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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fred Patten Reviews The Pinhoe Egg


The Pinhoe Egg: A Chrestomanci Book
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins
ISBN10: 0-06-113124-5
ISBN13: 978-0-06-113124-0

The Pinhoe Egg adds a sixth novel to Jones’ witty Young Adult tales of Chrestomanci, the debonair and unflappable super-enchanter who is a government employee in a Related World where magic exists. It takes place about a year after the events in Charmed Life (1977).

The Pinhoe Egg is set in Chrestomanci Castle and the nearby village of Ulverscote. As is common in centuries-old English small villages, one family has come to predominate. Practically everyone in Ulverscote is a Pinhoe or is married to a Pinhoe. The same situation exists in neighboring Helm St. Mary where the dominant family is the Farleighs.

The adult Pinhoes and the Farleighs are all wizards and witches to some degree, overseen by a male Gaffer and a female Gammer who are the most powerful magicians in their clans, but trying to keep a low profile living so close to Chrestomanci.

The main characters are four pre-teens; Marianne and Joe Pinhoe in Ulverscote, and Eric (Cat) Chant and Chrestomanci’s son Roger who live in the Castle. Marianne is an observer when Gammer Edith, the ancient Pinhoe matriarch, loses her wits and has to be gently locked away.

Unfortunately, she has not lost any of her powers, and she begins casting spells against the Farleighs whom she has never liked. The Farleighs, assuming that all the Pinhoes are attacking them, retaliate. Gammer Edith has previously bespelled the other Pinhoes to keep them from noticing her misuse of magic. Marianne grows increasingly frustrated as her parents and all her uncles and aunts and cousins refuse to believe that their plagues of frogs and other disasters are due to anything more than natural causes.

As the curses grow increasingly life-threatening, Marianne tries to get help from the Castle, but Joe and Roger are too busy inventing magical machines, while Cat is distracted by learning to care for a semi-magical horse, Syracuse, and the baby griffin that hatches from the strange egg that Marianne innocently gives him. Much more is going on at the same time, including some deliberately malicious spellcasting, and it all escalates into a potentially lethal magical muddle (not unlike the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s situation) before Chrestomanci steps forth to put things right and strip the powers from those who have misused their magic.

Those who have read Charmed Life will recognize many of the supporting characters, but The Pinhoe Egg stands nicely on its own as a humorous fantasy-mystery. The old-fashioned English village setting should be attractively exotic to American readers.

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