My favorite book of Diana Wynne Jones’ Dalemark Quartet is Book Three: The Spellcoats. Oddly enough, it exists completely separately from the previous two books, to the point that (barring one epilogue-type note at the end), you can’t tell you’re in the same series when you read it. In fact, I read my library’s copy a couple of times without ever realizing it was part of something else!
The Spellcoats is set centuries (millennia?) before the previous two books in the quartet. Tanaqui, a young woman who is a highly skilled weaver, lives with her father and her siblings along the Great River. When invaders from across the sea plunge the country into war, Tanaqui and her siblings flee down the river, in danger from their own people because of their resemblence to the invaders. At the mouth of the river they meet the true enemy, a powerful magician intent on stealing souls. Tanaqui must learn about her family’s past and her own magic to save her family and the country that will, eventually, become Dalemark.
Like the previous two books, this is a coming of age story, of a young person figuring out her role in much larger events. Somehow this one resonates with me more than the previous two–maybe just because I read it multiple times when I was young! I like Tanaqui, her prickliness and her fierce desire to do something meaningful, her occasional blindness and resulting self-reproach, and her love of the Great River. Maybe I just like her because, in her weaving, she’s a storyteller!
Jones had a gift for oh-so-human characters, with faults and foibles, that are still likable and sympathetic. Here we get a family that exemplifies that ability, quarreling all along the river, often impatient with each other, but tied together with loyalty and love too.
And the evil magician is quite creepy too, creating a bigger, fiercer enemy than either of the previous two books had.
But how does this book tie into the previous two? It really doesn’t–until the fourth book that brings it all together. Review of that one soon!
Author’s Site: http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/
Buy it here: The Spellcoats