Someone at Stallery Mansion is changing the world. At first, only small details, but the changes get bigger and bigger. It's up to Conrad, a twelve-year-old with terrible karma who's just joined the mansion's staff, to find out who is behind it.
But he's not the only one snooping around. His fellow servant-in-training, Christopher Chant, is charming, confident, and from another world, with a mission of his own -- rescuing his friend, lost in an alternate Stallery Mansion. Can they save the day before Conrad's awful fate catches up with them?
Diana was born in London, the daughter of Marjorie (née Jackson) and Richard Aneurin Jones, both of whom were teachers. When war was announced, shortly after her fifth birthday, she was evacuated to Wales, and thereafter moved several times, including periods in Coniston Water, in York, and back in London. In 1943 her family finally settled in Thaxted, Essex, where her parents worked running an educational conference centre. There, Jones and her two younger sisters Isobel (later Professor Isobel Armstrong, the literary critic) and Ursula (later an actress and a children's writer) spent a childhood left chiefly to their own devices. After attending the Friends School Saffron Walden, she studied English at St Anne's College in Oxford, where she attended lectures by both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien before graduating in 1956. In the same year she married John Burrow, a scholar of medieval literature, with whom she had three sons, Richard, Michael and Colin. After a brief period in London, in 1957 the couple returned to Oxford, where they stayed until moving to Bristol in 1976.
According to her autobiography, Jones decided she was an atheist when she was a child.
Jones started writing during the mid-1960s "mostly to keep my sanity", when the youngest of her three children was about two years old and the family lived in a house owned by an Oxford college. Beside the children, she felt harried by the crises of adults in the household: a sick husband, a mother-in-law, a sister, and a friend with daughter. Her first book was a novel for adults published by Macmillan in 1970, entitled Changeover. It originated as the British Empire was divesting colonies; she recalled in 2004 that it had "seemed like every month, we would hear that yet another small island or tiny country had been granted independence."Changeover is set in a fictional African colony during transition, and begins as a memo about the problem of how to "mark changeover" ceremonially is misunderstood to be about the threat of a terrorist named Mark Changeover. It is a farce with a large cast of characters, featuring government, police, and army bureaucracies; sex, politics, and news. In 1965, when Rhodesia declared independence unilaterally (one of the last colonies and not tiny), "I felt as if the book were coming true as I wrote it."
Jones' books range from amusing slapstick situations to sharp social observation (Changeover is both), to witty parody of literary forms. Foremost amongst the latter are The Tough Guide To Fantasyland, and its fictional companion-pieces Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) and Year of the Griffin (2000), which provide a merciless (though not unaffectionate) critique of formulaic sword-and-sorcery epics.
The Harry Potter books are frequently compared to the works of Diana Wynne Jones. Many of her earlier children's books were out of print in recent years, but have now been re-issued for the young audience whose interest in fantasy and reading was spurred by Harry Potter.
Jones' works are also compared to those of Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman. She was friends with both McKinley and Gaiman, and Jones and Gaiman are fans of each other's work; she dedicated her 1993 novel Hexwood to him after something he said in conversation inspired a key part of the plot. Gaiman had already dedicated his 1991 four-part comic book mini-series The Books of Magic to "four witches", of whom Jones was one.
For Charmed Life, the first Chrestomanci novel, Jones won the 1978 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime award by The Guardian newspaper that is judged by a panel of children's writers. Three times she was a commended runner-up[a] for the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book: for Dogsbody (1975), Charmed Life (1977), and the fourth Chrestomanci book The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988). She won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, children's section, in 1996 for The Crown of Dalemark.
kids have to beware of a lot of things, sometimes their own families most of all. that seems to be an underlying theme to several of the books in Diana Wynne Jones' splendid series of standalone fantasy novels for children. families are dangerous. they will let you down, they will break your heart, they will take advantage of you if it furthers their greedy ambitions, they will neglect you if you don't fit into their schemes. such a harsh and heavy theme for books whose main appeal to me is the lightness of Jones' touch and her resolve in placing adventures within worlds that may be magical but are also mundane, sometimes grindingly so. an offbeat series, and a wonderful one.
so what is Conrad's fate? it may be that he was born with bad karma and his fate is to balance the decks so that he can get on with his life. at least that's what the adults tell him. but who can trust an adult in a Chrestomanci novel? Conrad may be better off carving out his own fate.
this is my favorite of the Chrestomanci novels so far. Christopher Chant returns in his second adventure, but he plays second fiddle to Conrad. the two are newly hired servants-in-training with two different secret agendas. the place is a strange but bustling, lively manor chock full of all sorts of people. the manor itself is having problems: it phases in and out of various realities without warning. there was so much to enjoy in this book! the whole Upstairs Downstairs Downton Abbey-ness of it all, with a lot of fun minutiae detailed in what it may be like to be a servant in such a place. the slowly growing friendship between Conrad and Christopher, and the great little moments where we see how everyone else views the charming yet often unbearably smug Christopher Chant - destined to someday be sorcerer supreme of all dimensions. the cavalcade of assumed identities revealed at the end, the slowly simmering machinations, the dry and vaguely threatening deus ex machine appearance of Chrestomanci, the ghost, the part-time actors slumming it as servants, the girl lost in another world, various adults with their own secret agendas, cruel witches, and especially the frequent and often disorientingly bizarre shifts into alternate worlds. the author describes all of this craziness in the same way a person would describe a trip to the supermarket to pick up some milk and eggs.
such a fun book, but that sad, dark theme at the heart of it all makes Conrad's Fate resonate in surprisingly profound ways.
The incredible thing about this book is that there appear to be at least two other novels worth of plot going on behind the scenes of what we see, and Diana Wynne Jones just doesn't give a fuck. She throws out plot points and tropes like they're on clearance and whether or not they receive any resolution or explanation is entirely left to capricious whim. There are not one but TWO secretly-evil manipulative uncles ("I get it, bro" - Christopher Chant), two offscreen secret romances, one beautiful scheming witch attempting to marry her way into power/money, one ugly fat witch keeping powerful enchanters prisoner for no particular reason who is defeated because in her reality cameras steal souls except then she still manages to be a ghost in another reality, something about the stock market (?), a magic computer that changes reality, Dementor-like spectres one summons at will who maybe work for the Lords of Karma (?), and a bad mother feminist harridan scholar and/or dupe. Oh, and "Gypsies" aka Travelers who can travel between realities. Meanwhile the main story is just "Conrad wants to go to school and is forced to be servant instead, which is annoying for him." I believe DWJ was in her 70s when she wrote this, and having in her toolbox a) a world where basically anything can happen and b) stock characters like Evil Uncle and Conniving Witch and Ugly Fat Witch and Most Female Characters Really, she just set it all on shuffle and let 'er rip. Lest you think I didn't enjoy this mishmash of questionable tropes and the occasional cultural insensitivity, it was actually very fun. I would read a million books about teen Christopher Chant and Millie's adventures, and Conrad can come too. THE MORE THE MERRIER.
Tan divertida, original y maravillosa como siempre. La saga de Chrestomanci está convirtiéndose en una de mis favoritas de todos los tiempos :3 Aquí conocemos a Christopher cuando tiene unos 18 años, a través de los ojos de su compañero de fatigas, Conrad, un niño que comienza a trabajar en una gran mansión para tratar de poner fin a su Mala Suerte (que lo persigue hasta el punto de querer matarlo). Como suele ocurrir el giro final no me lo veía venir para nada, porque si quieres que te sorprendan léete un libro de esta autora y punto. En fin, estas novelas son mi lugar feliz: magia, humor inglés, personajes absurdos y realistas, hechiceros, bibliotecas, una infinita red de mundos ... y nuestro querido Christopher ♡
I loved this one. There's something really comforting about this series. Every book starts slow, opens a scenario that slowly builds, and then everything happens at the end. The worlds are bursting with poetic magic and feel like they're alive.
Klasičan fazon Dajane Vin Džouns jeste da prikaže dete koje živi u realistično jezivoj porodici/situaciji i da ga onda fantastično vadi iz nje. A za takve knjige živim još od prvog susreta s Oliverom Tvistom. Konrad, baš kao i razni drugi Dajanini protagonisti, nije ni svestan koliko mu je loše sa stricem knjižarom i majkom feminističkom spisateljicom, prosto jer mu to niko nije rekao. Malo mu je čudno što on od osme godine (kad je starija sestra kidnula od kuće) mora da kuva i čisti za sve troje i što ne dobija ni džeparac ni novu odeću kad preraste staru sem ako ne stupi u štrajk, ali kao, takav je život, radi se sa onim što imaš na raspolaganju. I to što ga sa dvanaest godina stric umesto na dalje školovanje pošalje u sluge, sa detaljnim uputstvom kako da nađe i ubije neku nepoznatu osobu, Konrad je takoreći spreman da prihvati jer ga već godinama uveravaju u to da svi njegovi problemi potiču od loše karme iz prethodnog života koju je, ne biste pogodili, zaradio tako što nije ubio koga je trebalo. A Konrad je, iako rano osamostaljen, ipak mali i ne zna neke bitne stvari o životu. I zato je tu Hrestomant :) tj. petnaestogodišnji Kristofer Čant koji je glavna konkurencija za željenu sluganjsku poziciju. Čant je, slično čarobnjaku Haulu, šarmantan i bezobrazan kao stenica, a ispod te fasade krije dobro srce i velike čarobnjačke moći, što znamo iz valjda pet-šest knjiga u kojima figurira. Tako i ovde, čim se on pojavi, čitalac zna da može da se opusti i da samo prati kako dva dečaka užurbano trčkaraju gospodskim imanjem dok prolaze obuku za batlera, pokušavaju da se snađu u zapetljanim odnosima slugu i gospodara i usput otkrivaju da li loša karma zaista postoji. Nekako kao Gosford park. Samo fentezi. Za decu.
Od minusa bih istakla to da je Dajana Vin Džouns i ovde na kraju u prostor od stranu i po natrpala rasplet i epilog za koje bi realno bilo neophodno barem pedesetak strana. To jeste i inače karakteristično za nju, ali ovde deluje baš kao da se umorila od pisanja. I kad pogledam hronologiju, moram priznati da su njene knjige pisane u ovom veku tj. potkraj života možda ne baš zbrzane, ali svakako umornije i predvidljivije od ranijih. Što i dalje ne znači da nisu očaravajuće, samo eto, ne treba upoznavanje početi od njih.
It’s been a while since I read the Chrestomanci series, so when I started out with the first book, I just kept going until I’d reread the whole thing. My favorite out of the lot, curiously enough, is right in the middle of the series. Conrad’s Fate is a later book by Diana Wynne Jones, and I don’t often hear much about it, but it’s just as good as the rest of the series and a perfect example of what makes Diana Wynne Jones great. The worldbuilding, little character moments, and just general, well, wordage is laugh-out-loud incredible and always wonderful to revisit.
Conrad's Fate is the fifth in Diana Wynne Jones's marvelous Chrestomanci series, about a powerful enchanter who controls the magic in a universe a few worlds over from our own.
Conrad Tesdinic lives with his mother, his sister Anthea, and his uncle Alfred in Stallchester, in the English Alps. High in the mountains above Stallchester is Stallery Mansion, where someone is working magic, pulling the possibilities so that the details of life are constantly changing a little -- one day the mailboxes all turn from red to blue, and the books in Uncle Alfred's bookshop are suddenly different.
When the changes start to get bigger, Uncle Alfred persuades Conrad to get a job at Stallery Mansion, find out what's happening, and fix it, so that Conrad can avoid the awful fate Uncle Alfred sees hovering over him. At the mansion, Conrad meets Christopher (whom Jones's readers will recognize quickly as the boy who will become Chrestomanci), who's looking for his friend Millie, who came to Conrad's universe and disappeared.
If you haven't read any of the other Chrestomanci books, I'd recommend at least reading The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life before Conrad's Fate, because although Conrad himself is well-drawn, Christopher and Millie seem a little sketchy, perhaps because Jones is relying on readers' pre-knowledge of them. I did like Conrad's Fate very much, though. The depiction of Conrad and Christopher learning servants' life was wonderful, and the changing magic ("pulling the possibilities") was intriguing. It's not the best in the series (I'd reserve that honor for Witch Week), but it's a welcome addition.
Conrad's Fate is an "Upstairs, Downstairs" or "Downton Abbey" -type story ported across genres for Jones' many-worlds fantasy setting. Expertly imagined, fast-paced, populated with lively detail - a great adventure in its own right, and an important episode in the series (my favorite, I think).
Conrad is an excellent hero, possessing no extraordinary levels of courage or skill, but willing to do what his uncle says he must in order to put right a very unfortunate karmic Fate (which nearly damns him); willing to trust and then stick his neck out for a friend (which redeems him); and willing to cultivate sufficient self-assurance to escape the raw envy that's devouring most of the adults in his life (which equips him for the quest). Definitely recommended.
Potrivită pentru cititorii între 9 și 12 ani, dar nu numai. Încă mă uimește imaginația autoarei și modul simplu, dar atât de viu, în care își construiește personajele. Între-o lume multidimensională, vrăjitorii pot călători dintr-un loc/spatiu în altul, iar ucenicii lor pot la fel de bine să încurce lucrurile nu numai într-o dimensiune, ci în mai multe. Avem personaje simpatice, un mister sau mai multe, o fată pierdută între lumi, un destin tragic (sau poate nu), pe scurt, toate ingredientele unei cărți reușite.
Maybe I should just turn this blog into a Diana Wynne Jones fan blog with how much I’ve been reading her lately–her books are just so good and perfect! Conrad’s Fate continues the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series. I really like this series because each book has a different feel to it, since they all have different main characters and take place in different universes. In this book, Conrad’s uncle tells him that he has bad karma and a terrible fate, so he must go up to the castle and get a job as a servant to find the person responsible for his bad karma and kill him. Conrad discovers, however, that things are a lot more complicated in the castle than he previously thought.
I love that we get Christopher in the story right off the bat. You know something more is going on because he’s poking around in it, but you’re stuck in Conrad’s point of view and completely clueless. Jones is a master at creating suspenseful, intriguing plot lines that seem like they’re all separately going somewhere else until everything magically weaves together at the end and becomes a cohesive story, which I absolutely love. She also has a wicked sense of humor, making her books pure enjoyment. While this is book five in the series, this takes place rather early in Christopher’s training, and it’s so much fun to see him make mistakes and not really know what to do.
I really enjoyed this one; it’s a wildly fun story that kept me on my toes.
Conrad's Fate is the story of Conrad Tesdinic, who is told by his uncle that he has bad karma, because he's neglected to kill someone he should've killed in a previous life. He is sent up to work at Stallery Mansion, where this person he has to kill supposedly lives. All he has is the promise that he will know who to kill when he meets this person, and a way to call a Walker who will provide him with what he needs to do the killing. But it's not as easy as it sounds, the world is very magical and some especially big magic seems to be happening at Stallery Mansion, most obviously the probability shifts that keep taking place, in which new probabilities suddenly come into place and everything changes..
You know how they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover? In this case I'm glad I did. I loved the cover so much that I bought the book, just based on a very short blurb, the cover and the author's name. I didn't regret it one bit.
Conrad's Fate was my first Diana Wynne Jones book, but definitely not my last. It was airy and interesting and exciting, and it was simply impossible to put the book down. The twists in this book kept surprising me. It was wonderful.
Despite the summary, the story wasn't very dark at all. The characters were all rather loveable and I found the story to be very original. I really liked that Conrad had to work as a servant in the mansion, you usually read about the people who are being served instead of the people who do the serving, so I appreciated this theme.
This book is one of the books in the Chrestomanci series, yes, but you can easily read it as a stand-alone book or as the first in a series. It's what I did and you can follow it very easily. Though I should warn you, it's possible to get a little addicted to the book. I for one will be on the look-out for the other books in the series.
I love Chrestomanci series, even though I didn't expect this series would be one of my favorite series. Diana Wynne Jones is a writer who knows how to use magic in her books. Neil Gaiman said that Diana Wynne Jones was a enchanting person, she may have secrets that surprise you when you noticed her magic vibe can easily affect people around her. I think it's true enough her magic ability presents in the writings to believe that she may be a witch. I mean, how can a writer who wrote fantasy books with magic tricks for young readers but excellently stashed hidden messages for adults, the equivalent of stories were balanced well to readers of all ages. Diana's books are not just for transitional readers also can be read whenever you want. I like the world of her characters live in and the relationship between them. Her characters all have flaws, although those factual imperfections don't mar the appeal of characters. In Conard's Fate, Conard was boy who believed he was born with bad karma, his uncle gave him a mission in exchange to get rid of his karma. He deceived as a servant sneak in the magic fortress. He met Christopher there and together they had discovered numerous secrets were hidden inside the magic fortress, a witch fugitive, the levity machine can change the gravity of the castle, a unpredictable royal wedding etc. It's jovial gaiety when I was reading. I don't think we should believe karma exist or not, we are living in a world we barely know don't bother yourself to proof the karma in your live. It's your chance to chose what lifestyle you want to, not foresee your future. after all, we just have one life not as Christopher, don't be too anxious to decide what kind of life you want.
Fun book, though the pacing is a little odd, I think. It suddenly gets frantic at the end, so many events cramped into the space that would've gone to describe less than a day earlier in the book. That didn't quite work for me -- sedate to breakneck in five seconds flat. But then, that happens a lot in Diana Wynne Jones' work, to a greater or lesser extent, for me.
Besides, it's another one of those where the answers are right in front of the main character the whole time and he just doesn't get it.
Still a fun read. It's fun to see Christopher from Conrad's point of view, and learn all over again how insufferable he can be. Did keep expecting to see Howl at any minute.
Diana does it again. It makes me so sad that I'll never get to meet her. She's a genius. Her books can be a miss or a hit but they all have a magical-something that no one but her could do. Conrad's Fate became my favorite out off all the Chrestomanci books I've read so far, and the first I really like. It made me want to re-read Charmed Life, actually. So I can see Christopher and his family again. Nothing left to say besides: I enjoyed this book quite a lot and thanks to it (and my goal to read all of DWJ's books) I'll be continuing on with this series.
“Unless you put right what you did wrong in your previous life - and put it right now - you are going to be horribly and painfully dead before the year's out.”
All Conrad wants to do is join his friends at the new school. But his uncle insists that sooner or later, his bad karma will get him killed. So instead of school, Conrad is sent off to work at Stallery Mansion where he is to find the cause of his bad karma. Once there, he finds there is another boy in-training who also seems to have reasons of his own for being at the Mansion.
I don't know why people think Christopher is annoying and not very likeable - I love reading about him! Unlike the previous Chrestomanci instalments, this one is told by Conrad in first person narrative. I find Conrad very likeable in his own right. But I loved the two as a duo - they make great friends and a good team!
Christopher is full of himself, but I never feel as though it is in an overbearing manner and he does have several things going for him. Conrad is younger and less experienced but, despite being a little naive, seems to know how to handle things in the heat of the moment. I think it is really this volume that has made the Chrestomanci series become a favourite.
Apart from the disappointment of being misled by the cat on the cover (there were no cats!), this was a wonderful story full of mystery and humour. And how can one not love a story set in a great old mansion? Stallery Mansion certainly had quite a few hidden corners that came quite unexpectedly. In fact, I am almost disappointed that they weren't explored even more than they were!
Conrad's Fate was a near flawless work of its kind and it was utter fun reading it. I think the ending could have done with an extra chapter or two as everything was wrapped up awfully fast. But the actual ending of what became of Conrad, Christopher and Millie was adorable - I'd love to interpret that as Conrad and Christopher seeing each other as a kind of best friend.
I finished my third Chrestomanci book, Conrad's Fate, and while I still quite enjoyed it, I think the previous two I've read, Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant, were a bit better. This one was fun, we followed young Christopher Chant in his years before taking over the role of Chrestomanci; this time he was posing as a domestic in the grand estate of Stallchester in the dimension of Series 7 while searching for his enchantress friend, Mille in the ever-shifting worlds surrounding the mysterious estate. Christopher befriends another young boy also at the estate for false pretenses: Conrad has gone to there under an alias to find the supposed source of his bad karma and resolve his fate. As I've come now to expect with Diana Wynne Jones, there are lots of twists and turns that keep you guessing until the end. I can honestly say that while I did know something was up with some of the characters, I did not anticipate the revelations that came out in the end. I love being surprised by books, and it isn't too often that a kids book can keep me in the dark for so long.
The only downside to this book was that sometimes it got a bit bogged down in the daily activities of Christopher and Conrad as servants in the estate. I mean, it was interesting, but it just seemed like a lot of exposition once in awhile. In the middle it seemed to drag just a bit, but it picked up around 3/4 of the way through and the suspense then held for the remainder of the novel. I definitely recommend it, and it seems to be a nice followup reading it as the third book. I think the next one I'll read is Witch Week. I'm not sure where this one falls in publishing order, but its the one Diana Wynne Jones recommended reading next so I'll take her word on it. The nice thing is that it seems like you really can read these in just about any order and be ok. I think you get a bit more synchronicity from the order I've been going in so far, but it isn't necessary.
I was so looking forward to reading this book (teenage Christopher!!!) but the first person completely threw me. I got used to it by the end of the book, but to begin with I kept trying to translate it to third person in my head (all the while wondering WHY, DWJ, WHY FIRST PERSON). The pacing was slow to begin with, and then everything seemed to happen at breakneck speed in the last few chapters. And I was cross with Anthea when she swans in near the end and is all, "Oh, I knew I should have written and told you the truth, Conrad! Yeah, Uncle Alfred is a big fat liar -- Mother owns the bookshop so we DO have money after all." I completely understand Anthea running off and wanting her own life away from Stallchester, but there was nothing to stop her telling Conrad the facts so that he wouldn't be manipulated. She knew what Uncle Alfred was like. (But then I guess there would be no story.)
BUT having said all that, teenage Christopher goes a long way to redeeming this book. He's at that perfect midway stage between young!Christopher and adult!Chrestomanci and it's easy to see how his character is developing. He's so arrogant and smug and utterly hilarious. And the way he talks! "What foresight on my part!" and "Panic ye not, Grant." And the moment when he presses the Shift button ("Dare we, Grant? Dare we?") "looking almost unholy in the coloured lights." And simply deciding that he and Millie "were going to go and live together on an island in Series Five." Utterly adorable, and utterly ridiculous.
I sighed. "Anyway, thanks for keeping us on those stairs."
Just for a second, Christopher had such a blank, dumbfounded look that I knew he had forgotten to work any magic on those steps. I was glad I had not known while I was on them. "Think nothing of it, Grant," he said airily.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I had forgotten I'd read this before, so I read it again. This time I'm giving it four stars. ___________________________
This is one DWJ's worse, which is why I'm giving it three stars - really I'd like to give it four, at least. Like The Pinhoe Egg, this lacks the perfection of character and form of the 'real' four Chrestomanci books. It drags at the start and squashes the conclusion into the last chapter, and relies on an unrealistic omission by Anthea to create the plot.
Any time you want a strong dose of the fantastical, Diana Wynne Jones is there for you!
This book tells the story of a kid with a terrible uncle who makes him drop out of school and lands him a job at a house sitting on a dimensional rift – with the people who live there actively (and accidentally) trying to make it worse.
Unfortunately, it’s a little difficult to solve interdimensional magical problems when you’re also trying to learn how to do your very first job. . . .
This book is delightful and wonderful! And yes, it manages that despite the terrible fate and accidental murder.
there's something so lovely about seeing a character at different points throughout their life like hi small Christopher who's a grumpy snob, also hi teenage Christopher who's an irritatingly cheerful still snob, and also hi adult Christopher who's a quiet and composed kinda still snob
Diana Wynne Jones has never written a bad book in her life. Conrad's Fate has some of the most interesting magic in it that I've ever read, but it's almost hard to notice under the charming prose and enchanting characters.
Although published later this volume could be read as following on from 'The Lives of Christopher Chant' as Chrestomanci, as a teenager, is a main character. However, the story is told in the first person by Conrad, who has been raised in a book shop in the alternative universe known as series 7. This is a world where magic works, and the town nestles below a mountain in the English Alps (there is no British Isles and the land forms part of continental Europe) where a big house called Stallery is situated. The rich aristocrats who live in this house are believed to be responsible for the occasional probability shift - known as pulling the probabilities - which affect the town and the wider world, resulting in changes to books in the shop or turning post boxes from red to blue, for example.
Conrad's father is dead, having committed suicide some years before and supposedly leaving half the bookshop to Conrad's uncle, Alfred, a magician. Conrad has to manipulate this uncle - by occasionally refusing to do the cooking for example - in order to obtain any of the ordinary things his friends are given, such as a bicycle or pocket money. For Conrad's mother is totally neglectful of him - she is a feminist writer (bit strange to see a critique like that in a book by a woman) who spends her time writing books and articles and doesn't want to be bothered by either of her children. Initially, older sister Anthea is there to take care of Conrad but she has been studying in secret and passes a scholarship - only announcing on the day of her departure that she is off to university. Her mother and uncle denounce this as selfishness and ingratitude, and her uncle creates a spell to keep her there if she comes back for the holidays - because he wants her to carry on working for free in the bookshop as well as doing the household chores - but she is too wise to that and Conrad does not see Anthea again until quite late in the story.
Conrad hopes to go to senior school with his friends and learn magic - there are hints that he has some gift for it - but his plans are wrecked when his mother signs the part of his school leaving form to say he is going off to a job (which children can do from the age of twelve in this universe). Aghast, Conrad learns he is to apply for a trainee servant's job at Stallery, although his uncle convinces him it is essential as Conrad has such a dark spell over him - his fate - that unless he kills someone at Stallery whom he should have killed in a past life, he will die horribly himself before the year is out. I must admit I wondered what the penalty for murder was in this world, but it transpired that the author had taken that into account as we discover late in the story.
As soon as Conrad arrives at Stallery he meets a tall, charming but arrogant young man known as Christopher whom any reader of other stories in the series will soon recognise as Christopher Chant who later becomes Chrestomanci, the nine lived enchanter. Both he and Conrad are there under false surnames - Conrad because his father's name is the same as the aristocrats living there - and Conrad is soon drawn into Christopher's quest to find his friend (and future wife) Millie who ran away from a terrible school in their own world when their guardian the present Chrestomanci refused to listen to either her or Christopher. It now seems that Millie has become trapped in one of the probability shifts affecting the house and which general opinion is are caused by the rich familiy manipulating possibilities to increase their wealth.
As in a lot of the author's fiction, a lot of the adults are unreliable or outright liars who betray and let down the child characters. I enjoyed the pseudo nineteenth century setting reminiscent of Upstairs Downstairs or early Downtown Abbey, with the life of the servants, and the way they have to behave before the family. The story for me, however, is a bit spoiled by the very convoluted resolution which is extremely rushed and not very clear. Certain people end up dragged off to face justice - but there are some inconsistencies, since certain servants were apparently at the house from an early age in which case why isn't the true identity of various characters known? An epilogue is then tacked on in which we learn about the eventual role of Conrad in his world as a representative for Chrestomanci. Quite a nice happy ending but a bit of an uneven jump from the end of the story proper. So I would rate this as a solid 3 star read.
I hadn't reread this since it first came out, so rereading now was odd and delightful. Teen!Christopher (and Conrad and Millie) are delightful as ever and the plot is full of exciting hijinks, but I was startled by how abrupt the ending is. A lot of the stuff involving the Travelers is a bit cringey now, and also, it was WILD to realize how very little we get of Anthea--I have such enormous fondness for her and so much of a sense of who she is that just...isn't on the page? It really reminded me of how immersive a reader I was when I was young...and how many middle grade books seem to intentionally leave that space for readers to project into.