Book review

Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones (1975)

Who knows what a cwidder is? Not many because as far as I can discover, it is a made-up word. Actually, that is a picture of a cwidder on the front cover. It's a musical instrument, a bit like a lute. A stringed instrument with a big-bellied sounding box. Well, in fact, it's much more than a mere musical instrument. In the right hands it can work potent magic.

Whose hands are the right hands? The cwidder belongs to Clennen the Singer, a travelling troubadour. He travels with his family in a garishly painted pink cart through a divided country ravaged by quarrelsome earls intent on winning power. It's difficult terrain to cover - you have to be careful what you say and where you say it. There are spies abroad, none so difficult to pin down as the notorious Porter, who has a price on his head of two thousand gold.

But although Clennen plays the cwidder every time he performs in public, he can't make the cwidder really sing. Clennen says the cwidder has been in his family for two hundred years and used to belong to the legendary Osfameron who could move mountains simply by playing the cwidder. There's a new Osfameron in the family now. Clennen's second son is Osfameron Tanamoril - Moril for short. He's a real dreamer.

Moril felt as if he had a foot on two different worlds, which were spinning apart from one another. It was not a pleasant feeling.

It's a tight squeeze for a family of five living in a cart, so it's no wonder that Moril, and his brother and sister, are a bit fed up when they pick up another passenger on the road. The passenger is a rather arrogant boy, a bit older than Moril, and he's going to travel with them all the way up to the North. So there's plenty of time for arguments.

As it turns out, though, time is the one thing they haven't got very much of on this journey. At least, Clennen the Singer runs out of time. And the four children only just make it, one way or another. This is a great mystery adventure story with a superb mixture of harsh reality and magic. The cwidder must make its way into the right hands. There's a battle to be fought, a kingdom to be saved, or at least an earldom. There are deaths to be avenged. And friendships to be forged. Oh, and that mystery passenger is at the bottom of it all, of course.

What can I read next?

Diana Wynne Jones has written a lot of books for children. Cart and Cwidder is the first book in the Dalemark Quartet:

  • Cart and Cwidder
  • Drowned Ammet
  • The Spellcoats
  • The Crown of Dalemark

If you enjoy exploring totally new worlds, and having fantastic adventures, you might like to look at Philip Pullman's trilogy:

Ursula Le Guin has written a great fantasy quartet:

Or you might like to look at anything by Stephen Elboz:

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