The Magicians of Caprona
by Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, 1980
The Magicians of Caprona is a children's fantasy novel, and is the fourth book in the Chrestomanci series. However, the series does not need to be read in order, and this is particularly true of this book. While Chrestomanci is a major player in the story, it does not tie into the plots of any other books in the series.
The story takes place in an alternate Italy, apparently sometime in the early 1900s. In this world Italy never unified, and Caprona is one of innumerable warring states, protected from its neighbors by two great spellhouses: the Montanas and the Petrocchis. These houses are the two most powerful in Italy, and perhaps the world, but they are also engaged in a decades-long feud.
Enter Tonino and Paolo Montana, two young brothers who have the misfortune of discovering that the Petrocchis are not all that bad, actually, and that the troubles between the houses are mostly caused by a secret enchanter attempting to tear the city apart. The adults, of course, refuse to listen, so it is up to the children of both houses to save the city and bring their families together.
As with many of Diana Wynne Jones' books, this is an exciting adventure in which much of the action, conflict, and world building comes from large families alternately arguing with and protecting each other. We see more housekeeping spells than magical battles, hear more about school than the impending war, and there are as many secret plans revolving around sneaking behind parents' backs as those which involve the evil enchanter tearing the city apart.
Overall, this fits right in with the rest of the Chrestomanci books, but also gives a foreshadowing of the Dark Lord of Derkholm books. While it is absolutely worth reading, it is also not one of the more obvious entry points into the Chrestomanci series, nor into the works of Diana Wynne Jones as whole. On the other hand, there's no downside to starting with this book, if it's the first to cross your path.
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