Thursday, February 28, 2008

D. W. J., part 1

Uff da. This could be the longest blog post ever. To prevent that, I'm going to break it up into digestible chunks, starting with...

The Chrestomanci Series
by Diana Wynne Jones

The Chrestomanci novels (1977 ff.) are set in a sort of parallel world where there isn't quite as much technological advancement as in ours. For instance, only the very rich drive automobiles, and no one has even heard of airplanes. There are also differences in history (the French won at Agincourt, and the King of England is called Charles VII - there were no Georges), as well as geography (America is called Atlantis and ruled by the Incas; Italy is still divided into independent duchies). There is a great deal more magic in this world than in ours, with wizards and necromancers and enchanters and sorcerers and warlocks and witches and all the rest - though not as much as in other worlds; it doesn't have elves or dragons or such like.

The common link between the four stories is the enchanter known as Chrestomanci, which is a title, rather than a name. Chrestomanci lives in a beautiful castle, and is employed by the government to protect the "multiverse" from the misuse of magic. Among the rare powers that fits him for his job, is that he possesses nine lives, because in the ninefold worlds of his particular chain of worlds, he has no parallel self as most people do. In the Chrestomanci books, this special enchanter is confronted with a variety of challenges to the magical status quo: such as an overambitious young witch, a feud between rival houses of spellmakers, a ring of magical smugglers, and an impossible world in which almost everyone is a witch but, at the same time, all witches are required by law to be burned.

Enjoy the books in any order. They are reviewed below in their order of publication.

Charmed Life
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 10+

The hero of the first Chrestomanci novel is a very nice little boy named Cat, whose actual name is Eric Chant. He and his older sister Gwendolen are suddenly orphans, thanks to a horrendous steamboat accident that killed a lot of people. They survived because, as Cat has always known, his sister is a witch, and witches can't drown, and just as the boat sank he wrapped his arms around her and hung on.

At first they are cared for by a witch named Mrs. Sharp, who has minor criminal tendencies but is basically a loving soul, at least where Cat is concerned. Their needs are supplied by a trust fund set up by the kind townspeople. Then, after Gwendolen shows remarkable skill at magic while taking lessons from a neighboring necromancer (Mr. Nostrum), both children have their fortunes told. Cat didn't want to know his and can't make heads or tails of it anyway. Gwendolen, on the other hand, becomes convinced that her destiny is to rule the world, and writes a letter to Chrestomanci - an enchanter of awesome power and prestige - who takes both children to his castle and puts them in school with his own children, Roger and Julia.

Now to understand what happens, you have to realize that Gwendolen is a very ambitious young witch, and she is driven to desperation by Chrestomanci's determination to ignore her talents and to prevent her from studying magic. Cat, on the other hand, seems completely unmagical, just a nice little boy who clings to his big sister a bit too much. Gwendolen's frustration, the enmity of Julia and Roger, and the icy indifference of Chrestomanci, build to what I think is the turning point of the story, when Gwendolen does something so bad that she gets spanked with a boot, and Cat gets slapped about the face for not doing anything to stop her.

Then Gwendolen's magic powers are taken from her. Cat retires to his bed that night, Gwendolen's vows of revenge ringing in his ears... and when he wakes up the next morning, his sister has gone and a nearly identical girl named Jane, from another world (ours, maybe), has taken her place. Jane is as bewildered about this as Cat is. It seems Gwendolen's last revenge was to flee into another universe, causing her parallel selves to be similarly moved along in a sort of quantum chain reaction. Now Cat has to help Jane adjust to living in a world utterly strange to her, cover up the fact that she isn't Gwendolen, and cover up the fact that he can't do magic when Chrestomanci promises to start giving him magic lessons, all of which is hard enough without bearing the consequences of the things Gwendolen set in motion before she left.

Not till the end of the book do you fully realize just how ill Gwendolen has used her poor devoted brother. In fact, what Cat must go through is quite hearbreaking, until he fully has the measure of his sister.

Cat is a lovable character, and you can't help feeling an urgent interest in his destiny as he gets caught up in scarier and tougher adventures. Somehow I was reminded of one of Dickens' brave little waif heroes, like Paul Dombey or Oliver Twist - with a touch of Harry Potter. With lots of magic, humor, suspense, and adorable characters, his story is quite a page turner.

The Magicians of Caprona
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 10+

In the second Chrestomanci novel, cats once again have a pivotal role. In the first book (Charmed Life) there was not only a character named Cat (and there were reasons for that), but also a real cat that ended up being very important. In this novel, a big, old, battle-scarred, mean cat, boss of the cats in the Casa Montana, is a major player in the plot.

Now suppose Italy is still made up of a bunch of city-states or duchies, and one of them is Caprona. And suppose Caprona is world-famous for the quality of the spells you can buy there, spells for any purpose from growing tomatoes to fighting wars. And suppose the two great spell-houses of the city are feuding families, the Montanas and the Petrocchis. Each one thinks the other is scum, capable of the blackest evil. They are about evenly matched in terms of magical ability, and they are both called upon to defend their city when danger threatens. But they seem more interested in fighting each other than a common enemy. Sort of like Capulets and Montagues, only with spells.

Now suppose the leader of Casa Montana is Old Niccolo, and his oldest son Antonio is next in line to run the show. And suppose Antonio has three daughters and two sons, and the youngest of all is Tonino - who, in spite of being a voracious reader, is a very slow learner, both in school and in spells. But suppose that Tonino is the only person besides Old Niccolo who can talk to cats, and cats are important for a lot of spells. Moreover, the boss cat of the Montana compound (name of Benvenuto) prefers Tonino's company to Old Niccolo's or anyone else's. This makes slow, young Tonino quite important. Never mind that this is an Italian family - a HUGE Italian family - and they look out for their own, regardless.

War seems to be creeping up on Caprona. The neighboring states of Pisa, Siena, and Florence want to take turns taking bites out of Caprona until there is none left. The English archwizard Chrestomanci is concerned. The Duke seems to be a booby. Things are going downhill so fast that spells may not be able to save Caprona - and worst of all, the spells of Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi seem to be losing strength.

Some say there's another enchanter abroad, interfering with Caprona's destiny. Most say that the only thing that can save Caprona is for the citizens to find out what were the original words to the song that, legend says, an angel gave them long ago, to defend the city. They have the music, but the words aren't quite right, and no one can remember the right ones. And while danger grows, the two Houses are duking it out in the streets.

The one-on-one duel between Antonio Montana and Guido Petrocchi is not to be missed! DWJ is indeed a master of inventing wizard duels!

Also, a couple of star-crossed lovers are trying to deceive both of their families. A couple of younger, not-so-star-crossed kids are trying to make both their families see the truth. And the most important children from both families - including Tonino and a bright Petrocchi girl whose spells never come out quite as planned - have been kidnapped by the evil enchanter who has been manipulating the whole situation from the very beginning. It doesn't look like she'll ever let them go alive.

The result is an adventure full of Punch and Judy puppets (that's a surprisingly scary part), flying iron griffins, children scaling the dome of a cathedral, cats trying to communicate with people, and grown men turning each other into giant tomatoes. And once again, the hero is a sweet, simple little boy who unexpectedly finds courage and power within himself. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Witch Week
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 10+

The third Chrestomanci novel takes place in a different world from the first two, a world pretty much exactly like our modern world, except for two dangerously unbalanced facts: (1) almost everyone is a witch, and can't help being that way from about age 11 onward, and (2) witchcraft is punishable by death at the stake, and an inquisition goes around catching anyone who has been denounced as a witch, torturing confessions out of them, and burning them all the time. So basically, everyone lives in mortal fear, and it seems that most witch burnings happen because witches turn on each other to protect themselves. It's horrible.

Now the story takes place in a co√ęd boarding school where, in a certain 6th grade class, several students realize at about the same time that they are witches. What they do with the knowledge varies with their personality, life experiences, and position in the classroom's savage pecking order. But they are all in terrible danger. Finally things become so desperate that they end up summoning the debonair enchanter Chrestomanci out of his own world, where he diagnoses the root of the problem: their world should not even exist. It simply isn't possible. Something has to be done to restore reality to its correct parameters, but what it will take is the limits of Chrestomanci's powers, the cooperation of a group of 6th graders who hate each other's guts, and a big stroke of luck!

It's another suspenseful and magical story, full of humor and well-drawn characters, and featuring such high jinks as a magically enhanced game of Simon Says, a rain of shoes, a broomstick that behaves like a dog, and a breathtakingly funny scene in which a girl can't stop herself from commenting on the food, at gruesome length, during a formal luncheon.

You'll just have to do your own best to picture the five children who summon Chrestomanci - including a girl in jodhpurs, a hard cap, and a riding crop; a girl in a puffy pink dress with frills and ballet slippers; and two boys who have ridden cross-country on a hoe and a mop, wearing nothing but football cleats and the sort of "little blue gym shorts" they used to wear in the 1980's (they were skiving off P.E.). They must have been quite a sight, and it's no wonder they spend most of their time trying to hide behind each other.

I saw the solution to the story coming, but I liked it anyway, and I especially loved the scene in which "Simon Says" runs his mouth off in geography class. The different viewpoints of the students are interestingly captured, a couple of times, by showing their contrasting entries in a journal they are supposed to write in. And it's also clear that someone worked hard picking the historical figures that each of the students named in turn. One that almost slipped by me without being noticed was the mention of Galileo being executed, which didn't happen in our universe. And by the way, the title refers to the week between Halloween (Oct 31) and Bonfire Night a.k.a. Guy Fawkes Day (Nov 5), which is sort of like the British "fourth of July."

The Lives of Christopher Chant
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 10+

The fourth novel in the Chrestomanci series was published several years after the first three books, but takes places about 25 years before the events in those books. It's basically about how the character we have come to know as the Chrestomanci became the Chrestomanci. (Chrestomanci, after all, is a title, not a name.)

It all started with a little boy named Christopher Chant, who was a disappointment to his family of powerful enchanters and sorceresses because he couldn't seem to do magic, until one of his uncles discovered that he could travel in spirit to other worlds (in his dreams) and return with solid objects from those worlds. In due course it also turns out that he has nine lives and that, when he has no pieces of silver on his person, he is actually a very powerful enchanter.

In fact, being a nine-lived enchanter is a rare gift that entitles him to be the Chrestomanci, or keeper of the world's magic. The current Chrestomanci is an old man named Gabriel de Witt who still has eight of his lives, and is understandably dismayed to see his heir apparent burning through one life after another in a ridiculously swift manner. Young Christopher's hopes of living to be Chrestomanci himself are hampered by a conspiracy to smuggle illegal magical products out of other worlds, a conspiracy in which Christopher unwittingly finds himself at the very center. And then there's the fact that he befriends the living avatar of a very vindictive goddess from another world. And nothing is helped by the fact that, after a single brief taste of happiness in a real school with real friends, Christopher is miserable and resentful about being shut up in Chrestomanci castle where there is no one his age and no one seems to have time for him.

As the manhunt for the wicked smuggler known as the Wraith draws to its climax, and the fate of both the present and future Chrestomanci's lives hang by a thread, and a deadly cruel sort of Elven King gets involved, the fact that Christopher is getting toward the end of his supply of lives begins to tell. The climax is fraught with danger, betrayal, redemption, and excitement.

The book ties up some threads that were left hanging at the end of Charmed Life, filling in details that surely every Chrestomanci fan would want to know. It gives glimpses of the parents of Cat and Gwendolen (long before there was a Cat or Gwendolen), it shows the beginning of the relationship between the great enchanter and his future wife, and it shows just how a lonely little boy evolves into the debonair man with the infuriatingly closed-off expression on his face. And though the Chrestomanci-to-be really is the main character in this story, you still see (as in the previous three books) an adventure in which the real hero is not the great enchanter but a child who is still learning to control his magical powers.

Conrad's Fate
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 12+

This fifth book in the Chrestomanci series is finally in paperback, but before I talk about it, I feel a need to mention a movie based on a completely different book by Diana Wynne Jones. It's called Howl’s Moving Castle, and it was originally made in Japanese. The English-dubbed version features the voice talent of Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal. It takes some liberties with Jones’ wonderful book, and at times the animation is a bit pedestrian, but the scenery is gorgeous and it is still a phenomenal love story. Try it and see if you like it.

Now to the book, where we find Christopher Chant (who was a grown-up in the other books except The Lives of Christopher Chant) as a teenager, visiting a strange, not-quite-parallel world where Britain is attached to the continent of Europe, has alps, and is troubled by a Count who keeps “pulling the probabilities” (i.e., fiddling with reality) to keep his cash flow going. Among those who want to do something about it is a local boy named Conrad, who believes that he has bad karma from a previous life and that he needs to kill someone up at Stallery Mansion (where the Count lives) in order to expiate his evil fate.

Both Conrad and Christopher get taken on as valets-in-training at Stallery, though each of them has his own secret agenda. Nevertheless, the two lads become friendly rivals and try to help each other. Christopher’s problem has something to do with an interdimensional gateway that leads, at different times, to any one of several parallel worlds – and the girl he loves is stuck in one of them. Conrad’s problem – his real one, that is – turns out to be closer to home than he thought. But the changes in reality will become more frequent and disruptive, until the servants are all convinced that the mansion is haunted, and a houseful of guests is stunned by the sudden and truly unexpected explanation of the whole, complicated mystery.

Diana Wynne Jones has once again woven a remarkable mix of magic into one engaging and surprising tale. Fraught with supernatural menace, spiritual dread, romantic melodrama, sci-fi weirdness, and class politics, it is above all a quirky, teen-fantasy take on Gosford Park with its above- and below-stairs high-jinks, criminal mischief, and desperate loves above and below one’s station.

The Pinhoe Egg
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: Age: 12+

In the countryside all around Chrestomanci Castle lie villages crammed with "dwimmer" people - bush witches and wizards who take pains to keep the "big man" out of their business, and to protect their turf like so many feuding clans. But a long-standing, evil conspiracy has become frayed at the edges, and the simmering hostilities between the Farleighs and Pinhoes boil over into a magical war right under the Chrestomanci's nose.

And who would be at the center of all these goings-on, except the innocent but seriously powerful enchanter, Eric Chant, who lives under the Chrestomanci's protection; Marianne Pinhoe, adolescent heir to her clan's Gammer, who doesn't know her own power; and an egg, long sheltered under cobwebs and spells in Gammer Pinhoe's attic, now about to hatch and to break open a lot of secrets into the bargain.

Fans of The Chrestomanci Chronicles will be pleased by this book in which D.W.J. appears in full possession of her powers. Magical creature spotters will be tickled by the creature that comes out of the egg, and Arthur Weasley types will enjoy the wizard's perspective on how to invent a flying machine. With its multitude of quirky characters and their bizarre agendas, this book has plenty of fun for anyone.

Cart and Cwidder
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 12+

The Dalemark Quartet begins with this exciting, sad, scary, and endearing tale that weaves music and magic together. The setting is the imaginary kingdom of Dalemark, which has long been without a king and divided into earldoms. More than that, the earldoms of the north are divided from those in the south, both by a barrier of mountains and by political enmity.

Among the few who can cross between them are a flamboyant singer and storyteller named Clennen and his musically gifted family. They travel from north to south and back again, year after year, entertaining the townspeople along the way for a living, and also delivering messages and carrying passengers in their gaily painted, horse-drawn cart. Among the instruments they play is the lute-like cwidder... and Clennen's own cwidder seems to have been passed down from Osfameron himself, the immortal minstrel of the age of legend.

Clennen's wife is Lenina, the niece of a southern earl whose heart Clennen captured with his singing. They have three children: shy, creative Dagner, who writes interesting new songs; brassy, strong-willed Brid, who in her costume looks older than her thirteen years; and dreamy, eleven-year-old Moril, who observes more than most people realize from behind his sleepy-looking eyelids. As the story opens, they are traveling from the southern end of Dalemark toward the north, carrying news through the realms of the paranoid, tyrranical southern earls-- including news of a shipload of men from the free, merry northern lands, who were captured in the south.

Along the way they pick up a passenger - a sullen, "fed-up"-looking youth named Kialan, whose presence creates stresses within Clennen's family. But at that point, things start happening fast. Before Moril knows what's going on, his father has been murdered before his eyes, his mother has given herself in marriage to a southern lord, and he, Dagner, Brid, and Kialan are making their way northward in their cart, trying to eke out a living with only a fragment of their old ensemble.

Worse trouble is in store yet. Dagner gets arrested as a spy. Moril learns the surprising truth about his late father, and about Kiaran - who must get to the north, as the south is full of deadly danger to him. And the powerful cwidder of Osfameron has fallen to Moril, who must come to know himself truly before he can use its power. Meanwhile the three youngsters are pursued... hunted... captured...

The adventure is gripping. Moril's inward reflections are interesting. His family relationships are both heartbreaking and heartwarming. And the musical spells he weaves grow more and more magical, powerful, and thrilling. Here is a tale full of song, full of history, and full of imagination. I predict that if you read it, you will be hooked on the Dalemark series for the duration!

Drowned Ammet
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 12+

The second book of the Dalemark Quartet weaves together the life story of a "common as dirt" kid named Mitt (short for Alhammitt, the commonest name in the Southern earldom of Holand) with that of strong-willed, fierce-tempered Hildrida and her sweet brother Ynen, neglected grandchildren of Holand's cruel and despotic Earl Hadd. And by the end of the story, these children from such widely different backgrounds share a powerful destiny...

Mitt's story is rather sad. Born to laughing parents who were doing rather well as tenant farmers in the reclaimed lowlands near Holand, Hadd's punishing taxes and vindictive servants have driven them off their land and into a squalid waterfront tenement, where their lives become increasingly bitter. Mitt's father joins a revolutionary group and, after someone informs on them the night of a big sabotage operation, never returns. Mitt's mother squanders her own wages as well as some of her son's (he becomes a fisherman's apprentice) so that they can hardly get enough to eat. And together they plot revenge against the people who they believe betrayed Mitt's father to his death.

The result is that, when Earl Hadd parades down to the docks, carrying the effigy of wheat called Poor Old Ammet, to throw it into the harbor at the annual Autumn Sea Festival, Mitt is there with a disguise and a bomb. But Hadd's third son Navis steps forward and spoils Mitt's plans to avenge his father... and then, moments later, an unknown sharpshooter kills Hadd with a bullet! Suddenly finding himself on the run, confused and disillusioned, Mitt tries to hide in the hold of a yacht called Wind's Road.

But Wind's Road belongs to Navis' children, Hildy and Ynen. They have grown up in Hadd's palace, neglected by their cold and idle father (who is said to still be in mourning for their mother), and all too aware of the cruelty of their grandfather and their two uncles, Harl and Harchad. All the Earl's granddaughters, including Hildy, have been betrothed to other lords, by way of cementing political alliances. But the Earl has no use for his grandsons (like Ynen), and all Hildy and Ynen can get out of Navis is a pleasure boat for them to learn to sail in.

The day their grandfather is assassinated, Hildy and Ynen decide to rebel and run away for an illicit cruise on Wind's Road. They don't even realize that, in the wake of Hadd's death, the earl's three sons are fighting over the succession, and that their uncles would as soon kill them as the person who killed the old Earl. Nor do they realize that the boy who attempted to blow him up is armed and hiding on board.

What begins as a hostage situation, however, gradually turns into a friendship as the three children sail through a terrific storm, aided by the presence of a couple of "lucky" effigies that are actually connected to the forgotten gods of old. Then they rescue a man from a storm-tossed boat, a man who turns out to be their worst nightmare. How they survive him, and the people he works for, makes up the balance of this suspenseful, exciting tale.

Meanwhile, all three children do a lot of soul-searching, and they learn to understand each other - and themselves - enough to save Navis, do wonders with the help of the gods (informally known as Old Ammet and Libby Beer), and bring hope to the Holy Isles.

The Spellcoats
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 12+

The third book in the Dalemark Quartet takes us back to the prehistory of Dalemark, when narratives (and spells) were woven, not written. The weaver telling this tale is a girl named Tanaqui, who lives on the banks of a great river with her father, her older sister Robin, older brothers Gull and Hern, and her younger brother Mallard (usually called by his baby-name, Duck). The children are all dark-skinned and fair-haired, the very opposite of everyone else they know, and instead of worshiping the River like their neighbors, they believe in the Undying - of which three are in their home, in the form of stone or wooden effigies.

Now it comes about that a race of Heathens - dark-skinned and light-haired, like the children - are invading the land, and in the wars that follow, the children's father is killed and their oldest brother, Gull, comes back not quite right in the head. The Heathens have defeated them with the aid of powerful mages, and the river is acting funny, and disease is going around, and the villagers are blaming the children - whom they believe are in league with the Heathens, or else just plain bad luck. Finally, when a great flood comes down the river, the children escape in a boat just ahead of an angry mob seeking to kill them.

But their greatest dangers and adventures lie ahead, as Kankredin, the "mage of mages," is collecting souls looking for ones that can give him a direct line to the Undying - and thus, have the whole country under his evil power. And to begin with, he has a hold on Gull and is trying to steal his soul. The children flee frantically through a dangerous landscape, where their own people see them and think they are the enemy, and they themselves fear and hate the invading Heathens.

But they encounter a mysterious being named Tanamil... they get help from the Undying, who are (in an intriguing way) man-made idols, forces of nature, and people all at the same time... and they confront Kankredin and escape from his clutches... and the children learn about who their parents really are, and discover gifts they did not know they had... and they realize what must be done to stop Kankredin from destroying their whole world and enslaving everybody for all eternity.

It won't be easy, though. It means two enemy nations must unite against a common enemy. It means a great power, long bound and dormant, must be set free. And it means Tanaqui must come to terms with the magical power she weaves into the fabric of her own story - into the spellcoats.

This is a brilliantly imagined, exciting and powerful story, and a testimony to the multi-dimensioned detail of the world Ms. Jones has created. The Dalemark Quartet's themes of young people searching within themselves to understand their own amazing powers, and of the ancient Undying doing their part to help in the form of legends, charms, and household gods that come to life, is as fascinating as the deep sense of history, geography, and folklore that fill that fascinating, imaginary country.

The Spellcoats has the intimacy of a family drama, the sweeping power of an ancient epic, the gritty realism of an ancient tale of war, and the colorful vistas of a travel story up and down a great river, and a really cool depiction of mythic/fairy-tale magic. It builds and builds to a climax that is delayed until so close to the end, with such a minimum of "what comes afterward," that I doubt any book could equal it without leaving the ending unresolved. And all of it, apparently, fits in the weave of two intricately-worked spellcoats. Come on, wrap yourself up in it!

The Crown of Dalemark
by Diana Wynne Jones
Recommended Age: 12+

The fourth and longest book in the Dalemark Quartet brings together characters and plot threads from the first three books, along with a girl sent back in time from something like our present-day world. A pivotal point in Dalemark's history is at hand, and a lot of very powerful people are willing to do whatever it takes to make it turn they way they want it to... while a powerful immortal with a grudge tries to change the course of history.

Maewen is the modern girl, thrust into the role of Noreth - a young woman who believes the One, the greatest of the Undying, is her father, and that she is destined to be the Queen who restores the monarchy and unites her fragmented country. So Noreth rides off on the magical Green Road in search of the Gifts of Adon (a ring, a cup, and a sword) and the Crown of Dalemark. Or rather, Maewen rides, because something has mysteriously happened to Noreth, and a concerned immortal sends Maewen back 200 years to fill Noreth's place.

So Maewen begins her impostor's journey surrounded by people she knows, at best, as ancient historical figures - people she barely understands, and she does not know who to trust. There is the red-headed singer Moril (see Cart and Cwidder) and his schoolmasterish colleague Hestefan, the one bitterly hating anyone and anything to do with the South, the other nursing grudges of his own. There is southern refugee and ex-criminal Mitt (see Drowned Ammett), who is disillusioned with the north, now that a northern Earl is blackmailing him to murder Noreth (I mean, Maewen). There is Navis, another southern refugee, son of the late and nasty Earl Hadd of Holand, who is always hard to read and who has his own loyalties and agenda. And there is Wend, the Undying who (in the future) sent Maewen into the past, but who seems as mysterious as the mystery he is trying to solve.

Together this group travels the royal road toward the ruins of the once-and-future royal city, stopping for perilous adventures along the way as they find the Adon's Gifts, build a larger following, establish relationships of love, friendship, and trust, and put the proper crown on the proper head in the middle of a climactic battle. But even that isn't the end, for a last confrontation with the evil mage Kankredin (see The Spellcoats) is in store for Maewen's time in history...

This is the deepest, most intricately detailed, and most exciting of the Dalemark books, and that's saying a lot. It is full of intrigue, betrayal, mystery, and horror, not to mention powerful magic, divine intervention, friendship, romance, humor, heartbreak, adventure, prophecies fulfilled, and a gelding horse named Countess, who bites. It has a love story that spans centuries, and a plot that weaves together characters from Dalemark's past, present, and future. It also has a huge glossary of the terms, people, and places of the Quartet, including some things that you may have had to guess at in previous books (and also, showing how thoroughly Ms. Jones prepared before writing this monumental series).

But most importantly, it is an entertaining book, beautifully written, like most of the author's books that I have read. Here's a sentence that stuck in my mind: "He was like a candle seen through tears." It's just neat stuff! Don't let the forbidding cover design or the weird titles put you off. You will enjoy these books

IMAGES: Besides the book covers, stills from Howl's Moving Castle and photos of Diana Wynne Jones at different times of her life.

No comments: