The Magicians of Caprona has lighthearted moments, but is a pretty earnest tale of children during war time.
The first book in the volume, The Magicians of Caprona, is set in a world reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. The second book, Witch Week, is set in a completely different milieu: a boarding school in a modern England which is remarkably like ours, except that magic of any kind is strictly forbidden and witches are burnt at the stake. And then rumours start spreading that the Inquisition is about to pay a visit to the school, bringing equipment with them which will surely help them find the witch, and suddenly a whole lot of people seem to get very nervous. The second story, however, is very strong -- worth a full five stars for its great and ever so recognisable depiction of an adolescent witch hunt and adolescence in general. Just read Volume I first to get a feel for the world in which the stories are set and Chrestomanci's role in it...
This volume holds two stories from the Chrestomanci series: The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week. The Magicians of Caprona This is a loose retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story, but more focus on magic and war rather than romance. Jones just has such a way about her writing to make the stories particularly magical. I didnt like this as much as Magicians of Caprona, but I still liked it quite a bit; it just took a lot more for me to get into this one. These twists were less predictable than Magicians of Caprona, and I liked how it tied in nicely with a previous book in the series.
Book three, The Magicians of Caprona, takes place in an alternate Italy that is still a collection of regional city-states (DWJ states that Chrestomanci's world is a bit more 'old fashioned' than ours, so things are roughly like they were in the first half of the Nineteenth Century). A world that sounds a lot like ours, but burnings at the stake happen might seem like something of a stretch, but that turns out to be the point of all the action. Overall, the Chrestomanci series is a lot of fun, and while these books feel more... I felt the first book suffered to much from characters just showing up for the ending, and the second mirrored the first too strongly, so I definitely like the change of pace here, even if seeing more directly with Chrestomanci and/or Cat would be good.
I sort of consider this book the weakest link when looking at the Chrestomanci series, but that's really only because I'm not too fond of Witch Week - I think it's bad form to get us horribly attached to characters and then suddenly change those characters into slightly different but really maybe the same characters.
Jones started writing during the mid-1960s "mostly to keep my sanity", when the youngest of her three children was about two years old and the family lived in a house owned by an Oxford college. Beside the children, she felt harried by the crises of adults in the household: a sick husband, a mother-in-law, a sister, and a friend with daughter. The Harry Potter books are frequently compared to the works of Diana Wynne Jones. Many of her earlier children's books were out of print in recent years, but have now been re-issued for the young audience whose interest in fantasy and reading was spurred by Harry Potter. For Charmed Life, the first Chrestomanci novel, Jones won the 1978 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime award by The Guardian newspaper that is judged by a panel of children's writers.