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on December 13, 1999
Moril is a dreamy and contemplative boy, with "his head in the clouds" most of the time. He loves the stories of the old and glorious days, when big doings were about, which his father, a well-known singer, tells often. Little does he know what his future holds, just around the corner.
This is a tale of unexpected magic, immersed in plenty of action. The old mandolin-like cwidder that Moril's father played, turns out to be more than just a musical instrument in Moril's hands. And just in the nick of time...
As always, Jones gives us a cast of characters that become instantly familiar and believable. The tale is a warm and believable human drama, mixed judiciously with magic, and a young person's budding maturity. Beginning as an engaging adventure, the book turns into a compelling page-turner, with a wonderfully complex and unpredictable ending. Great stuff for an imaginative young reader.
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on March 7, 2002
In the Dalemark Quartet, of which this is the first volume, Diana Wynne Jones is attempting something fresh and ambitious. Unlike the standard fantasy series, in which each volume follows the continuing adventures of a single cast of characters - a series of tunes played on the same set of instruments - this one really is designed as a "quartet". Each of the first three books is all but independent of the rest, told in its own distinct voice. They interlock in many ways, but in subtle ones - common geography, a set of family names that link with the long history of Dalemark and its peculiar "gods", known in Dalemark as the Undying. Only halfway through the third book does the depth of the historical and the very original mythological patterns begin to come into focus. The "quartet" of voices - the travelling singer Moril in this book, the sailor's apprentice Mitt in the second, the weaver Cennoreth in the third, and the time travelling teen Maewen in the last - are neatly balanced. The two boys are from the Dalemark's "present," an age of political intrigues with a three musketeers flavor, and the girls are from the far past and the not so far future. One of each gender is from the North, the other from the South, and the ultimate task facing them all is to reunite the torn land under a single monarch.
Each of the first three volumes on its own comprises a satisfying story, if a bit open-ended. Cart and Cwidder is the most successful as a stand-alone story. The lute-like cwidder that Moril's father plays for a living as the family's gipsy cart wends through Dalemark's towns gradually discloses its magical powers, but it's the play of personalities that will keep you turning the pages.
There's the daydreaming Moril, his father Clennen, the jovial showman, his older brother Dagner, brimming with talent but painfully shy, his perceptive and sharp-tongued sister Brid, their mysteriously quiet high-born mother Lenina, and an elusive paying passenger whose humility seems like mockery. All these vivid first impressions are real, but they all turn out to be just surface manifestations of the deeper waters running through every member of the troupe.
You'll want to hear more about Moril's adventures when you finish Cart and Cwidder. Be advised that you'll have to lay your eagerness aside. All the members of the quartet will be brought together again in the long fourth volume, where Moril's voice will carry only a little of the melody; and there are three solos to be played in full before the final harmonizing.
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on June 27, 2001
Cart and Cwidder is the first of Diana Wynne Jones' Dalemark books, which run to four volumes. Dalemark is a fairly obvious version of Wales. Indeed, the book reminded me a bit of Lloyd Alexander, though not the Prydain books (set in a version of Wales), but rather the Westmark books, as they share, very roughly, tech level, and an interest in politics.
This book concerns an 11-year old boy named Moril, a musician traveling with his family. They earn their money by stopping at towns and villages and playing songs. They also pass news among the people of Dalemark, and take passengers : they and other musicians are the only people who regularly travel between the northern and southern parts of the land, which are at the point of war. The south in particular is being severely repressed by the Earls (there has been no King for some time). Moril's family consists of their jolly father Clennen, their beautiful, aristocratic mother Lenina, the talented 15-year old songwriter son Dagner, and a 12-year old girl, Brid, in addition to Moril. The title refers to the cart they live and travel in, and to the main musical instruments they use, "cwidders", which seem guitar-like, and one of which may have magical powers.
On the journey in question, they pick up a rather mysterious traveller, Kialan, a boy of roughly Dagner's age. He has a tendency to disappear when they pass through villages. Then, near the castle of Lenina's former fiance, some men show up and murder Clennen. Abruptly, Lenina heads to her ex-fiance's house, as he has long promised to marry her if she is ever free. But the children recognize one of the murderers as a guest at the house, and they decide to head on their own to the North. On their way, they find more trouble, and eventually they learn that war is closer to hand than they thought. Can it be stopped?
It's very readable and involving -- I'm not sure Jones can be other than readable and involving. But it shares with much YA fantasy a certain thinness in the background. Her best work, such as _Fire and Hemlock_, seems much more completely imagined, more complex in characterization, theme, and morality. This book is fun, and not without real tension and interesting characters, but it seems minor compared to my favorites among her work. I will be buying the rest of the Dalemark books, however.
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on January 11, 2015
Diana Wynne Jones is one heck of a writer! Her ability to write believable dialogue, and make the story flow smoothly is admirable.
While she is very good at world building, she doesn't go overboard with descriptions, which is a plus to me, as I like a character driven story.
I thought this was a good read, but not as good as I had hoped, considering how talented this writer is. I had a hard time really getting into the characters until the last third of the book. They finally started to become "real" to me, and sympathetic individuals.
I enjoyed it enough to continue with the next book.
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on April 3, 2002
I finished this quick read in a day. This cute fantasy read combines covered carts, a family of performers, ancient secrets revealed, and musical instruments that become magical. The plot and characters were well developed for the first book in a quartet. I had already read some of Jones other fantasy works and, as with those, this book intrigued me. Your heart goes out to the children who are forced to grow up quickly and make difficult choices once their father is killed and their destiny is revealed. I look forward to reading the other books in the series.
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Diana Wynne Jones is best known for her quirky books that combine magic with realistic, everyday people dealing with the problems that magic creates. Though some take place in parallel worlds, the general atmosphere of these books are contemporary and firmly grounded in reality. However, "Cart and Cwidder" is the first book in the Dalemark quartet that follows the more generic pattern of fantasy (war in a created world) - making it unique in Wynne Jones's canon of books, but a typical inclusion to the range of fantasy novels.

Due to the conflict between north and south countries in the land of Dalemark, very few travellers move between them, with the exception of licensed musicians in their horse-drawn carts, entertaining the crowds wherever they stop. Dagner, Moril and Brid are the children of the singer Clennen and Lenina who are perfectly content to travel the lands, singing and passing on news across the lands. But then Moril's parents take on a new passenger named Kialan whom immediately rubs Moril up the wrong way. Between constant bickering, the three siblings, their parents and Kialan make their way northwards, but soon tragedy strikes and the four children are thrown into a series of chaotic and dangerous events. Inheriting the largest, oldest cwidder in the cart, Moril soon learns that it contains immense power, and with hostile forces closing in around them and Kialan's hidden identity revealed, Moril must learn to use this power in order to save him and the north.

No book by Diana Wynne Jones could ever be truly bad, but "Cart and Cwidder" is certainly not the top of her game. Though it contains the same thoughtful commentary on human behaviour and clever twists, but it lacks the sparkle and wit of her many other books. The characters are not quite as vivid and interesting as the likes of Chrestomanci and Howl, and the story not quite as intriguing as those found in "The Power of Three" and "Black Maria".

Yet for all of this, "Cart and Cwidder" is a worthwhile read if you have the next three volumes on hand, for the way in which Wynne Jones has created this series is immensely interesting (each one has a different situation and set of characters, yet are intricately connected).
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on April 22, 1998
This book is unbelievable! The librarian at my school reecommended it, and when I read the back of the book it sounded kind of weird. What is a cwidder, I wanted to know. Well, it turns out that a cwidder is an amazing instrument that you can use to make your thoughts control people. First, Moril has to figure out exactly how to use this cwidder, then he has to get to North Dalemark, where he belongs, not the South. Well, you can tell that my opimion of the book has changed since then!
If you like fantasy, magic, and a wonderful story YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!!
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on April 30, 1999
I had been debating whether to read this book or not for a while now. I was really glad that I finally decided to. This was a completely new plot in fantasy writing. The characters were unique with flaws and were believable. The only question I have is: How do you pronounce cwidder?
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on April 8, 2012
Why I picked it up: Any Diana WJ book is worth reading :)

Why I finished it: While the ending was a bit predictable, the story itself was so entertaining! Enough happened that I was keen to see what the next twist would be.

The story:
A family-run traveling troupe of musicians and performers begin their annual route through various towns across a war-torn country. The North vs. South war has gone on for years, making this family one of the few that cross the border, carrying the odd passenger or message. But this time, their route & life are thrown into disarray when one parent is killed, and the other decides to stop performing. It is left to the three children, and their current young passenger to continue on their own.
The family are all musically talented, but the youngest, quietest brother has a skillful touch with the Cwidder, an instrument that seems to be able to influence others when played.

Will the young adventurers evade the many bands of warriors and get to safety? Will they manage to earn their living on their own?

Overall: This novel is centered around Young Adults, but the story is captivating enough for any audience.
I read the 2nd book in the series, hoping to get more of the characters I so enjoyed in the first one. Even though this book is part of a quartet, I couldn't see any relation to books 2 and 3 (I don't have book 4 yet). So Cart and Cwidder reads as a standalone novel.
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on June 20, 2004
Like most Diana Wynne Jones books, this is published for children and probably most appreciated by adults. Having read it as both, I see a lot more in it now. The theme of finding your own voice, shown through the main character's struggle to control a powerful magic cwidder (which seems to be something of a cross between a dulcimer and a kettle drum), resonates like a mountain-moving spell through every scene in the book.
Music seems to be a metaphor for writing, or for expression and discovery, as it is in many of Jones's books.
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