Friday, January 22, 2016

Book Review: The Dalemark Quartet

For some reason, I didn't discover the wonder that is Diana Wynne Jones until my twenties. My first book of hers was Howl's Moving Castle (which I adored, obviously), and I went on to devour the Chrestomanci novels, Fire and Hemlock, and a handful of others. (I fully intend to read all of her books—I haven't yet, though, as I enjoy discovering them in stages and because it will be super tragic when there aren't any left.)

On one of my DWJ kicks circa 2006 or so, I started reading the Dalemark Quartet, and partway through got distracted and had to return them to the library unfinished. This past fall in two different used bookshops I found matching versions of the Quartet broken up into two volumes, and took this as a sign it was time to read them for real!! And so I did!


The genius of these books is that the first three are set in the same world and reference the same landscapes and mythology, mostly centering around the god-like figures known as the Undying. CART AND CWIDDER and DROWNED AMMET are set in the same time but follow two completely different heroes. THE SPELLCOATS dips back into Dalemark's prehistory. THE CROWN OF DALEMARK brilliantly ties the threads of the previous three stories together, whilst adding the additional element of time travel. You guys, it's NUTS. Amazingly, marvelously, beautifully NUTS.

But I'll try and make more sense here.

CART AND CWIDDER follows Moril, the youngest son of a family of traveling Singers. He inherits his father's cwidder (a lute-like instrument), which is supposed to have belonged to one of the Undying, a famous ancestor who used the cwidder to move mountains (among other things). Moril finds himself caught up in the North/South conflict that plagues the country of Dalemark. Includes: siblings. music. tragedy. magic.

DROWNED AMMET follows a new character, Mitt, who lives in the South and throws his lot in with a bunch of misguided wannabe revolutionaries who are unhappy under the rule of the (admittedly extremely terrible) Earl Hadd. He winds up in a boat with two grandchildren of that very Earl, and the three have adventures at sea including encounters with two of the mysterious Undying: Old Ammet and Libby Beer.

THE SPELLCOATS, as previously mentioned, takes us into Dalemark's prehistory, and is told using a super interesting story-device: the protagonist, Tanaqui, is weaving the story into two rugcoats. This book follows a rambunctious and stunningly-characterized group of five siblings on their journey down an ancient river. It sheds more light on the mysterious Undying—even explaining a few of their origins—and introduces the evil, undead mage Krankredin. This is the only book written in first person and it definitely feels very different from the first two.

THE CROWN OF DALEMARK is the culmination of the first three books. It rejoins Mitt, who eventually meets up with Moril (hooray!!) as they journey with a group of people following Noreth, a young lady who claims to be the daughter of the oldest of the Undying, the One, and therefore the rightful heir to the long-absent crown. Flash-forward to two hundred years later, and we're introduced to Maewen, a lovely freckled and thoughtful heroine who gets sent back in time to take Noreth's place on the journey to find the crown. There's a twist near the end that for some reason I wasn't expecting but I dearly, dearly loved (and found was completely perfect when I thought back on the story). The way DWJ ties everything together is brilliant and satisfying. It makes you go oh!!!! and want to scramble back to the beginning of the series with your pencil so you can underline everything that you didn't know was important!

This series probably isn't for everyone. DWJ definitely doesn't spell everything out for you—it gets confusing at times, and you have to sit and ponder for a bit to reconcile all her threads you think at first she's left to dangle. As I've grown used to with her books, her endings are never quite ENOUGH. She seems to end two scenes too soon, which make her stories linger on in your mind in a way I don't think they would if she gave her readers just a little more. CROWN definitely had more of an ending than the first three, but it still left me desperate for a fifth volume that doesn't exist. The world she created in Dalemark is so rich and deep—so much only hinted at, so much life teeming under the surface. These books are brilliant and thought-provoking, tragic and deep and funny too. Highly recommended if you don't mind a bit of a think!

Which reminds me…… it's definitely time to reread the Chrestomanci series…

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016 GOALS!

Hi all! A little late for a New Year post, but we're not quite halfway through January yet, so I think it should still count. :-)

Here are a few of my goals for 2016:

READ! I've set myself a 30-book reading challenge on GoodReads, which certainly doesn't seem like a lot compared to most people, but it should fit in with my READ ALL THE THINGS BINGE-FULLY THEN DON'T READ ANYTHING FOR WEEKS type of reading habits (anyone else like that?). 
WRITE. Hopefully I can finish my current project soon and move on to something new! Very excited about exploring lots of stories this year! 
MOVE. Aaron and I are saving up to buy a house this year!! 
TRAVEL. I don't have any trips planned so far, but hopefully one or two will emerge! 
GET A NEW BOOKSHELF. I have no roooooooooooom!

So there you have it! Nothing too earth-shattering, although I will admit I have a secret goal that I'm not sharing unless/until it actually happens. :-)

Happy 2016, everyone! Go forth and be WONDERFUL.