Diana Wynne Jones recasts Shakespeare’s warring families of Verona into two magical houses in the charming book The Magicians of Caprona. Instead of the Montagues and Capulets, however, we have Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi, rival families as old as the city-state of Caprona. Their rivalry often causes the citizens to run away and take cover because their confrontations inevitably lead to spells flying all over the place, littering the streets with cowpats and the like.
The story is told through the eyes of brothers Paolo and Tonino Montana. They grew up hating the Petrocchis like true Montanas, and they strive to be as good magicians as the older members of their family. When a series of bad things begin to happen around the city, the Montanas naturally suspect their old rivals. But when the magical disturbances start becoming more sinister, causing even the Chrestomanci to take notice, Tonino and Paolo begin to suspect a force much stronger than petty rivalry.
DWJ has always been highly regarded by my friends who are more familiar with YA than I am. I have earlier read The Lives of Christopher Chant, the first book set in the universe, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t delight me in the way The Magicians of Caprona did. It may just be a personal quirk, however, because I get terribly affected by instances of familial cruelty. I didn’t have any hangups with this book at all.
Jones writes an alternate universe that is only a hop and a skip away from our own world. In Caprona, modern amenities go hand in hand with magic as tools to be used in everyday life. There is a delightful section in the novel where cardboard horses are charmed to become animated, a clever use of magic that became problematic when the rain starts pouring.
This novel was a pleasure to read through and through. I especially loved the lilting tone, as well as the laugh-out-loud dialogue she peppers throughout the story. There’s a lot of tension and excitement, and DWJ never hesitates and playing out genuinely distressing–even downright scary–events in the lives of the protagonists. And while many of the characters are larger than life, they are also incredibly warm and lovable. I’m only sad that there isn’t another DWJ story specifically set in Caprona
As a sidenote, I’m enjoying the series of reviews and commentary from The Morning News’ Tournament of Books. I’ve read a grand total of ZERO books from the competition but it hasn’t stopped me from getting a kick out of their wit. I’m also eyeing Jennifer Egan’s A Visit to the Goon Squad because of it.