Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: MacMillan London Ltd.
Cart and Cwidder is a young adult/children's fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones. It is the first book of The Dalemark Quartet. The story does not have the sense of humor that Diana Wynne Jones is best known for -- it's a rather dark book, and is a tale in the old style, with kings and adventures and battles, set in the distant past. I don't believe that any of her books aside from those in this series are written in this setting or style. I find it a bit boring, but it has remained in print and apparently popular for over 30 years.
The story follows Moril, the son of Clennen, a traveling minstrel, as he and his family suffer a number of misadventures. Moril's family is a traditional Jonsian family -- bickering, slightly dysfunctional, but still a 'happy' family. They travel through the land of Dalemark in their wagon, putting on shows: singing, carrying news, and telling the old tales. Things take a turn from the norm when Clennen takes on a passenger - a sulky teenager named Kialan.
Ever since the last of the kings of Dalemark died, the land has been ruled by a number of feuding earls. While few of the earls really get along, by far the greatest antagonism is between those of the North and those of the South. Moril and his family are used to the oppressive politics of the South, but soon find that some of the less savory of the earls have it out for them. And at the same time, the lord that Clennen had tricked out of his wife (Moril's mom, that is), is following them -- 17 years after the fact, but still quite determined.
Anything more would be spoilers, but I can tell you that there is not much magic in this tale -- no unicorns or dragons, spells or potions, alternate worlds or time travelers. Just magic by means of music, and that is not the fun, inventive type of magic Jones usually has in her tales, but an old, dignified, sparingly-used magic that is only used when absolutely necessary. Towards the end of the book we have to work through a few pages of rather philosophical meanderings as Moril tries to figure out how the magic works.
It is worth mentioning that while the three other books in the Dalemark quartet were written after Cart and Cwidder, and intended to be read in the order they were written, they are chronologically out of order. They were written Cart and Cwidder (1975), Drowned Ammet (1977), The Spellcoats (1979), and The Crown of Dalemark (1993), but the internal chronology runs The Spellcoats, Drowned Ammet, Cart and Cwidder, and The Crown of Dalemark. Together the stories form the tale of the reunification of Dalemark, but are set over a span of hundreds of years.