Reading Journal Entry: Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones

The DWJ binge continues this week, with a digression to Ancient Greece/occupied France later on to assuage my conscience.

I love her writing, but to be honest, I'm running through them because I have too many library books out again and I need to turn these around.

Today's book is the first volume of the Dalemark Quartet, a young adult fantasy series set in a vaguely Dutch-ish type area.

There's a North, which is progressive and educated and free, and there's a South, in which the humble wholesale peasants are ruthlessly stomped on by their nasty mean Earls. Bad earls! Bad! Bad!

DWJ explores this dynamic (and associated revolutionary tendencies) in all four of these books. Although #3, The Spellcoats, doesn't really fit with the others, I can't criticize it's inclusion because I think it's one of her best works.

Cart and Cwidder follows a minstrel family in their path through various villages and small towns of South Dalemark. Clennen is the exuberant leader of his little family band, but each of them has their own talents and helps with performances. They occasionally take paying passengers north, and this year they've picked up an unpleasantly grumpy teen named Kialan who Moril and Brid, Clennen's younger children, take an immediate dislike to.

But the show must go on. Even after Very Bad Things start happening.

I really enjoy the intrinsically British nature of her work. Sure, it's set in Dalemark, but don't let that fool you. The dialogue and Jones' distinctive voice are firmly rooted in the British fantasist tradition that includes Pratchett and Gaiman and for that matter Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The personal transformations of her characters are on occasion a tad heavy-handed, I admit. But they always flow naturally from the story and plot in ways that many authors can't achieve.

Peculiarity: am beginning to notice a pattern of books about young kids who must discover that their family members don't really love them, or don't love them well enough. Conrad's Fate. Howl's Moving Castle. Cart and Cwidder. Drowned Ammet. The Lives of Christopher Chant. Charmed Life. Etc.

On the one hand, this does make for a story that any kid can sympathize with. The idea that one's horrible family members actually are out to get one is a sure-fire winner. See: Harry Potter. On the other hand, when you read ten DWJ books in a row it gets a bit monotonous. After about 6 you start to figure out that it's really Aunt Edna who's the baddie.

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