Just to recap, ever since reading Brightly Woven, by Alexandra Bracken, I've been thinking about fantasies in which textiles play a key role, or are a key aspect of the central character's persona, mainly because I love books in which a hands-on craft (music, metal work, glass-blowing etc) is deeply integrated into the story. So far, as well as Brightly Woven, I've looked at Tom Ass, by Ann Lawrence, and, a while back, I reviewed Silksinger, by Laini Taylor, which has lots of textile-y goodness.
Today's Textile Fantasy, Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones (1979, suitable for older middle grade on up) has got to be the queen of them all. After all, it is the only book I know of that is actually told in weaving! The central character, a girl named Tanaqui, is using a system of woven symbols for words, to "write" in fabric the story she is a part of...resulting in the spellcoats that give the book its title. As the cloth grows on her loom, it becomes imbued with the magic of the great River that flows through story, a river whose power is being attacked by an evil mage. Tanaqui must weave the story of her family's journey down the river--a journey that brought them face to face with living gods, Heathen invaders, and the mage himself-- and use the spellcoats to free the River from his bounds.
Spellcoats was the first book by DWJ that I ever read. I don't know how many times I've reread it in the twenty five years since, but I know that each time I fall in love with it all over again. On my most recent re-reading yesterday, I was struck anew by how much I love the family dynamics of this book--five siblings stuck in a boat in pretty horrendous circumstances, by turns snapping at each other and growing up, as each realizes the part they will play in the coming confrontation and its aftermath. It's pretty superb characterization, and the dialogue often makes me chuckle. As Hern, the middle brother, says at one point (in sarcasm weaving font, if there is such a thing), "Fun and games all the way to the sea" (page 51).
And there is a wonderful Magic at the heart of the story- the "gods" are very real, and not like anything I've ever encountered elsewhere...and postscript is a must read, that, in just a few paragraphs, adds a huge temporal dimension to it all.
But here's the coolest thing about the book-- Tanaqui manages to be a kick-ass heroine without actually kicking anybody--she has to use her brains and her skill at weaving to save the day. How great is that!
This is the third volume that DWJ wrote in the Dalemark Quartet:
Spellcoats is a perfectly fine stand-alone, taking place centuries before the other books (and if you are sick of series fiction, you can pretend the other books don't exist). But Spellcoats should most definitely be read before Crown of Dalemark!
Age wise: Spellcoats is, I think, just fine for upper middle-grade on up --there is some military violence, a bit of scary-ness, and some drowned victims of flooding that might distress a younger child.
Here's another look at Spellcoats at Fitful Murmurs.
(The cover I've shown is the most recent (I think). The others are dreadful, so I won't show them).