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