The Magicians of Caprona

Title: The Magicians of Caprona
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Series :Part of the “Chronicles of Chrestomanci”, but is really a stand alone book
Rating:
stars_03

In Short: A fantasy set in  Italy in an alternate universe.  Two family Spell Houses, the Montanas and the Petrocchis, have been bitter rivals for generations. Tonino and his brother Paolo get caught up in the conflict.

Other books by author: “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “Charmed Life”, “The Ogre Downstairs” among many others.

caprona

Diana Wynne Jones is one of those authors who I turn to when in need of some comfort reading.  Whether its a brand new read like “The House of Many Ways”, or re-reading an old favourite like “The Magicians of Caprona” – I’m never disappointed. All  her books deal with the idea of a series of alternate universes that exist next to our own.  This book is set in a alternate version of Italy that has not joined into one country but is made up of a number of city states.  Caprona is at an uneasy peace with her neighbours.

“The Magicians of Caprona” is part of the “Chronicles of Chrestomanci” cycle of books that started with “Charmed Life”.  It is, however, a completely stand alone book.  The only link to “Charmed Life” is Chrestomanci himself, and although he is important, he is not the lead character.

The hero is Tonino, one of the youngest members of the  Monatana family.  The Montanas and their hated rival family, the Petrocchis are know throughout the world for the quality of the spells they create and sell.  Tonino, in the grand tradition of fantasy heroes, seems to have very little talent for magic, apart from the unique ability to communicate with cats.

An extract:

The best spells still come from Caprona, in spite of the recent troubles, from the Casa Montana or the Casa Petrocchi.  If you are using words that really work, to improve reception on your radio or to grow your tomatoes, then the chances are that someone in your family has been on a holiday to Caprona and brought the spell back.  The Old Bridge in Caprona is lined with little stone booths, where long coloured enveloopes, scrips and scrolls hang from strings like bunting.

The young boys of the Casa Montana learn that all is not well in Caprona.  The magic of their family is on the wane.  Old Niccolo, the head of the family, is worried, and so are the confusing mix of parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Popular opinion blames “those Petrocchi’s” who are well known to be filthy and have no moral scruples .  After all, they never have baths, go to Mass, or confess, and worst of all, they did not get married but had babies “like kittens” – and they drowned them too.  Or at least, that is what older sister Lucia says.

I particularly enjoyed the comforting description of the family.  Tonino is constantly surrounded by brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles.  Everyone is always arguing vociferously with everyone else, but underneath it all there is a great, warm, rock solid family love.  Nothing is done by half measure – their pride in Tonino despite his apparent lack of ability, and their worry about the marriage prospects of his sister Rosa.

Here is the courtyard of the Casa Montana:

Doors and windows opened into the yard all round, and the gallery, with its wooden railings and pan-tiled roof, ran round three sides of the yard and led to the rooms on the top floor.  Uncles, aunts, cousins large and small, and cats were busy everywhere, laughing, cooking, discussing spells, washing, sunning themselves or playing.  Paolo gave a sigh of contentment and picked up the neares cat.

“I dont think the Casa Petrocchi can be anything like this inside.”

Before Tonino could agree, they were swooped on lovingly by Aunt Maria, who was fatter than Aunt Gina, but not so fat as Aunt Anna.  Where have you been, my loves?  I’ve been ready for your lessons for half an hour or more!”

Diana Wynne Jones is excellent at creating  flawed and believable characters.  Tonino is a  thoughtful young boy, who loves books and stories.  His best friend and older brother Paolo is much quicker at learning spells, but not so serious.  Paolo hero worships their egotistical, dashing cousin Rinaldo and is rather ashamed of their perpetually worried father Antonio. I could go on and on –  sister Rosa, strong willed and funny,  the imposing and eccentric Aunts Francesca, Gina, Anna and Maria.  And then, of course, the boss  of the feline population of Casa Montana –  Benvenuto the Cat.

This is a  cat-lover’s book.  Benvenuto is one of the most convincing literary cats in my experience.   Here is Benvenuto appearing to Niccolo, having answered his summons:

Naturally, Benvenuto took his time coming.  He was boss cat at the Casa Montana.  It was five minutes before Paolo heard his firm pads trotting along the tiles of the gallery roof.  This was followed by a heavy thump as Benvenuto made the difficult leap down across the gallery railing on to the floor of the gallery.  Shortly, he appeared on the library window-sill.

“So there you are” said Old Niccolo.  “I was just going to get impatient”.  Benvenuto at once shot forward a shaggy black hind leg and settled down to wash it, as if that was what he had come there to do.

And a little later…

“Which would you suggest?” asked Old Niccolo. Benvenuto raised his right front paw and gave it a casual lick.  Old Niccolo’s face curve into his beaming baby’s smile.  “Look at that!”  he said.  “He’ll do it himself!” Benvenuto flicked the tip of his tail sideways.  Then he was gone, leaping back to the window so fluidly and quickly that he might have been a paintbrush painting a dark line in the air.

“The Magicians of Caprona” is a great read.  There are some truly scary bits, but as with all good stories, everything works out in the end, if not quite in the way you expect it to.  Here are new friends, satisfyingly evil villains, lots of cats, and lots of magic.  I loved this book before I was even a teenager, and it has stood the test of time.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jenclair
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:48:56

    Thanks for a great review. I’m adding this series to my list.

  2. Trackback: Feuding Magical Families in Caprona | Tales of the Marvelous
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    Jun 13, 2014 @ 17:37:58

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  4. Trackback: The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones | dreaming out loud

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