Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Kialan, in spite of Clennen’s rebuke, seemed unable to stop making outspoken remarks. “You know, that cart is really horribly garish,” he said, on the second morning. Perhaps he had some excuse. It was standing against the dawn sky, as he saw it, and Moril’s red head was just emerging from it. The effect was undeniably colorful, but Brid was keenly offended.

I had read this ages ago, probably soon after it came out in 1975. It’s the first published of one of Diana Wynne Jones’ cycles of novels for young adult readers, the Dalemark Quartet. Our protagonist, teenage Moril, is the youngest boy in a family of travelling musicians and players in a fantasy world where there is magic, dynastic politics, and feuds between local warlords. His life is disrupted by a brutal murder in an early chapter, but this brings him an ancient cwidder – a musical instrument which seems to be in the lute family – which turns out to have its own special powers. There are some beautifully observed family and social dynamics, and some rather stunning descriptive passages. I’m not sure if this book is as well known as it deserves. You can get it here.

This was my top unread sf book, and my top unread book by a woman. Next on the first of those piles is Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez; next on the second is Marking Time, by Elizabeth Jane Howard.