The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones
|The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Magda Healey|
|Summary: A mix of colourful, fairly complex characters, truly enchanting magic described in detail, mayhem and humour typical of children's adventure and realistic psychology make for a captivating addition to the Chrestomanci series. Recommended for readers of 10 and up.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: April 2007|
|Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books|
Despite a 30 year publishing gap, The Pinhoe Egg picks ups where Charmed Life left and it does it with remarkable continuity. Cat Chant, a fledgling nine-life enchanter is living in the Chrestomanci castle with the Chrestomanci family and is continuing to study, explore and recognise the nature of his own magic. In this, he gets help not only from his formal tutors and other members of the magical family and the Castle staff, but also from several unusual and unexpected characters and creatures including an untameable horse, an old unicorn and a creature that hatches from the large purple egg of the title (and no, it's not a dragon).
The main action plotline of The Pinhoe Egg, however, concerns the villages and countryside that surround the Chrestomanci Castle. They are inhabited by some very old and very secretive clans of witchcraft-possessing people who have been successfully keeping themselves out of Chrestomanci's sight and doing their own thing, the thing they have always done, for several hundreds of years. When an old and powerful witch heading one of the clans loses her mind (while keeping her magic) an out-and-out conflict erupts between the Pinhoes and Farleighs. From the plague of frogs and ants to nastier things like whooping cough and smallpox, mayhem ensues and it's up to Marianne Pinhoe and Cat Chant to sort things out.
As in the Charmed Life, the cast of characters is wonderfully colourful, memorable and vivid without sliding into one-dimensional caricature. Moral judgements are often delayed and, as in real life, it takes time to work out what people's intentions are and there are very few easily condemned baddies. The story is narrated from the point of view of Cat, who, although much more secure in his faith in his own magical abilities, still remains a little reticent, withdrawn and not 100% sure of himself. His development in this story is directed towards finding about different kinds of magical talent people can posses and there is a particular focus on life-affirming, pantheistic, "life force'" ability which is as much about understanding and communicating with other living beings as about formulas, knowledge and technicalities.
The character of Marianne Pinhoe carries the serious moral message of The Pinhoe Egg, though it is so seamlessly embedded in the adventure story sprinkled with humour than it almost never become preachy or irritating, even to a jaded adult reader like this reviewer. The notions that The Pinhoe Egg touches on most are about self-belief and bravery, doing the Right Thing despite being discouraged, put off and even threatened. Marianne is a marvellous character, strong and deeply good, but lacking in confidence and not only not recognised but actively dismissed by most of her family and other people that surround her, even the ones that wish her well. As befits a good moral and coming of age tale, she perseveres despite the setbacks and in the process grows up and develops as a person, while discovering things about her family (including her parents) that she would probably prefer not to be true. In fact, the last sections of the The Pinhoe Egg read to an adult like a great pastiche of a soap-opera storyline, what with "living a lie" motif mixed with an idea known best from science fiction, of children survivors reinterpreting practical behaviour of their elders as cast-in-stone religious rules and taboos that are - senselessly - followed for generations.
The dénouement itself was perhaps the weakest part of The Pinhoe Egg - it was a little bit too much of a deus ex machina for my liking, although the story then told and the lessons drawn from it were worthy of presenting. The paternalistically kind, but still identifiably policing-like role of Chrestomanci was tad too obvious though, and it all got wrapped up a bit too nicely. Children probably won't mind though - in fact it's a hopeful and optimistic ending entirely appropriate for young readership, and in keeping with the way Wynne-Jones mixes the spectacularly magical, the cosily homely and the emotionally profound.
The Pinhoe Egg contains a number of 'beyond the book' extras, which allow for clarifications and world building, while keeping the readers interested in further - and previous - books from the Chrestomanci series.
This book should appeal to similar readership as its predecessor, as it has a similar mix of colourful, fairly complex characters, truly enchanting magic described in detail, mayhem and humour typical of children's adventure stories and realistic psychology, this time concentrating on parents-children relationships. I think the youngest children, who can enjoy Charmed Life, would probably not be able to follow the complexities of the story, narration switching from Cat to Marianne and the intricacies of the final explanation. Readers around 10 years old should be up to it. Despite deus ex machina resolution, I liked the whole of The Pinhoe Egg a lot and so would many of young fantasy fans.
Ursula LeGuin's Voices, though perhaps better suited to slightly older readership, also has a character endowed with life-force type of magic and a young girl developing morally through a conflict situation.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones at Amazon.com.
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