Rereading: CART & CWIDDER by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover art by Geoff Taylor

This early work by Jones is the first of four books in the Dalemark Quartet, published in 1975.

Clennen and his family earn their living as traveling entertainers, taking their horse-drawn caravan from town to town in both the north and south parts of Dalemark, one of the few allowed free travel between those warring sides of a fractured nation. Clennen is a talented showman, singer, and storyteller, and in addition to entertainment, he brings news to each town, and sometimes carries passengers like young Kialen, who can find no other way to travel. Clennen’s wife is Lenina, won from a noble house by his singing, and she does most of the work to keep the family fed and clean. The eldest son, Dagner, has is own quiet talent for song-writing, but he’s also very shy and a reluctant performer. Daughter Brid is more outgoing, but not as talented as she thinks she is. Then there’s Moril, the youngest son, his head often full of daydreams. Clennen feels Moril is the most talented of his children, but Moril doesn’t see it that way. He’d rather be in the background.

The family is traveling north with Kialen as their passenger when tragedy strikes, and Clennen is killed by a band of armed men. Moril doesn’t know why, but his mother soon takes them back to the castle where she grew up, and revives the romance Clennen took her away from with the local ruler, Ganner. Before long, the children learn she plans to marry him, and they go off on their own in the cart to continue the life of traveling musicians they all love. But it proves to be far harder than they expect, especially when oldest son Dagner is arrested for treason.

Fine writing, and this book is not as predictable as many of the author’s later works. Unlike most of those, the magic in the story is subtle and hard to notice until gradually gaining importance by the end, this is more of an adventure and coming of age story in a medieval-style fantasy setting. Recommended.

Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones

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