Finale volume | where past and present meet and, | maybe, all’s resolved.
Young Mitt is from South Dalemark, but when he escapes its politics and intrigues he finds that the North is equally dangerous because he is manoeuvred into an assassination attempt on a pretender to the crown of Dalemark. The plot also turns on a present-day girl, Maewen, who gets propelled into Dalemark’s past to play a role not of her own choosing, in a narrative that is reminiscent of the premise in Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. And the Crown? That turns out to be not just a metaphor for gaining a throne but also part of a theme that mingles together motifs from modern Tarot imagery and the medieval quest for the Grail.
As in the previous titles of the series the reader is treated to extensive exploration of the troubled realm of Dalemark, and key themes as well as characters from The Spellcoats, Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet re-emerge to play crucial parts in the unfolding story. Along with the tying-together of some unresolved threads curiosity grows concerning how characters such as Mitt and Moril, whom we learnt to sympathise with in the intermediate books, will interact with Maewen, especially now that they growing from adolescence in adulthood, and whether they will retain our sympathy.
With so many of Jones’ young adult fantasies there, as here, are a few blemishes, inconsistencies, loose ends perhaps, that mar her superb story-telling skills. Endings are so often confusing, eliciting responses along the lines of “Whoa, what just happened here?” when the final resolution involves obscure verbal logic that even several re-readings rarely make clear. She also frequently hints at things without being explicit so that you are left to fill in the gaps without ever being sure that your gut feelings ultimately are correct. This comes largely from her using familiar folk- and fairy-tale types and motifs which raise our expectations, only to have them dashed or circumvented when she subverts the conventional tropes.
Having said all that, I must say I really enjoyed The Crown of Dalemark on several levels. I engaged with the main protagonists, Maewen, Mitt and Moril, all three with their very human strengths and failings, as well with most of the rest of the cast of characters, some of whom we have met previously and whose personalities have evolved (not always for the better). I loved the chance to explore the geography of Dalemark and to relate the present-day state of the region with the Late Medieval / Early Modern feel of the chronologically intermediate novels, a modern Dalemark which is both familiar and more magical compared to our own world. I savoured Jones’ usual little wordgames and puns; typical of these is the entity Kankredin (wonderfully but chillingly conjured up in the novel and reminiscent of a malevolent djinn from The Arabian Nights) whose name has echoes of the Middle East (Aladdin, Saladin) combined with ‘canker’, a malign growth. Above all there was a strong sense of a Northern European milieu, from the mix of Scandinavian- and Celtic-influenced names to the physical features of the polities and emerging industrial innovations.
For me, one of the proofs of an enjoyable novel is that the answer to “Would I read this again?” is always in the affirmative; on that basis I can confirm that I’m looking forward to revisiting Dalemark in the not too distant future.