Jones sets this in the ununified Italy of a world "parallel to ours, where magic is as normal as mathematics, and things are generally more old-fashioned"--and she directs it like a manic opera, as the varied but uniformly voluble members of the closely-knit extended Montana family cope in frenetic counterpoint with one crisis after another. (The enemy is invading; the children are kidnapped; the cat ate the fish.) The most theatrical scene occurs fairly early on, when the Montanas in full force confront the hated Petrocci clan, their rivals in spell-casting, in a knock-'em-down, zap-'em-to-pieces contest of shape-changing magic. The battle occurs because each family believes the other guilty of kidnapping; but in fact an outside enchanter has imprisoned the youngest Montana and the youngest Petrocci to tie up both families' defensive spells while three other states invade their native Caprona. As little Tonino Montana and Angelica Petrocci discover to their terror and discomfort, the enchantress behind the plot against Caprona is the Duchess herself. Her tricks run to such inspired cruelty as making Punch-and-Judy puppets of her captives; and her evil genius proves so powerful that it takes the Duke, the now-united magician families, the Montana cat Benvenuto, and a guest appearance by the great Chrestomanci of Charmed Life (1978) to reduce her to her true rat's form and dispatch her accordingly. Jones carries off the performance with real finesse and a great show of brio. However, the absence of moral, intellectual, or (especially) emotional grounding might be an impediment to reader engagement.