Diana Wynne Jones,
The Magicians of Caprona
(Greenwillow, 1980)

In the world Diana Wynne Jones created for her Chrestomanci novels, Italy is still divided into city-states, each ruled by a Duke, and family guilds, or Houses, create spells to protect and serve the city.

In Caprona, the two main Houses for spells are the Casa Montana and the Casa Petrocchi, both of which have provided the best spells for generations. But the Montanas and the Petrocchis are the bitterest of rivals, and vicious rumors about each House abound in the other.

Tonino Montana has no particular knack for magic, but he can communicate with cats, which is considered a remarkable talent in itself. At least he's never turned anyone green, the way Angelica Petrocchi is reported to have done. Special to Tonino is Benvenuto, the ruling cat of the household. Tonino is content enough, however, and he lives happily enough among his siblings and cousins.

Then war threatens from other city-states, and both Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi set to work on war spells as well as searching for the true words to the hymn "Angel of Caprona," which commemorates the guardian emblem of Caprona. It is said that the real Angel took the words back to Heaven, and only when they are rediscovered will Caprona become great again. (Most spells are sung, and spells sung to the melody of "Angel of Caprona" are particularly powerful, as one young Montana learns to her chagrin when she sets a kitchen cleaning spell to the tune. The spell works, but it's a little overkill, and the spell lingers, making cooking impossible.)

In the midst of this, however, both Tonino and Angelica are kidnapped by a mysterious enchanter seeking to sap the strength, or "virtue," of both Houses as well as that of Caprona itself. Each House blames the other for the disappearances, and they call on Chrestomanci, the magician Christopher Chant. Chrestomanci, however, tries to convince them that the outside enchanter is real and that they need to work together to vanquish him. Tonino and Angelica must do the same as they find themselves in unusual circumstances up against an unexpected enemy in order to save Caprona.

The Magicians of Caprona is a bit more serious than some of Jones' other books, but her wit does shimmer throughout the taut and compelling narrative. The humor contrasts with but does not distract from the suspenseful story; it is just enough to leaven the tale. There are plenty of twists, turns and side plots, all adding to the main story. The characters are complex, interesting and convincing in their dialogue and behavior.

Jones writes fantasy a cut above the average, and The Magicians of Caprona is no exception.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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