These books are where the work of the first two novels really pays off.
In book 3, “The Spellcoats,” we go backward in time. We see the beginnings of the civilization we got to know in the previous novels. We see the roots of immortals in the world of Dalemark. And, most important of all, we meet a young woman who can make the world in her weaving.
That young woman comes back later, as do most of the characters of the three novels, in “The Crown of Dalemark.” That book, while it makes no sense without having read the first three, is easily the greatest of the quartet. Every seed in the previous books bore fruit, every character returned (if only for a moment).
Having gotten to know this world in the first two novels, there was something incredibly rewarding about moving both backwards and forwards in its future. There was the “present,” but there was also the past which lived on (sometimes literally), and the destination of the future slowly being revealed.
But best of all, to me, was the bestowing of the titular “Crown of Dalemark.” Neil Gaiman once wrote of Diana Wynne Jones that he often did not understand the endings of her novel the first time, and was forced to re-read them. His children, on the other hand, got it immediately.
I’ve often been the same with Jones, and the ending to this book was the strangest and most difficult to swallow I’ve ever had. I had seen the ending coming, knew who would get the Crown. But I still am not quite sure how he won it. And I love not knowing. When you read too much, it becomes more and more unusual to not know. It’s something to be savored.