totally real. Yep, you better taint your life by committing murder.
On a more fun note, Christopher “Smith” is actually Christopher Chant, the protagonist of last review’s novel The Lives of Christopher Chant. At this point in the series’ jumbled timeline he is in training to become the next Chrestomanci and is not yet together with Millie but you know they’re totally going to. Millie ran away and hid in this universe, and Christopher followed her to try and find her, infiltrating Stallery Mansion to do so. He’s also interested in stopping the universe shifts I guess, but really it’s all about finding Millie and bringing her home to him – so cute! Conrad and Christopher have a very natural and fun buddy cop dynamic going on, where neither one truly trusts the other and Christopher is the charming, not-a-care-in-the-world jerk with a golden heart, and Conrad is the more timid and serious one. They become true friends towards the end, and together they find Millie and stop the shifts, which were caused by the lord of the mansion posing as the butler to make money and sustain the mansion. When the machine is destroyed, the mansion reverts back to its true, degenerate state and that’s it. Christopher and Millie go back to Chrestomanci Castle, and Conrad gets to go to school with his friends. Oh, and they have his uncle banished to an alternate universe where he’s trapped with a cold demon. All’s well, ends well.
The twists here are kind of obvious, except for the butler thing, and will most probably not catch you off guard. That said, they’re still very enjoyable and I found myself eagerly awaiting the moment that Conrad finds out exactly what’s been going on. The whole Christopher plot is so much fun, from his foppish introduction to the very end. His friendship with Conrad feels genuine, and he is just so laughably out of place – also the whole Millie dynamic is just wonderful, especially if you’ve read the other books. I do wish it were possible for a family to just be nice instead of straight up mean though!
Final thoughts? This is a good book, and a solid entry in the Chrestomanci series. The humour is there, the adventure is there, the friendship is there. It’s simply wonderful, and I highly suggest you read this! Although maybe it’s best to read after The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life, just to make sure you fully appreciate Christopher on his route to being Chrestomanci.
Most of this story takes place in Stallery Mansion, a very lavish, decadent place. The Countess and her daughter eat around a gazillion cakes every day, and use slimming spells to keep their figures – and I’m wishing I could be them. Because the story is so fresh, and the surroundings are so over the top aristocratic, I decided to match this read with a lavish, fresh, and cake inspired tea (with Sansa inspirations): Yumchaa’s Lemon Sherbet. This is delicately fresh rooibos infusion, with lemon, lime, and orange peel which give it a hint of fruity freshness. It’s light, it’s sweet but not over the top, and makes me feel like I’m living my dream of stuffing myself with lemon cakes and not gaining a pound. Rooibos, of course, is not strictly a tea as it comes from a different type of bush – and suits the Diana Wynne Jones style where nothing is quite what it seems. Yum!
So enjoy your decadent cuppa Yumchaa Lemon Sherbet, enjoy this excellent entry in the Chrestomanci series and I will see you next week (hopefully with some amazing, earth-shattering news)!