Six people set out wandering the old roads – one of those six accused of theft by a voice in the air too! – in search of a crown buried in a city that did not exist any more, with no provisions and almost no baggage, and this was supposed to prove that the wrong girl was Queen. [p. 116]The Spellcoats because I knew that some of the same characters were mentioned. This fourth volume of the quartet was published quite a while after the others: I'm glad I wasn't following the series at that stage. (I think I might have bounced off one of the Dalemark books during my first eager exploration in the early Eighties.) It would have been a long wait, and this is quite a different book from the others, though I think it ties everything together very well. Like Drowned Ammet, it's darker than many of Diana Wynne Jones' novels (a teenager is asked to assassinate someone, for instance, and there are actual battles where people die) but Jones paces the story well, and leavens it with plenty of humour.
There are two main plot strands. The focal figure of one is Maewen, a girl from 'contemporary' Dalemark (they have cars, trains, phones etc) who is transplanted -- possibly courtesy of the weird dude in the University library -- to a time centuries before her own. There she encounters the other focal character, Mitt, who is thoroughly disillusioned with life in the North. Maewen finds herself at the centre of an uprising, and it becomes apparent that more than mere political supremacy is at stake.
But if Maewen, masquerading as Noreth, is so important, how come she's never seen her (assumed) name mentioned in history books?
The Undying feature strongly in this volume, but the character I like best is Navis, who appeals strongly to my competence kink. Also, he behaves like an actual, flawed adult, which is always refreshing. His daughter has become quite vile though. And Mitt is charming (though, unsurprisingly, feels old for his age).
Note to potential buyers: the Kindle edition is missing 'A Guide to Dalemark', the occasionally tongue-in-cheek and often pedantic in-universe guide to the quartet. I had to locate my paperback! (If I'd remembered the actual title of this section, I'd have Googled ...)
Ah, Navis. So then I had to reread Drowned Ammet ...