Celebrating Witch Week and Diana Wynne Jones

Witch WeekI did a lot of reading of Diana Wynne Jones books last spring, so as you can imagine, I was excited to get involved when Lory of Emerald City Book Reviews invited me to participate in her Witch Week celebrate of all things DWJ (among some illustrious company!)

According to DWJ, “Witch Week” is set between Oct 31st and Nov 6th, a special time “when there is so much magic about in the world that all sorts of peculiar things happen.”  Lory has invited five bloggers to share guest posts on favorite DWJ books, and I’ve contributed a review of The Spellcoats, the third (but independent) book in the Dalemark Quartet.  I’ve reviewed this book previously on my own blog, but I expanded and added new ideas for this event.

Visit Lory’s blog for the Guest Post…and you may want to check out Lory’s Giveaway too!

Book Review: The Crown of Dalemark

The first three books of the Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones seem for all the world like they have nothing much to do with each other—until we finally get to Book Four, The Crown of Dalemark, which ties it all together. The funny thing is, it didn’t come along until twenty years after the third book. It makes me wonder if Jones had the fourth book in mind all along, or if she looked back at three slightly-connected books and decided to bring them together.

The book opens with a return to a familiar character, Mitt, who in Drowned Ammet botched an assassination and escaped to the “free North” of Dalemark. Unfortunately, he now finds himself the victim of blackmailing by a northern Earl—his friends will suffer if he doesn’t assassinate Noreth, a noble girl who claims to be the daughter of the One, and plans to unite all of Dalemark.

In the second section, we jump some two hundred years into the future, to a much more modern-feeling Dalemark, and meet Maewen. She happens to be the perfect image of Noreth. A magician(ish) sends her back to Mitt’s time, to take the place of the disappeared Noreth. With hazy ideas of how the history of the time is meant to turn out, Maewen tries to lead her small band of followers, including Mitt and Moril, the minstrel from Cart and Cwidder, to ride the “green roads” and unite Dalemark. But the ancient evil we met in The Spellcoats is stalking them, and someone in Maewen’s band is a traitor.

I really wanted to love this book—and I ended up liking it, so that’s not really so bad. This is much longer than the first two books, and it has a much more sweeping, epic feel to it. We’re dealing with complex plots and significant events, and the fate of the country as well as the particular characters plainly hangs in the balance. Continue reading “Book Review: The Crown of Dalemark”

Book Review: The Spellcoats

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. Continue reading “Book Review: The Spellcoats”

Book Review: Cart and Cwidder – Drowned Ammet

One of my goals for Once Upon a Time was to reread Diana Wynne Jones’ Dalemark Quartet, which I last read in high school and largely forgot.  I successfully read them…but didn’t manage to get to reviews!  Today I’m going to look at the first two books, Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammett.

Cart and Cwidder is about a family of musicians traveling in a cart through Dalemark.  And just to clear up the title, a cwidder is a musical instrument (somewhat like a lute, I think).  Moril is our main character, the dreamy one of the family who isn’t sure about his talents.  The family is on their annual trip through South Dalemark, ruled by oppressive earls, back towards the “free North.”  Moril and his siblings find themselves suddenly thrust into the center of a brewing war when their father is killed and they must undertake a vital task he left unfinished.  Oh, and that cwidder in the title?  Definitely magical. Continue reading “Book Review: Cart and Cwidder – Drowned Ammet”

Hatching a Gryphon, and a Lot of Chaos

After rereading all of Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, I think I may finally have a favorite–the final book, The Pinhoe Egg.  It’s a perfect blend of new characters, old friends, and high hilarity.  And a great fit for Once Upon a Time!

The Pinhoe family has been practicing their secret magic for generations, avoiding the eye of “the Big Man,” Chrestomanci, who is a kind of magic regulator for the government. The plot beyond that is…complicated.  When Gammer Pinhoe, clan matriarch, goes insane (possibly cursed by a rival magical family), chaos, upheaval, and magical feuds are inevitable.  And there’s a magical egg, long-held by the Pinhoes, which comes into the possession of Cat, ward of Chrestomanci Castle, and hatches into a baby gryphon.

I loved seeing Cat take center-stage again, even more than he did in the first (written, though not chronological) book, Charmed Life.  Cat in this book still struggles with trust and openness, but has also come into more confidence about himself and his abilities.  It’s a nice development from his previous book, while being remarkably consistent for two books written almost 30 years apart!

Centering much of the book around Chrestomanci Castle also meant seeing more of its other residents, and here was where I was especially glad that I’d read the whole series in order pretty quickly.  I’m sure that when I read this before, I’d forgotten who most of the supporting characters were.  This time I still had everyone in mind and could draw all the connections between books.

Along with familiar faces, there were delightful new characters too.  Marianne Pinhoe is our second major character, alongside Cat.  She has some parallels to Cat in the first book, actually, as someone with strong magic who has never fully realized it.  She’s less passive than Cat was, and spends much of the book trying to deal with problems no one else seems to be able to see.

The Pinhoes en masse (and especially Gammer Pinhoe) are a wonderful group, mixing humor deftly with much more sinister undertones.  They form an interesting contrast to the spell families in The Magicians of Caprona.  In both cases we have a busy, clannish family, full of aunts and uncles, fiercely proud of their magic and having an uncanny ability to know what’s going on with family members.  There, however, the Montanas clearly care about their young family members and want to protect, teach and encourage them.  The Pinhoes seem largely bent on stifling Marianne, or at least forcing her into the mold they consider appropriate.  Parents often come off very badly in Jones’ books, and this is a definite case where that happens.

But even with some sinister undertones, there are still hilarious incidents of magical mayhem, including a runaway kitchen table that rampages through town…

If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that I had to suspend disbelief on one of the central plot points.  The Pinhoes are supposed to be practicing magic secretly–and yet they seem to be very bad at hiding anything.  They’re practically on Chrestomanci’s doorstep, they fly around on brooms, and a cursed table runs down Main Street.  I honestly don’t know how Chrestomanci managed to not notice them.  Possibly they were only keeping their particular method of magic secret, not the fact of doing magic in general…but if that was the point, it wasn’t clear to me.  However…the rest of the book is so good that I’m willing to just run with that one idea and not ask too many questions!

So now that I’m at the end of my chronological reread, I do have some thoughts on reading order!  I think there’s actually a lot of room for flexibility, but the books can generally be looked at in pairs.  Charmed Life and The Pinhoe Egg; and The Lives of Christopher Chant and Conrad’s Fate each pair together and should be read in order–although you could make a case for reading either pair first!  Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona are much more removed from the series and could be read at any point, although probably not first.  And the short stories in Mixed Magics really are best when read in connection to their relative books (see review for details!)

Got all that?  🙂  Maybe the real conclusion here is that it doesn’t matter all that much which order these are read in…because they’re just wonderful books anyway!  My favorites are chronologically at the beginning and the end, The Lives of Christopher Chant and The Pinhoe Egg, but every installment is excellent!

Author’s Site: http://dianawynnejones.com/

Other reviews:
A Journey Through Pages
Charlotte’s Library
Taking a Break
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Pinhoe Egg