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The Crown of Dalemark

Reviewed: October 17, 2003
By: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: Oxford University Press
346 pages, $18.95

There are series where it is possible to drop into the story anywhere you like and miss very little. The Dalemark Quartet is not one of them. The three earlier books (Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, and The Spellcoats) were all over the place in space and time, with the first two books giving us two sets of interesting characters to follow and the third book dipping back in time to investigate the mythological underpinnings of Dalemark.

Indeed, when I read them, I was recall being slightly annoyed that the third book contained not the slightest trace of either Moril (the musician/magician from the first book) nor Mitt (the unlucky revolutionary of the second). I couldnít even be certain that these two were living in the same general time period

One thing that was certain about the third book was that it was set in a different time completely, way back before anything like the city-states in the other books had come into being. There was lots of action and some degree of magic in each of the earlier books, but The Spellcoat was saturated with it.

The Crown of Dalemark appears to pick up just a short time after Drowned Ammet left off, with Mitt in trouble again, even if he is in the Northern kingdom this time. The earl and countess who have taken him in know his background, know that he once participated in an assassination plot, and they extort from him a promise to kill a young woman about whom they are concerned. This Noreth is a Joan of Arc sort of character who believes she is destined to bring together the most sacred talismans in the realm (a ring, cup and sword) and use them to unify the land.

Maddeningly, we leave Mitt in that quandary after about 45 pages and suddenly find ourselves catapulted 200 years into Dalemarkís future, where we meet a 13 year old girl named Maewen (actually Mayelbridwen - full names matter a lot in these books) Singer who is in the process of being shuffled back and forth between her somewhat estranged parents. In what we quickly recognize as a set-up for a time-slip novel, Maewen explores the castle in which her father is living and working, meets a rather odd head of security, handles a precious antique - and finds herself dropping two centuries into the past, where everyone mistakes her for Noreth, who seems to have gone missing. Worse still, she starts hearing the same voices that Noreth claimed to have heard, and feels herself bound to take on the same mission.

Very soon, most of the major characters from the first two books end up linked to her quest and the process of retrieving the talismans begins. Maewen, like just about all characters trapped in situations like this, rapidly begins to wish she had paid more attention in history class, so she could figure out whether she was fulfilling a destiny or botching it. That may not matter much, though, as it does become obvious that some of what is happening to her would never have made it into the official record.

It turns out that her confusion is being caused by the chief villain of book three, a wizard named Kankredin who intends to recover from his earlier defeat at the hand of the spellweaver Cennoreth.

There is lots of confusion amongst the fellowship on this quest. Moril, it seems, is still carrying a load of guilt from the events of book one, and is reluctant to use his abilities. Mitt is still being manipulated by others and canít make up his mind what is the right thing to do. The central characters from book three have attained the status of almost-gods and are trying to influence everyone to defeat Kankredinís plots.

The book is full of excitement, but it is also a bit dense and chaotic. I was relieved to find a glossary of major events and characters at the end of the volume. I turned to those 22 pages quite often.

This really was a concluding volume that tied up all the loose plot threads from earlier books. The land is complex enough that Wynne-Jones could easily do more with it, but she seems to have moved on to other things. Nice to have this, though.

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