Diana Wynne Jones is best known for her quirky books that combine magic with realistic, everyday people dealing with the problems that magic creates. Though some take place in parallel worlds, the general atmosphere of these books are contemporary and firmly grounded in reality. However, Cart and Cwidder is the first book in THE DALEMARK QUARTET that follows the more generic pattern of fantasy (war in a created world) — making it unique in Diana Wynne Jones’s canon of books, but a typical inclusion to the range of fantasy novels.
Due to the conflict between north and south countries in the land of Dalemark, very few travellers move between them, with the exception of licensed musicians in their horse-drawn carts, entertaining the crowds wherever they stop. Dagner, Moril and Brid are the children of the singer Clennen and Lenina who are perfectly content to travel the lands, singing and passing on news across the lands. But then Moril’s parents take on a new passenger named Kialan whom immediately rubs Moril up the wrong way. Between constant bickering, the three siblings, their parents and Kialan make their way northwards, but soon tragedy strikes and the four children are thrown into a series of chaotic and dangerous events. Inheriting the largest, oldest cwidder in the cart, Moril soon learns that it contains immense power, and with hostile forces closing in around them and Kialan’s hidden identity revealed, Moril must learn to use this power in order to save him and the north.
No book by Diana Wynne Jones could ever be truly bad, but Cart and Cwidder is certainly not the top of her game. Though it contains the same thoughtful commentary on human behaviour and clever twists, but it lacks the sparkle and wit of her many other books. The characters are not quite as vivid and interesting as the likes of Chrestomanci and Howl, and the story not quite as intriguing as those found in The Power of Three and Black Maria.
Yet for all of this, Cart and Cwidder is a worthwhile read if you have the next three volumes on hand, for the way in which DWJ has created this series is immensely interesting (each one has a different situation and set of characters, yet are intricately connected).
The Dalemark Quartet — (1975-1993) Young Adult. The first omnibus edtion contains Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet. The second contains The Spellcoats and The Crown of Dalemark. Publisher: It is a country divided by war. For centuries, the earldoms of the North and South have battled. Now, four young people from different times — with the help of their mysterious gods, the Undying — must unite to save their beloved land. Traveling musician Moril has inherited a cwidder said to have belonged to one of the Undying. Can he learn to harness its strange powers in time to prevent an invasion? To avenge his father’s death, Mitt has joined a plot to assassinate the tyrannical Earl Hadd. But when everything goes wrong, he finds himself on a storm-tossed sea in a boat with his enemies.