I have a confession to make. I may be suffering from Diana Wynne Jones fatigue. It’s alright, I only have one more book before I’ve finished the Chrestomanci series, and then I’ll probably be done. And it’s nothing I can really put my finger on, other than a style targeted at young readers, and her rather unsubtle way in painting the flaws on to her character. Christopher (of The Lives of Christopher Chant) is a main character in Conrad’s Fate, but not the protagonist, and she’s sure to make sure that we understand that Christopher isn’t perfect, OK? Look, Conrad finds him pretty annoying, see?
I’m absolutely certain I would find this less trying if I wasn’t reading this with a head cold and a bad headache. And if it didn’t look like Wynne Jones likes to tell stories about evil uncles almost as much as the brothers Grimm liked evil stepmothers. And if a woman writing in 2006 hadn’t decided to throw in a straw feminist as an example of a neglectful mother. Because obviously a woman with a career and interests of her own is going to prioritize those over her children.
For the most part, though, Conrad’s Fate isn’t bad. Conrad is a young boy pushed by a manipulative uncle into taking a job at the local castle, where he meets Christopher Chant. The two of them, though pursuing their own motives, team up to investigate mysterious goings on in the castle. I’d like to say that they uncover a great mystery, but most of the mystery is revealed at the end in a deus ex Chrartomanci, including a suddenly tacked on magical power for Conrad so he can a neat little ending.
The bulk of the book is a fun romp, and the plot isn’t the point beyond the exploration of the complexities of downstairs living in a grand house. But I’ve read better takes on this recently (Fingersmith stands out) and I would have been happier with more emphasis on explaining the plot.
Definitely a good children’s book. Not something an adult has to rush to read if they missed.