Conrad's Fate
Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, 2005

Conrad's Fate is a young adult fantasy novel, yet another of Diana Wynne Jones' popular Chrestomanci series. At the time of this writing it is the second-to-most-recent in the series (The Pinhoe Egg came out in 2006). However, by the internal chronology of the series it would be the second book, furthering the adventures and education of Christopher Chant. I'm a fan of reading the books in published order, but at this point the whole series is such a tangled mess it doesn't really matter what book you start with. This book does not build into any pre-existing story arcs in any important way.

The story (mostly) follows Conrad, an average boy in a small mountain town in the English Alps of Series Seven. He lives with his mother and uncle, both of whom have little time for him, as they are quite busy writing books and running the family bookshop. This changes in Conrad's twelfth year, when his uncle suddenly decides that Conrad could be a great help to him as a industrial/magical spy if only he were to drop out of school and go to work as a servant in the household of the Duke and Duchess. His uncle heavily bespells him and sends him off to spy on and, hopefully, assassinate members of the Duke's household. Yes, assassinate. The uncle justifies this by telling Conrad that it is his Fate to set right a wrong from a past life, and if he shirks this duty he will likely die in short order. This is a rather dysfunctional family.

The other story is that Christopher Chant has run away from his mentor, Gabriel de Witt, in a attempt to save Molly from a horrible boarding school, but then lost her somewhere in Series Seven -- and as best as he can tell, she is somewhere in the general area of the Duke's house, where someone is manipulating the surrounding worlds to increase their power. (These names will all be familiar if you have read The Lives of Christopher Chant). Christopher and Conrad team up to try to figure what in the worlds is going on, but neither one has much success.

This is a good story, but it is not one of the better books in this series. The mixing of Christopher into the new plot seems a little contrived, and much of the story seems more concerned with Christopher's fate than Conrad's. It also has the distinct air of being seen from the point of view of minor characters; while this is most certainly a story about Conrad and Christopher, it is the story of all the things that happened to them, not the story of things they did. Right to the very end, the events of the story are mostly guided by peripheral characters, and the end has the feeling of deus ex machina.

This is a good book, but it is not as good as the earlier Chrestomanci books. If you are looking for a good read, start with The Lives of Christopher Chant, Charmed Life, or Witch Week. Once you've read them, come back to this one.

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