Friday Book Review – The Pinhoe Egg

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This is the last book in the Chrestomanci series. Although I have read a number of Diana Wynne Jones books, I can’t claim to be an expert.  So far, her series strike me as weirdly disconnected, that is, largely without internal continuity. But then maybe I’m just spoiled by Artemis Fowl and Marvel comics. Chrestomanci and Howl as series differ greatly from book to book, with Chrestomanci the superior when it comes to continuity. For one thing, Cat is a decently major character in the series, and both he and Chrestomanci appear in this book.

However, it appears to be the last one only by dint of having all the others precede it and no others succeeding it. I don’t know if the series disconnect is an awesome change in this age of Effing Everything is a Series and Continuity Porn… or if I prefer my Continuity Porn.

I will say this. Diana Wynne Jones really had a skill for writing feuds. Both Magicians of Caprona and Pinhoe Egg capture the “righteous” anger, blame-wars and fallout. In MoC, the feud itself was an antagonist. It caused a lot of the conflict and made other conflicts worse or hindered the resolution. The book had a clear story goal. In PE, the feud is sporadically mentioned, and most of the conflict is caused by a single person or fear of revealed secrets. It’s rather winding and aimless.

For that reason, the only summary I can give of The Pinhoe Egg is this:

After Gammer, the head of the Pinhoe family, seems to be suddenly struck by dementia , Marianne must deal with all sorts of magical hijincks. The situation is not helped by the fact that none of the adults will believe or help her. Cat… is just sort of on holiday or something. I don’t know why he comes up at all.

There are two protagonists: Marianne to represent the titular Pinhoes, and Cat to help make things Chrestomanci canon. I quite liked Marianne. She’s sympathetic, and when she finds herself helpless to make her family believe her, it’s literally beyond her power and she still never gives up.

I will readily admit that I hated Cat when I read Stealer of Souls. Reading PE just made me realise that I stopped trying to like him back when he set himself on fire. (And if you know the context, then you know that on a scale of 1-10, that was a dumb move.) He’s petty and vague, and I just can’t be arsed.

Maybe it’s because one of the two perspectives has nothing to do for a significant amount of time, but the book suffers from a lack of direction. Things just sort of happen. Cause and effect are in place, but that’s often the extent of the plot. Marianne deals with her awful barmy gammer and Cat sort of faffs about. Then Gammer is realised to be a real threat and maybe Cat’s horse is a unicorn. Or part unicorn. I’m sure it’s said, I just never cared about the zarking horse. 

Maybe it’s because I just read Aunt/Black Maria, but Gammer seems like a Maria expy. I actually thought for a minute about who I would say is worse, but it’s a toss-up. They’re both nasty pieces of work. There’s even a plot to kill/imprison a powerful male magic-user for each of them. Aunt Maria just got the title and more screentime.

I felt like the book never knew quite what it wanted to be. Accordingly, I tended not to care. And although the ending was mostly nice–punishing the bad, rewarding the wronged, DWJ-style–I thought that the condemnation of the “bad” people as religious nutjobs was shoehorned in and a little hateful. The idea that there were magical creatures being kept imprisoned by the Pinhoes comes in very, very late, and before that, no one really even foreshadows a single thing about it. DWJ just inserted a nasty anti-religeuse diatribe because who the heck knows.

I didn’t include that last bit of white text in my review because I didn’t want to get into it on Goodreads. It wasn’t a big deal, and the most damage lay in how out of place the conclusion was.

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