Charmed Life is the story of Eric Chant (called Cat) and his sister Gwendolen, who are orphaned in the first few pages of the book and eventually wind up living with a mysterious, peculiar man called Chrestomanci, who takes charge of their schooling as well. Gwendolen is a promising young witch, but Cat doesn’t seem to have any magical talent. OR DOES HE?
Of course, we’ve seen this before, with a luckless British orphan who doesn’t seem to be anybody special, who gets taken under the wing of an eccentric wizard, and turns out to be very special indeed. As it happens, Charmed Life was written in 1977–20 years before Harry Potter. There are a lot of similarities on the surface, although the story itself is quite different. The stakes seem a lot lower in this one, and Jones never goes as dark as Rowling does. There is one scene, however, that is so reminiscent of The Half-Blood Prince that I thought to myself, “Okay, Rowling owes this lady some royalties.” If this book had come out after Harry Potter, it would’ve been dismissed–rightfully so–as a pale knockoff. Jones doesn’t have the same world-building skills that Rowling has, but this book is still full of humor and excitement, and knowing it was written first made me more able to enjoy it. Inevitable Harry Potter comparisons aside, it’s a good book.
This is the first in a series of six novels and one set of short stories. One thing to note is that Amazon lists the reading order for these as the order that Jones recommended, which is not publication order.