In my 2022 quest to read Diana Wynne Jones’ full body of work, I’m running down the Chrestomanci books first. After completing The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life last year, I’ve moved on to The Pinhoe Egg.
Picking up about a year after Charmed Life ends, The Pinhoe Egg focuses on a huge family of Dwimmers, or nature-magical mages, who are trying their best to keep their magical abilities away from what they believe is the oppressive oversight of Chrestomanci. Things have gone fine for years, with them sending certain family members into the Chrestomanci house as spies, and keeping a mostly low profile. But the youngest granddaughter of the Pinhoe matriarch, Marrianne, has started to notice the cracks in the family visage.
As a turf war explodes between the Pinhoes and their neighbors, and Cat Chant ends up running afoul of some Dwimmers on the edge of the Chrestomanci property, all the family drama comes to a head with Marrianne and Cat at its center.
There were many, many things I liked about this book; Jones does family drama SO well. It’s funny even as it’s truthful, and she absolutely skewers the whole superstitious older generation fearing change, and traumatizing the younger generation with their beliefs. Jones also expands the Chrestomanci world by showcasing a group of magic users outside of the norms. Marianne and her family are ‘good people’ in the sense that they’re family oriented, hardworking, and value community (as long as its theirs and looks familiar), but the way they use magic is fundamentally different than anything we’ve seen before. And we’re able to both feel Marianne’s frustration at them for not seeing the truth, but also love them because at their core, they are doing what they think is right.
However, the plot of this book didn’t feel as tight and connected as the first two Chrestomanci books. A reason for it may be that the first two were written in the 1980s, and The Pinhoe Egg wasn’t published until 2006; a major gap in time to pick up characters that haven’t experienced that kind of jump in physical time. It wasn’t so much that the book was missing anything so much as the plot felt much more loose and strange than the first two. Especially towards the end, there are few very important plot points that seemed to almost come out of nowhere. And even though it all comes out above boards and makes sense, the whole story seemed much more off kilter in the plot and character responses than the other two volumes.
Regardless, this was an enjoyable read, and anyone who liked Volume 1 will enjoy The Pinhoe Egg.
3.5 stars rounded up to 4.