I can't vie with Saranna, but since this thread has offered me a lot of good reading, I'll try my hand at another review. Or, in truth, because I miss halfir, I find myself drawn to his fora and to the threads he started.
Among many books I have read recently, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci series, by Diana Wynne Jones have left a lasting impression on me. On first glance, it looks rather simple: a world where magic is a common talent, so you have mages, warlocks, witches, shamans – you name it, with enchanters being the most powerful. Chrestomanci is the most powerful enchanter, whose task it is to make sure that the magic-users don't abuse magic, and that those who do not have magic can live peacefully without being harassed by the magic-users. There's also the fact that there are in fact many worlds, and Chrestomanci's responsible for them all. Big responsibility, only Chrestomanci is never the main character. Always, the main protagonist is a kid, or a teen. Chrestomanci might be a major actor, or he might only have a short appearance, but you never see the world through his eyes. That is, the Chrestomanci of one book might be the main character of another, only he'd be a child there, just learning, preparing for the role.
It looks like a children book: lovely magical setting, child protagonists, U rating. Bookstores even sell it as a children book. Well, let me tell you: it's not. Charmed Life offers the scariest, most cruel, most evil antagonist I've ever read of. And I've read Song of Ice and Fire. Witch Week is dark, and gives you a sense of what it's like to be hunted. In The Lives of Christopher Chant, a child is used in a disgusting way – you'd need to be an adult to be horrified and angered by it. I'm not saying “don't let your children read this”. Tolkien said you shouldn't write down to children, so those books are adequate. They don't have adult themes, or gore, or anything like that. What I am saying is – read it yourself. Those are books for an adult to enjoy. As long as you haven't killed your inner child, that is.
One of the things I like about Diana Wynne Jones's writing is the realness of her characters. Her children act and think like children, not like small ignorant adults. They have fun, they play silly pranks, they don't always think things through. Sometimes they are shy, sometimes they aren't rational, sometimes they misbehave. You know – real children. And because of this, much of the books is filled with childish fun. There is humour – kind, simple and funny. And sometimes there is sheer terror, honest anger, and mounting frustration, because those are children. This is no Dickens, who forces children to grow up before their time. Here you have children as children should be – should have a right to be. Another thing I admire is the somewhat Mollierian quality of Diana Wynne Jones's books. You don't get a fairy-tale, sugar-sweet happy end. But here, I'll say no more, for fear of spoilers. The rest: go read it. The books are:
Lives of Christopher Chant
Magician of Carpona
Charmed Life should definitely be read first, followed by The Lives of Christopher Chant and then Conrad's Fate.Witch Week can be read either before or after The Lives of Christopher Chant and then Conrad's Fate.The Magician of Carpona I'd keep for after the other four, but that's not strictly necessary – it's only a few very small details that you might miss otherwise. And The Pinhoe Egg should definitely be kept for last. Not only is it the latest plot-wise, and the latest written, but The Magician of Carpona is a bit of a disappointment, at least it was for me, so you'd want to keep a good book for the end. Last of all, Mixed Magics is a collection of four short stories, all within the Chrestomanci universe. I'm afraid I couldn't get my hands on the book (yet), so there isn't anything I can tell you about it.
A note of warning: there's a three-volume set of the series, published by EOS. Don't buy it. Or anything else by Diana Wynne Jones that they print. They Americanise the text - change grey to gray, and stuff like that. Diana Wynne Jones was a British writer. She wrote British English.