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