Drowned Ammet  - Diana Wynne Jones This is the second installment in Diana Wynne Jones’ Dalemark Quartet, and it is the volume that really hooked me and prompted a back-to-back marathon reading of the series when I was 14, and a similar re-read in 2012.

Drowned Ammet is essentially the story of Mitt, or Alhammitt Alhammittson to be more precise (don’t worry, the odd name has significance but doesn’t show up much). After Mitt and his family are forced to leave their farm by increasing rents, they move into a rundown tenement in the city of Holand, the heart of the repressed and tyrannized South. When Mitt loses his father, a freedom fighter in the struggle against the corrupt Earl Hadd, he concocts a plan to avenge his father and become a freedom fighter in his own right with the Free Holanders. After years of planning, Mitt undertakes a dangerous mission, but ends up embroiled in a much larger conflict when he goes on the run and meets a couple of young nobles with problems of their own.

This installment in the Quartet is very different than its predecessor, Cart and Cwidder. Part of this is due, I think, to the fact that C&C is the “set-up” volume of the series, using Moril and his family of travelling musicians to introduce readers to the world of Dalemark, with its pre-industrial timeframe and political complications. Both volumes are strongly character driven, but Mitt is a more complicated and detailed character than Moril, and we see more of his early life and development. We know what drives Mitt, probably better than Mitt himself. Since C&C did the world building grunt work, DA is now able to expand upon the earlier impression and give depth to Dalemark by providing further insight into the social structure and belief systems that become increasingly important as the story continues into the 3rd and 4th volumes.

In the beginning of the tale, Mitt can seem a bit unsympathetic. He’s angry and, with the typical short-sightedness of youth, tends to jump to conclusions. But he’s an underdog, and he slowly but surely reveals a decent person beneath his pinched expression and quick temper. He has a conscience, and the brains to understand that the way something seems is not necessarily the way it is. Honestly, I love Mitt. He’s strong and resourceful, but not in the unrealistic way of many fantasy heroes. He’s also young and inexperienced, and it is fun to watch him learn that the world isn’t black-and-white, but complicated and morally ambiguous. When Mitt meets Hildy and Ynen (I still haven’t figured out exactly how that name is supposed to be pronounced), we see how the other half lives, and it’s not all sunshine and daisies.

Hildy and Ynen are the grandchildren of the terrible earl Hadd. When their grandfather dies, the children use the confusion to run away from their respective problems; Hildy from betrothal to a stranger, and Ynen from feelings of general uselessness within his scheming family. When they are thrown together with Mitt, each must come to terms with their own unhappiness and determine their ultimate place in the world. Just when you think the three are coming together as friends, a fourth is introduced to the party and things get very, very complicated.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this was the book that made me really want to read the whole series. The characters are well-formed and the story is equal parts political intrigue and coming-of-age. There are some weaknesses, which are mostly issues of balance and pacing. Often, the action scenes are rushed and understanding of a complex situation occurs too quickly for real appreciation of the process or the implications. But these are generally minor grievances in a book obviously aimed at a young teen/tween audience and produced very early in Diana Wynne Jones’ career.

This being a re-read of a much beloved series, I am loath to critique it as much as it may (or may not) deserve. More than a decade later, I still find this series entertaining and enjoyable, which is exactly what they’re supposed to be.