Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet
by Diana Wynne Jones
Tiny bit of background: The Dalemark Quartet is a, well, quartet of books centered around the history of the country of Dalemark, as told from the point of view of four different young characters. They were written by the always wonderful Diana Wynne Jones, she of Fire and Hemlock as well as the Crestomanci series, Howl’s Moving Castle, and many others. The quartet is a little different from the majority of her work in being longer and more serious.
Cart and Cwidder starts off with Clennan the Singer and his family as they travel in their cart through the South Dales on their way to the North. The South Dales are under the rigid and heavy hands of their respective earls while the North is freer. The story focuses on Moril, Clennan’s younger son. As the story progresses he has to come to terms with what his parents didn’t tell him, as well as his own unexpected talents.
It’s a lovely story, nuanced and balanced. It’s a story about growing up and beginning to see your parents as people rather than Your Parents, with all the different things that implies. Moril is a likable and sympathetic character and if he’s a little slow to realize a few things, that’s all right. Diana Wynne Jones tends to get siblings right in her books and the interactions between Brid, Moril, and Dagner seemed spot on to me.
Also, isn’t that a gorgeous cover? I made it clickable, so you can gaze upon its beauty properly.
Drowned Ammet is startling, especially if you didn’t know that the four books all focus on a different character. We’d just gotten used to Moril and Brid and Dagner and Kialan and all the rest of them, when suddenly we’re starting all over with this Mitt boy, who’s someone completely different. Different, but wonderful nonetheless. There’s something about Mitt I really love. I think it’s his ability to do all the wrong things for all the right reasons and the right things for the wrong reasons. He’s also one of those characters who’s incredibly frustrating because he will be an idiot–not in smartness, but in personality, if that makes sense–but is incredibly rewarding when he does get it.
Anyway. Mitt. Born and bred in Holand, one of the South Dales. When things start going wrong, he and his mother do their best to survive and to do the right thing as they see it. It’s an interesting story in the way it details a group rebelling against a tyrannical overlord–a device which has certainly been overused, especially in fantasy–but in an unconventional way.
The other two main characters are the grandson and granddaughter of the Earl of Holand. The way their path intersects with Mitt’s and how the three grow to a relationship with each other is a fascinating one, but I can’t say much about it because that’s what Jones does.
One of the moments I found fascinating comes at the end of the book and is a major spoiler, but I’ll just say that it made me think a lot about how we construct stories for ourselves and how one person’s version of events is going to be dramatically different from another person’s.
As a side-note: I’m reading these books in publication order rather than internal chronology. I feel fairly strongly personally that this is the better order to read them in. I don’t know if Jones herself has expressed an opinion.
Quote from Drowned Ammet:
“Mitt did not quite forget his perfect land. He remembered it, though a little fuzzily, next time the wind dropped, but he did not set off to look for it again…When an inkling of it came to him in silence, or in scents, or, later, if the wind hummed a certain note, or a storm came shouting in from the sea and he caught the same perfect note in the midst of its noise, he thought of his lost perfect place and felt for a moment as if his heart would break.” p. 9
Book sources: University of Oregon library