Although Chrestomanci makes a few brief appearances in this story, it's really about the two great magical families of Caprona - The Montana's and the Petrocchi's. Tonino and his brother Paolo are Montana's. They love their home and are desperately worried about all the problems that seem to be crashing down on their family's head, from rival Petrocchi's and failing spells to imminent war. Tonino feels useless because of his poor spellcasting skills, but when danger and tragedy strike he finds unexpected courage and ability.
This is a fast-paced adventure story about friendship and the damage a few dangerous lies can do. What's most interesting to me, besides the fun and delight of the exciting story, is Tonino's character. Although he at first feels useless and unhappy about his lack of magical ability, the warmth and support of his family - and especially his cat Benvenuto - make him a generally contented person. It's fascinating to see the parallels between the two families and their acceptance of the children who don't live up to their parents' hopes.
Of course, you can also have lots of fun comparing this alternate world with the history of Italy and drawing comparisons between the romances of Tonino's older siblings and that little thing of Shakespeare's...
ISBN: 978-0060298784; Published April 2001 by Greenwillow (out of print); Reviewed from my personal collection