The DWJ Project: The Magicians of Caprona
Verona Caprona, the families of the Montagues Montanas and Capulets Petrocchis have been feuding since, well, forever. To make matters worse, although they’re the most powerful spell-making families in Caprona, the virtue seems to be going out of their work; their spells are failing, right when an alliance of Florence, Pisa, and Siena is threatening Caprona’s borders. As with Romeo and Juliet, it’s up to the kids to bridge the rift their parents won’t cross — though in this case it involves less death, more Punch and Judy shows.
This book takes place in the same world as The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life (the same specific world — Twelve-A), but is more like Witch Week or Conrad’s Fate in that it uses Chrestomanci for a side character. This one is generally happier than either of those; among other things, it goes the opposite direction from the usual pattern of neglected or abused children, and puts our characters into huge, boisterous, occasionally contentious but entirely loving families. I especially love the way that fantasy gets integrated into the family dynamic in an understated way: aunts and cousins popping out of the woodwork to help or interfere with things isn’t a coincidence, it’s a function of the magic that underlies them all.
Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to the spoilers we go.
The biggest weakness in the book, for me, is that I’ve never seen a Punch and Judy show in my life. As a result, I have absolutely no referents for all those bits: no mental images, no anticipation of where the act is going, no ability to catch whatever in-jokes there might be. I don’t know if there would be more to laugh at in Tonino and Angelica’s experiences if I had those things; as it is, that entire sequence is just horrific. (As it is meant to be, obviously. But if there’s supposed to be a sugar-coating of any kind, I miss it.)
On the other hand, you have Benvenuto. I marvel once again at DWJ’s ability to write with deep love for both cats and dogs. So few authors manage that. 🙂
I think I’m glad the story sticks with the Montana points of view. We can guess from the start that the Petrocchis aren’t going to be the horrible, unwashed, baby-eating monsters the Montana cousins make them out to be, but jumping back and forth to show their side would undermine a lot of the fun touches, starting with little things like “our coach horses got soggy, too” and going all the way up to Rosa and Marco’s excellent deception. (“Excellent” in the sense that I approve, not that they thought it through entirely well.)
There’s another common DJW motif in here, which is the way that both Tonino and Angelica are the seemingly-untalented children who turn out to have a special talent instead. We get that a lot in the Chrestomanci books particularly; Christopher and Cat both thought they had no magic at all. It crops up elsewhere in her books, too. I seem to remember there being a line in The Merlin Conspiracy about how Grundo’s dyslexia just means he’s specially talented, and that rubbed me the wrong way — it’s sort of the “disability as superpower” motif — but this strikes me more as the kind of wish-fulfillment that children’s books deal in. We’ve gotten cynical about seeing it in adult fiction, but you know, sometimes you want that kind of (non-magical) fantasy.
I really do love this one, though I often forget it under the shadow of my first-tier favorites.
One more Chrestomanci novel and a short story collection to go!