aryllian: (Default)
[personal profile] aryllian
(This discussion skirts on spoilers. I don't think it quite goes over the line (though some parts may not make sense without familiarity with the book), but YMMV, so be warned.)

This book combines two things that I usually enjoy: time travel and pretending to be someone else. So I really should like it better than I do.

Which is not to say I don't like it; of the Dalemark books, Cart and Cwidder has always been my favorite, and it still is, but this one is very readable and rolls along quite quickly for being longer than any of the others, and it's quite fun, but it also seems to not have quite enough there there. The characters are great -- I think Navis is my favorite -- but the plot doesn't quite stand up to the scope of all the things Jones brings into the story, perhaps?

Also, while it's technically about pretending to be someone else who you are mysteriously identical to even though you're not a twin, it leaves out the things that are unique to pretending to be someone else. Maewen is sometimes a little put out by pretending to be Noreth, but she doesn't seem to learn anything about herself or about Noreth from the experience. It's really Maewen taking on a role, not Maewen taking on an identity as another person.

Truthfully, I think I find Mallard and Tanaqui most interesting -- especially in their roles as parents. As a children's book, it makes sense that the older character don't get all that big of a role, but even though they're not the foreground characters, they have an important role thematically, especially in terms of parent/child relationships (since this is something that the plot rests on).

Mallard and Tanaqui seem to represent two extremes -- Mallard will do anything for his kid, but doesn't know her very well, and Tanaqui seems to have had a good relationship with her daughter, but didn't get too involved in her daughter's specific trials and tribulations.

(Although speaking of Mallard, he gave up the part of his powers related to truth when he made the cwidder... and that seems to be where he went wrong. He seems a very sad character, but I like to think that truth is a comfort to him when he takes the cwidder back.)

Meanwhile, Maewen's parents seem more like Mallard and don't seem to be especially observant either... one wonders if Maewen will have children, and what kind of parent she might turn out to be, having observed all this.

But Tanaqui and Mallard (and the other undying) also have an important role in expanding the world and showing the vast span of history rolling along from the far past to Maewen's present.

I really love the scope of history and how this book really considers the undying and put that concept into history in a way that previous books didn't. Previous books, the undying seemed more like gods, but in this book, the undying seem more like people who live a long time, which is an interesting perspective change, especially when it's paired with a world (Maewen's time) that is more like the modern world, and has more technology and so on. The world has moved on from gods? Add in how there are also different concepts based on the culture of the north and south, and it really becomes interesting.

I would really like more more more of this sort of thing, but I'll take what I can get. (Though as a structural thing, I do wonder how well this works. I think there might be too many paths leading out from the story. I would love to follow them, but -- like many of the Dalemark stories, at least to me -- I think maybe the world and the interesting loose threads overwhelm the individual story that's being told to some degree.)

Outside Tanaqui and Mallard, there are a lot of parallels between the past and Maewen's present. Like a lot of Diana Wynne Jones (Fire and Hemlock!), I have a feeling that if only I paid more attention (to names especially), I would be getting more out of it. There are a lot of connections that seem to be lightly touched on, similarities and differences between characters in the two different times, because of heredity and nature and nurture and family history... but I'm not sure I'm making all the connections.

At the same time, though, there's a pretty essentialist view of people, especially the ones that we've seen young and then hear about how they grow up. They don't seem to change a lot. (Which might explain part of why the ending seems to be hopeful despite the vagaries of time travel. Maewen at the end reminded me a lot of Polly in Fire and Hemlock... though with less reason to think there's something there, unless you assume that people generally don't change much and stay essentially the same.)

Since story is change, I've often wondered if having this kind of essentialist view of characters is one reason that some authors like Diana Wynne Jones seem to write more stand-alones. If everyone has one true nature, then there's a story in finding and understanding it, but that's really only one story per character?

(In this view, the Pinhoe Egg is because Cat didn't find who he was in Charmed Life, at least not completely, he just got out of a certain situation and into one that allowed him to have the room to do so later on.)

(Whereas someone like Bujold really only writes about big changes in her characters' lives, but she finds a lot more points of change to write about for Miles Vorkosigan. And some stories -- some types of detective series, for example -- don't involve changes to the protagonists at all, or only small ones and very slow changes...)

I'm probably oversimplifying.

Anyway. Back to the Crown of Dalemark, Kankredin as an antagonist really doesn't show up much and comes across as rather boringly one dimensionally evil. I think the real point of the book is more about Maewen going to the past and finding ... something. I rather suspect she needed something to care about, and discovering history and a personal connection to it seems to have done that.
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