He’s also hella sympathetic.
That, right there, is why I love Diana Wynne Jones so very, very much. She continually writes characters who should, by all rights, be impossible to like; and yet, they almost never are. Jones takes us inside their personalities in such a way that we can’t help but see what formed them, and what might help them become better people--provided their darkness doesn’t rise to consume them. They remain frustrating, but it’s the sort of frustration one can revel in.
Mitt is no exception. He’s grown up in Holand, an oppressed city in the far south of Dalemark, and he’s frickin’ angry about everything. He’s mad at the Earl who runs roughshod over his people, he’s mad at the freedom fighters he blames for his father’s death, he’s mad at his mother for being a senseless ninny, he’s mad at his stepfather for being a decent person, and he’s mad at himself for his inability to solve every problem right this second.
So he decides to kill the Earl with a bomb, get himself caught, and tell the inquisitors that the freedom fighters put him up to it. Everybody dies, including Mitt. Whee!
Except the plan goes awry. And that’s when things really get interesting.
In a way, DROWNED AMMET is about choices. It’s about what happens when we don’t have a choice--or when we feel like we don’t--and how other peoples’ choices can drive our lives in directions we probably wouldn’t have gone without their influence. Mitt reaches many turning points throughout the story, and almost all his choices surprise him. He comes to realize he’s not the person he thought he was, on any level. What’s more, he doesn’t much like himself. The choices he faces determine his potential to become somebody he actually might tolerate, if not love.
There’s also a strong magical component which Jones handles with her customary blend of practicality and mysticism. The gods of Dalemark are at once neutral and keenly interested in what’s happening in their land. Their influence, or lack thereof, ties beautifully into the novel’s wider themes of choice, oppression, and governmental responsibility.
The book is gorgeous from start to finish, y’all. I loved it with an intensity that surprises me even now, months after the fact. Time and again, it put me in mind of Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy. While the Westmark books are utterly devoid of magic, they deal with many of the same ideas as DROWNED AMMET. I urge anyone who loved those books to pick this one up, or vice versa. Alas, it's currently out of print, but you can hopefully find it at your local library, your favourite used bookstore, or through a third-party seller on Amazon.