Younger brother of a talented witch, Cat seems to be the only guy on the block--and, later, the only resident of the strange castle to which the two orphaned children are transported--who can't do magic. For a while after their move, Sister Gwendolen raises all sorts of supernatural hell in protest against her less-than-fawning treatment at the hands of Chrestomanci, the aristocratic lord of the castle. But she's no match for the powers there, and when she finds she can't rule this world, she takes off for another. (There are nine worlds in all, we learn, and Cat's is a bit different from ours.) And after Gwendolen's disappearance, Cat learns that he is one of a very rare breed of nine-lived enchanters, that his special gifts have marked him as a future Chrestomanci, and that Gwendolen has been using his powers all along to perform her wicked tricks. Jones' talents are slighted in a synopsis, for she writes with exceptional finesse--whether establishing the atmosphere of the castle, orchestrating large confrontations, or filling in the domestic scene with vital incidentals. But the framing ideas are weak. The notion of alternate worlds with duplicate populations is commonplace, if functional, and not worth all her meticulous, anticlimactic unraveling. And the revelation that the enigmatic Chrestomanci is a "government employee," charged with keeping other witches in check so they don't muck up the world (this in a world where only the rich have cars), is both disappointingly tame and disturbingly paternalistic.