The DWJ Project: The Crown of Dalemark

Conclusion of the Dalemark Quartet. Here we jump all around the Dalemark timeline, dwelling mostly in the “present day” of Moril and Mitt, but spending part of the narrative about two hundred years later, and drawing in components from the more distant past of The Spellcoats.

As a series conclusion goes, it’s . . . odd. For one thing, as I mentioned in the post on The Spellcoats, this book came out fourteen years after its predecessor. That’s quite a long time to wait for a finale, and I’m not sure why the pause happened — especially given the way things were left hanging in some of the previous books. Cart and Cwidder ends on a mostly-resolved note (sorry, pun not intended); there’s clearly room for more to be told, but if that was the last of it, we’d be okay. Drowned Ammet more obviously leaves things hanging, with Mitt making promises for the future that don’t get addressed in his book. The Spellcoats is the most open-ended of the lot, but I’ll leave the statement at that, to avoid spoilers.

This isn’t your usual sort of last book; the stories it draws together are quite widely scattered. Even Moril and Mitt, who at least exist in the same century, hail from opposite ends of Dalemark, and have never met each other before this story begins. We also get a new character in the form of Maewen, a girl from the future of Dalemark, and quite a bit of the history being addressed is hers — but although she’s a central character, the book doesn’t belong wholly to her. It’s as much Mitt’s book, or possibly more. This leads to some weird structural elements. To say more about those, though, I’ll have to get into spoilers.

I find it odd that the book begins with Mitt, and stays with him for such a long time before introducing Maewen at all. Given that she’s the new component, and plays such a major pov role in the story, sixty pages in feels awfully late for her to show up. (That’s a full seventh of the book.) Then Maewen gets a lot of focus — enough that I think of her as the protagonist, even though the story didn’t start with her — but Mitt’s the one who confronts and destroys Kankredin, and we aren’t even in his pov when it happens. Maewen’s sort of an observer to his coronation and that last fight. Her final protaggy contribution is to return the cwidder to Wend. It feels off-kilter to me.

It’s also odd because the conflict mostly doesn’t have to do with what we saw in the first two books. The Countess uses the events of DA as leverage on Mitt, and a Southern army shows up at the end, but Mitt doesn’t go back to the Holy Isles (except in an offscreen fashion, when they talk about what Amil did as king), which I was expecting to see happen. The aftermath of The Spellcoats isn’t quite what I expected, either. It isn’t exactly a surprise to find out that Tanaqui and some of her siblings are Undying, but the business with their battle and Kankredin feels sort of like a side note, if that makes any sense.

Which isn’t to say I don’t like the book. Mitt’s conflict is a good one, with him caught up in politics and questioning his own morality. I liked seeing Tanaqui and Duck again, grown up but still identifiably themselves. Navis, as someone promised in a previous comment thread, grows a great deal as a character (I quite like him now, actually). The disappearance of Noreth is disturbing, even if I wish Maewen didn’t forget about it so thoroughly for a good portion of the book. I was sad about Hildy, though; while she wasn’t quite a good person in DA, she did grow, and it’s a pity to watch her backslide here, even if it’s realistic. (Biffa, however, is awesome, and needs her own fandom.)

I think my favorite part is the meeting with Hern in the past-realm of Kernsburgh, and the way he winnows through them — or rather, gets them to winnow themselves — to figure out who should be King. Maewen noting that he doesn’t look like his portrait, and then thinking about how the Undying can be bound, was another nice touch. There’s lots of good numinousness here (which is something I’m obviously fond of); it’s just that the arrangement of it is a little peculiar.

Aaaaand that’s it for Dalemark, and for this month of the project. Presuming I manage to stick to my schedule, only three more months and less than a dozen books to go!

. . . yeah, it still sounds like a lot, when I put it that way. Still, weighed against what I’ve gotten through already, I really am nearly done.

0 Responses to “The DWJ Project: The Crown of Dalemark”

  1. la_marquise_de_

    I’ve never really liked this one as much as the others. Partly that’s the length — it felt unbalanced somehow. Partly it’s that some of the characters feel like they’ve slipped a bit from earlier novels, and partly it’s just… I don’t know, more conventional?

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s both conventional and not. I find it rare to see a “modern day” for a fantasy setting, and while sending a character back in time is common, sending her back to masquerade as a murdered girl is not so much.

      • la_marquise_de_

        Yes, that’s one of the strengths. But I thought she undermined the characterisations from earlier books in some ways, too. And I wanted more about the myths!

  2. akashiver

    I remember not loving this one either. It’s one of the few DWJ books I’ve never re-read. Maybe I’ll follow in your footsteps and give the whole Dalemark quartet another go.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m still not that much in love with them, compared with some of her other books. But there’s more to like here than I remembered.

  3. diatryma

    I should maybe reread this set now that I know they’re connected. I read this one and ended up kind of resentful that I hadn’t known all along. Label your series, people!

  4. Anonymous

    Back in the abysses of time when I was reading DWJ as they were printed (more or less – I did have some catching up to do, too) I remember on at least one of the first three installment’s cover copy or an about the author blurb that said she was planning FIVE Dalemark books. I wonder if the unbalanced feel to this one is due to discovering she couldn’t come up with five books, and had to shoehorn stuff in to four. Or maybe just wanted to finish it, or the publisher only wanted one more. Or something.

    I could certainly see the Mitt & Norwen story being planned as one book and then a final book featuring Maewen to close out the Kankredin story. Then, for whatever reason, she didn’t write them that way.

    Elaine T.

    • Marie Brennan

      Huh. I’d never heard that about five books; that certainly would change my perspective on this one.

      • Anonymous

        Found the reference

        It’s at the end of the jacket flap copy of my 1978 Atheneum DROWNED AMMET: This is the second book, in a projected group of five, about affairs in Dalemark, where people are not unlike those we know. The first book was CART & CWIDDER.”

        Elaine T.

        • Marie Brennan

          Re: Found the reference

          Ah, cool. Thanks for hunting that down. I can’t quite guess how the divisions would have been made if the series had gone to five books — probably a Mitt-and-Moril volume, and then a Maewen one, but that’s as specific as I can get — but it might indeed explain a bit about Crown’s odd structure.

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