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Old School Wednesdays Review: The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones

Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?


Title: The Pinhoe Egg

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Greenwillow / Harper Collins
Publication Date: First published 2006
Paperback: 515 Pages

The Pinhoe Egg

Cat Chant and Marianne Pinhoe have discovered something exciting–something truly precious, very strange, and valuable. An egg.

An egg that has been hidden away in an attic for who-knows-how-many years. An egg protected by some strong “Don’t Notice” spells. An egg that Marianne gives to Cat, even though he lives at nearby Chrestomanci Castle. Chrestomanci himself, the strongest enchanter in the world, is sure to be interested in the egg–and interference from the Big Man is the last thing Marianne’s family of secret rogue witches wants.

But how much longer can the Pinhoes keep their secrets? Gammer, the leader of the clan, has gone mad, a powerful bad luck spell is wreaking havoc, and there’s an unexplained plague of frogs. Not to mention the mysterious barrier Cat finds in the forest.

Marianne and Cat may be the only two who can set things right. But first Marianne must accept her own powerful magic, and Cat must uncover the secrets behind the mystical Pinhoe Egg.

In this new Chrestomanci book, Diana Wynne Jones is at her most magical.

Stand alone or series: Seventh and final book in the Chrestomanci series

How did we get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print


The Pinhoe Egg is the last of the Chrestomanci books and it circles back to its start with Charmed Life’s protagonist Cat at the helm once more. Cat is now a ward of Christopher and Millie Chant and the next in line to become the Chrestomanci. A quiet, unsure boy, Cat is not only a powerful enchanter but also seems to be developing further, different powers.

Meanwhile, outside Chrestomanci Castle, the Pinhoes and the Farleighs, families who live in its shadow, proceed with their secretive lives. You see, both families (mis)use magic but so far, they have managed to avoid Chrestomanci’s overseeing and interference by using powerful hiding spells. But things start to change when Gammer, the head of the Pinhoe clan, becomes senile. And the youngest Pinhoe – Marianne – is the only one who seems to notice that in her senility, Gammer is doing awful things and the kind of magic that is sure to attract unwanted attention.

But then a series of interesting events, lead to Marianne and Cat not only meeting but becoming friends. Together find a mysterious egg – hidden under powerful spells – and Cat is tasked with helping it hatch to unforeseen consequences.

Another incredibly pleasing book in the Chrestomanci series, another one that follows what feels like a theme throughout: that of undervalued, underappreciated, repressed children. Without pulling punches, Diana Wynne Jones has created some of the most awful family/parents in any children’s books I have ever had the displeasure to read. It’s gut-wrenchingly unpleasant to read about Marianne’s (and her brother Joe) family and the way they undermine their opinion, always calling them “disappointing”. One of the most chilling moments here though, is the way that Cat finds himself noticing those signs of abuse in Marianne because he had experienced them too in the hands of his sister. This being a Diana Wynne Jones novel, the result is heartwarming empowerment and eventual freedom from their abusive family. The Chrestomancis – both Chris and Millie – are not only powerful people but also have created a wonderful found family for their wards. It’s just so nice to read about their family.

The other aspect I love this book – and many of the other Chrestomanci books – is the unreliable narrative. Very clearly demarked in both Charmed Life and Conrad’s Fate in how the narrators in those novels have been lied to and have a distorted sense of self-worth, the same threads continue here with Cat and Marianne and are added to in the way that magic has been used, hidden and disguised by the adults in the book. It’s really well done which is no surprise given the authors proclivity for such shenanigans. Also not a surprise: I notice the author’s continued, unfortunate, uncomfortable penchant for fat shaming.

I am ever so sad to say goodbyes to this series but glad I have finally read it. Thankfully, I still have other DWJ books in the To-Be-Read Mountain.

Rating: 8 – Excellent


  • Katrina
    February 8, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Which DWJ are you planning on reading next, Ana?

  • Ana
    February 8, 2017 at 9:37 am

    I haven’t decided yet! I have the sequel to Deep Secrets (Merlin Conspiracy), the rest of the Cart Cwidder series, The Enchanted Glass, and Castle in the Air. Suggestions?

  • Katy K.
    February 8, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    I’m reading the Merlin Conspiracy with my 12-yo son right now! We worked our way through the Chrestomanci books last year. Thank you for this lovely review.

  • Tiffany M.
    February 8, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    I really enjoyed Dogsbody and Howl’s Moving Castle by her. I read Castle In the Air and The Homeward Bounders, but don’t really remember them as well. I did like the Tam Lin retelling she did, too. Thank you for the review. 🙂

  • Katrina
    February 12, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Hmm. I’ll try to recommend ones you haven’t read:
    -Dogsbody is indeed lovely (Sirius the dog star is framed and sentenced to live as a dog on Earth);
    -Castle in the Air is delightful and full of princesses and petulant Djinn;
    -for batshit crazy go for A Sudden Wild Magic (global warming! Intergalactic mage monks! Kamikaze sex!);
    -Dark Lord of Derkholm is one of my very favourites. There’s a wonderful sprawling interspecies family based on love and magical genetic experimentation. The backdrop is the exploitative corporate use of an entire world for multiverse tourism, in a terrible disneyland guided tour way, and it is wonderful. It’s funny and heartfelt and madcap all at once and I just adore it.

  • Ana
    February 13, 2017 at 3:25 am

    Do you know… I read Dogsbody and along with Fire and Hemlock, these are the only two DWJ I was not a fan of. I know, I am in the minority 🙁

  • Katrina
    February 13, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    Tam Lin is one of my favourite stories, Diana Wynne Jones is probably my favourite author, but I also do not care for Fire and Hemlock (and I’ve tried. I have read it several times). One of the reasons that I love her is that even if a book of hers is not good, it often still has that quality of imagination and weirdly grounded whimsy that makes it interesting and enjoyable for me. I may have recommended A Sudden Wild Magic up there, but I would not say that it is a good book. It’s just that the sheer craziness is so fun. Every time someone mentions the Spanish Armada, I think of that book. Similarly, The Merlin Conspiracy has never been a favourite of mine, but it was the first time I thought about how I think and because of it I’ve asked countless people to visualise and describe how their minds work. Anyway, I’m excited for whatever you’re going to read next!

  • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review
    February 18, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    Of these, The Spellcoats and Castle in the Air are two of my favorites. I don’t remember Merlin Conspiracy well, and Enchanted Glass struck me as somewhat weak…but you will want to read everything eventually, I do hope.

  • The Book Smugglers’ Best Books of 2017 – Headlines
    January 5, 2018 at 1:10 am

    […] 4. Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett, 9 (Fantasy) 5. Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi, 8 (SF) 6. The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones, 9 […]

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