It’s been a year since my favorite author Diana Wynne Jones passed away. She wasn’t just my favorite though, there are many people all over the world who have adored her and her books. In her honor, many blogs all over the world are having a Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones Blog Tour! From April 12th to April 26th, bloggers from all over the world will be talking about Diana, her books and her influence on writers and readers from April 12th to April 26th.
This is a writer who deserves to be read and reread, talked about and enjoyed. So though we’ve done other Old Favorites of her books, (see Eight Days of Luke, The Homeward Bounders, Charmed Life and our Tribute to Diana Wynne Jones) here’s one more: The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones.
* * *
The Montanas and the Petroccis are two of the most powerful magical families in Italy. For decades, all of the best spells have come from either Casa Montana or Casa Petrocci. The two great houses of Montana and Petrocci go back to the founding of the great state of Caprona, seven hundred years ago, but they’ve been bitter rivals for over two hundred years. There are stories about what started the feud (different at each house, of course) but no one really knows. If groups of Montanas and Petroccis meet on the streets, they fight. Sometimes with stones and fists, but more often with spells. Every citizen of Caprona knows to get out of the way if two factions of the rival houses meet.
Paolo and Tonino Montana have never been to school with any Petroccis, they’ve never even met one. But their older sister Lucia tells them stories about the family’s horrible habits. Since all the Montana cousins have heard these stories since they were children, they believe it too, especially dashing cousin Rinaldo, who is almost an adult. Only Tonino’s oldest sister Rosa laughs and tells Paulo and Tonino and the younger children not to listen to the over-imaginative Lucia.
But things aren’t always wonderful, even for magical families. Casa Montana may be magical, but poor Tonino despairs of ever being able to work magic himself; his spells just go wrong. Paolo, who has a great instinct for spells, is sure that he would be good at school. Tonino had always hoped for that too, but even at school, Tonino really has to concentrate to remember anything. He’s so unhappy that Old Niccolo, his grandfather, charges the leader of the house cats, Benvenuto, to look after Tonino. That is how Tonino becomes the liaison between the Casa Montana cats and the Casa Montana spell-workers.
When the Old Bridge of Caprona is cracked by winter floods, the Duke of Caprona orders it to be repaired. It will take both the Montana and the Petrocci familes to repair the damaged spellworks. Although each family is determined to stay to their own side of the bridge, only the combined efforts of working together will ensure that The Old Bridge’s spells will endure. But it’s much harder to repair than anyone thought…someone, or something, is diverting the magic. When the Montanas call on Chrestomanci, the English enchanter who regulates the use of magic in their world, he is only able to tell them that there is an evil enchanter removing the virtue of the city. If Casa Montana and Casa Petrocci can find the words to the Angel of Caprona (which is both a hymn and a powerful spell), they may be able to save the city. If they don’t find the spell, they won’t be able to save Caprona, and it will mean war. And in fact, Chrestomanci must leave without helping them much more, he needs to prevent the city-states of Florence, Pisa and Siena from attacking Caprona while the Montanas and Petroccis try to find the Angel of Caprona. He takes several of the older cousins and uncles with him.
Both families know different words to the hymn, but they’re not the right words. As the search goes on for the spell, Old Bridge is in danger of collapsing again. Both families return to work on the spell-work, but since most of the men are trying to prevent war, the spells are being done by the senior uncles and aunts, the women and even the older children. At Old Bridge, Tonino and Paolo meet two Petrocci sisters–Angelica and Renata. They don’t SEEM horrible,in fact, they remind the boys of their girl cousins. Tonino even learns that there might be someone worse at magic than he is–whenever Angelica tries a spell, it works, but never the way that she intended.
Banished from the spellworking on Old Bridge because of their unpredictable powers, Tonino and Angelica are left unprotected and vulnerable. Both are suddenly and sneakily dragged into a spell, and only Paolo and Renata seem to understand that something has happened to them. Benvenuto knows too, but without Tonino to explain what he’s saying, the adults won’t listen to any of them.
While Tonino and Angelica struggle to discover where they are and how to save themselves, Paolo and Renata work together to try to get a rescue mission in play. The Casa Montana and Casa Petrocci families though, seem determined not to listen. In fact, they spend more time fighting and throwing spells at each other. Is this all part of the evil enchanter’s plan? Are the two biggest Spell-houses of Caprona destined to fall? Will anyone find the Angel of Caprona? Is the fate of Caprona resting on the shoulders of Tonino and Angelica, Paolo and Renata?
* * *
The Magicians of Caprona came out in 1980, to much anticipation and critical acclaim. It was the second book to feature Chrestomanci, the mysteriously vague nine-lived enchanter. The main focus of the story though, are the two feuding families. The Montanas and the Petroccis are similar to the Capulets and the Montagues, only without the romance. Well, not the same kind of romance, anyway. Tonino and Paolo’s older sister Rosa has a secret she’s keeping, although Angelica and Renata’s older brother Marco might know more about it than any of the Montanas…
This is a great book! Writing a description is difficult though, since all of the bits and pieces fit together so carefully that saying too much is like pointing out the way to put it together. Most of Diana Wynne Jones’ books are like that, which is why they’re such a pleasure to re-read. There’s always much more going on than you thought, and a second time through makes the reader realize that the clues were always right there, disguised. It’s almost a different book the second time around!
But if you like stories of magic, of brave and determined kids in danger, of brothers and sisters who are friends and who fight together, then you’ll like The Magicians of Caprona. The world of Caprona might take a little getting used to (it’s a little like Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets live in Hogsmead, and their children all go to Hogwarts but must stay in different houses) but it is definitely an interesting world. (And it came first!) The plot contains a lot of twists and turns, but I think the story would be enjoyed by kids in fifth through eight grades, and by even older readers who know who the Montagues and the Capulets are. Tonino makes some appearances in later books featuring Chrestomanci, so his story continues in some of Diana Wynne Jones’ later books.
So pick up The Magicians of Caprona and read it…twice! Then let me know what you think. I’m guessing that if you’re a fan of original fantasy, you’ll love it!