It's not that I'm lazy or stupid. I just haven't bothered to look round the edges of Mother's way of doing things. (p. 176)
Read when I was ill and couldn't deal with the sheer weight of Anathem!
This is a sequel to How's Moving Castle (still one of my favourite Jones books) and Castle in the Air. Charmain is deputed to look after Great-Uncle William's house while he's away being healed by the Elves: her task is somewhat complicated by the fact that 'Great-Uncle William' is the powerful Wizard Norland, and Charmain knows nothing about magic. It's further complicated by the arrival of Peter, Wizard Norland's new apprentice; by Waif, a stray dog that the wizard seems to have adopted; by a sulky and rebellious set of kobolds; by the fearsome lubbock she meets on the cliff; and by the fascinatingly non-Euclidian topography of the wizard's house.
Luckily Charmain ("she never has her nose out of a book, never does a hand's turn in the house and is treated like a sacred object by both her parents") is a resourceful type, and Peter is eminently practical. Charmain ends up helping the King and his elderly daughter to catalogue the royal library -- discovering in the process that High Norland is being systematically robbed -- and encounters some very strange people, including a fire demon, a colourless gentleman, and Sophie Pendragon with not one but two small boys in tow. Also, there are a lot of rocking horses.
The book takes a while to get going, but the first half is entertaining (albeit slightly repetitious with the Sorcerer's Apprentice-style catalogue of mishaps and magical accidents) and there are plenty of questions, hints and clues that are all neatly wrapped up in the finale. Charmain is a likeable heroine: bookish, clever, gawky and not prone to romance. (I've a feeling she's meant to be rather younger than she seems at times, but it's hard to tell if she and Peter are supposed to be the same age.)