Book 2 of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, by Diana Wynne Jones.
…And when I got to Book 2 of the series, I said, “Oh! This is the with Tacroy!”
I suppose I should mention there’s a spoiler that follows. There is one, and it’s in the very next sentence.
This is the story of the ordinary kid who grew up to be the Chrestomanci in the other C/C books, Christopher Chant, and I think it’s my favorite. I haven’t read Conrad’s Fate yet, though, one of the few books I have left of hers untouched. I checked out House of Many Ways on audiobook; I’m looking forward to reading it at work.
Mostly when you read fantasy books for kids, you’re reading about kids who have been dragged into situations beyond their control by the Adults and who have to find a solution to all the screwed-up problems the Adults have left for them. I chalk this up to wish-fulfillment on the part of the authors, both wishing they could have done something meaningful, as kids, rather than getting jerked around all those years, and wishing, as Adults, they could just hand problems down to the next generation. I’m no better; the young adult stuff I’ve written is the same: somebody handed you this world, you didn’t make it.
I’m going to have to rethink.
The adults in this book are the pettiest, nastiest, scummiest liars you’ll ever meet. Some of them, you’ll find out the reason why and forgive them for it; some of them, you’ll find out the reason why and not give a damn. But, honestly, Christopher isn’t much better. Really, he’d just rather not know what he’s doing or why, and ends up doing things he’ll regret for the rest of his life. He didn’t make the world, but he sure didn’t make it any better until after he pulled his head out of his bum.
You have to respect that, a writer telling her readers to stop running around saying “O woe is me” and clean up the mess you’ve been strewing around. You can’t save the world until you clean up your act, mister. And DWJ makes you like it.