Rereading: THE SPELLCOATS by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover art by Geoff Taylor

The third book of the Dalemark quartet focuses on a family living in the riverside town of Shelling, and it’s narrated or “woven” by the younger daughter Tanaqui. The family’s mother has passed, and their father works hard to support his children, the eldest son Gull, older daughter Robin, second son Hern, and youngest son Duck. Then news comes of a war with invaders, and father and Gull are conscripted to fight. Father does not return from the war, and Gull comes back broken in mind. Somehow everyone blames Tanaqui’s family for their troubles, and when the river floods, they must pack their sailing boat and take to the raging flood to escape the anger of their neighbors.

Many strange things happen to the family on their travels. They find unexpected help, and also new enemies by the time they reach the sea, where a powerful mage, Kankredin, is trying to destroy the very river itself. They also meet the leaders of their own people and the invaders, and all those factions seem to know that Tanaqui and her family possess great power they don’t even understand themselves. But can it be used to save the people and the river from the spells of Kankredin?

These stories are among my favorites by Jones, first because they are full of surprises and wonderful ideas and characters, and second because the magic in them is subtle at first, and then is gradually revealed in its full power and importance. Recommended.

The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones

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