What a brilliant and talented writer this is! [In The Magicians of Caprona Diana Wynne Jones] breaks all the usual rules of fantasy with impunity, secure in her own virtuosity.
We are in Italy. Caprona is a Renaissance City State, ruled by its Duke and threatened by enemies with familiar names like Siena and Florence. But how strange; while some people travel by coach others have motor cars. It appears that we are not in a conventional Italy after all but in one parallel to our world, in a world where magic is a respected and indeed indispensable trade. In Caprona magic is traditionally the business of two families, the Montana and the Petrocchi, and also by what seems to be a long tradition the Montana and the Petrocchi are enemies. As if spell-making was not hard enough you—if you are a Montana—have always to be worrying about what the Petrocchi may be up to.
Then life becomes even more complicated because a foreign enchanter seems to be at work, one who is bent on the destruction of Caprona. (p. 192)
I must say no more about the plot, because full enjoyment of its delights depends on a degree of surprise. Miss Wynne Jones tells a magnificent story for all it is worth, but she is far more than a master narrator. She has created a whole world, consistent in all its details, and peopled it with living and fascinating beings, clever and perverse, comic and eccentric. There are some wonderful moments, the best perhaps being a terrifying Punch and Judy show, although the State visit of the Montana and the Petrocchi to the Ducal palace runs it close, but these are not isolated inventions; they spring from the natural reactions of people and events and places.
Funny and frightening and profoundly exciting as this story is, it demands of the reader total surrender. It is not an easy book. Casual and lazy readers will give up early. For those who persist, children and adults alike, the rewards are very great. Miss Wynne Jones has set a standard for 1980 which will take some beating. (pp. 192-93)
Marcus Crouch, in his review of "The Magicians of Caprona," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 44, No. 4, August, 1980, pp. 192-93.