September 09, 2002
Book Review -- The Dalemark Quartet

The Dalemark Quartet
by Diana Wynne Jones
paperback from HarperTrophy 2001

Book 1: Cart and Cwidder
Book 2: Drowned Ammet
Book 3: The Spellcoats
Book 4: The Crown of Dalemark

Don't let the date above fool you -- that's just the date of the HarperTrophy edition. The first copyright date of Cart and Cwidder is 1975 -- the first book has been around for nearly 30 years. Can you tell? No. And there's the most telling part of the review.

These books are supposedly children's books, or at least Young Adult novels. But they are not written to talk down to a child. Nor are they light and fluffy, with simple morals and an easy lesson to learn. What they *are* are gritty books about the North and South Dales, who are sort of at war, and about extraordinary children and what they do in these trying times.

The main character of Cart and Cwidder is Moril, an eleven year old boy, along with his thirteen year old sister Brid, and 14 year old Kialan, a passanger in their cart. Moril sees his father murdered, and discovers the magic of his father's Cwidder. This makes him face truths about himself and about his parents... things that are not easy for a boy of 11 to understand. And Moril has to make difficult choices as his life continues on down the rocky path it has been set upon, and in the end he isn't sure that he made the right choice at all. Or if it is the right choice, that he made it for the right *reason*. The ending is an ending, but I would not consider it necessarily happy. But it is the right ending for Moril's story at that place.

The next book, Drowned Ammet, focuses on Mitt, who has the full name Alhammit Alhammitson, because so many in the South are named Alhammit, which is a bastardization of Old Ammet. In this book, the Undying become more of a focus, as Mitt makes his way North with the help of two young noble children -- Hildy and Ynen -- and finds his way to the Holy Isles. Again, Mitt is still young, only 14, yet he has seen his father disappear and others killed in the freedom fighting. He himself tried to kill an earl, only to fail and find himself on the run. He experiences things far beyond his ken, even talking to the Undying, and discovers that he has power with their names. Again, there are difficult choices made, and Mitt has difficulty coming to terms with his role in this world. In the end, he still isn't sure of himself, but he knows he is in a better place than he began his travels.

The Spellcoats takes place in the past -- I believe a couple of hundred years, if not more, before the other books. Tanaqui is weaving two Spellcoats during the course of the story, and the entire writing style has changed to reflect this. Suddenly instead of third person the reader is plunged into a very choppy, succinct, yet still expressive first person style... which you quickly realize is because this is the way the legend has been woven into the coat. Not written, woven. Much more of the legends of the Undying becomes obvious, and the beginnings of the endings are laid, pulling together the threads that were shown in the first books by writing their history here.

And then finally, in The Crown of Dalemark, it all comes together. Moril is back, now 14, as is Mitt at almost 15. Everyone from the earlier books (including those in the third book who are of The Undying, and therefore still survive into the present time) is present and accounted for, and the plot all falls together neatly. A new main character of Maewen, a girl from the future, is introduced, and become a central piece of the puzzle of how the Dales will be reunited under a single crown again, as they were in the past.

The story ends tying up the threads neatly, yet still leaving room for the reader to make their own ending images within their mind. The final lines are beautiful, yet I admit, left me craving more.

The setting is wonderful, the prose easy to read. These are books for adults or children, and I hope my children will read them someday and love them as much as I did. Hells, I hope my husband will love them as well! (They are now in his to-read pile!) I am planning to search to see if someone has already distilled the world into a gaming sourcebook, as it has such a rich feel to it that I know it could be used for a great fantasy RPG. With the focus between the Undying and the children, it would make a great game for both kids and adults mixed. And being not all sweetness and light, and with the focus on children making decisions and learning from their mistakes, and learning to *THINK* and not just follow, it also is the sort of thing I could happily run as a game. Its a complement I would love to pay someday.

Posted by Deb Atwood at September 09, 2002 11:05 PM | TrackBack
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