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Conrad's Fate: Chrestomanci #6    by Diana Wynne Jones order for
Conrad's Fate
by Diana Wynne Jones
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Twelve-year-old Conrad Tesdinic lives with his older sister Anthea, his faded, feminist mother Franconia, and his Uncle Alfred (a bookseller and spare-time magician) in Stallchester. He goes to school, helps his uncle and is raised, more or less, by his sister. High in the mountains above the town is Stallery Mansion, where the regular pulling of possibities causes ongoing - and confusing - magical side effects (such as changing book titles) far and wide.

When Anthea takes off for university to 'get a life', Conrad's neglect only increases. He learns to cook and to manipulate his uncle, who continually warns him of his 'bad Karma', and tells him that he must expiate a past life misdeed. Then, as his friends are heading off to Upper School, Conrad is sent (well armored in magic) by Alfred to Stallery Mansion, to seek a domestic position, and to resolve his karma problem by disposing of the magic worker at the root of the shifting possibilities. Convinced that it's 'Him or me', Conrad joins a multitude of other applicants on the tram trip to Stallery.

He and the mysterious Christopher (who shows up with Travelers in search of his friend Millie) are accepted as 'Improvers', training for the job of valet, but mostly acting as 'living pieces of furniture' in a role strongly reminiscent of a whimsical take on Upstairs Downstairs. There are a lot of strange goings-on at Stallery, where regular possibility shifts not only change surroundings, but move people (in the wrong place at the wrong time) into nearby universes. Though very different in personality, Conrad and Christopher become friends and work together to unveil Stallery's mysteries ... and sort out Conrad's karma.

Conrad's Fate, billed as the first Chrestomanci book in seventeen years, is a worthy addition to Diana Wynne Jones' enchanting series. Conrad is an engaging character and a good foil for Christopher - and I hope he gets his own sequel.

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