by Diana Wynne Jones
The second book of the Dalemark Quartet
weaves together the life story of a "common as dirt" kid named Mitt (short for Alhammitt, the commonest name in the Southern earldom of Holand) with that of strong-willed, fierce-tempered Hildrida and her sweet brother Ynen, neglected grandchildren of Holand's cruel and despotic Earl Hadd. And by the end of the story, these children from such widely different backgrounds share a powerful destiny...
Mitt's story is rather sad. Born to laughing parents who were doing rather well as tenant farmers in the reclaimed lowlands near Holand, Hadd's punishing taxes and vindictive servants have driven them off their land and into a squalid waterfront tenement, where their lives become increasingly bitter. Mitt's father joins a revolutionary group and, after someone informs on them the night of a big sabotage operation, never returns. Mitt's mother squanders her own wages as well as some of her son's (he becomes a fisherman's apprentice) so that they can hardly get enough to eat. And together they plot revenge against the people who they believe betrayed Mitt's father to his death.
The result is that, when Earl Hadd parades down to the docks, carrying the effigy of wheat called Poor Old Ammet, to throw it into the harbor at the annual Autumn Sea Festival, Mitt is there with a disguise and a bomb. But Hadd's third son Navis steps forward and spoils Mitt's plans to avenge his father... and then, moments later, an unknown sharpshooter kills Hadd with a bullet! Suddenly finding himself on the run, confused and disillusioned, Mitt tries to hide in the hold of a yacht called Wind's Road.
But Wind's Road belongs to Navis' children, Hildy and Ynen. They have grown up in Hadd's palace, neglected by their cold and idle father (who is said to still be in mourning for their mother), and all too aware of the cruelty of their grandfather and their two uncles, Harl and Harchad. All the Earl's granddaughters, including Hildy, have been betrothed to other lords, by way of cementing political alliances. But the Earl has no use for his grandsons (like Ynen), and all Hildy and Ynen can get out of Navis is a pleasure boat for them to learn to sail in.
The day their grandfather is assassinated, Hildy and Ynen decide to rebel and run away for an illicit cruise on Wind's Road. They don't even realize that, in the wake of Hadd's death, the earl's three sons are fighting over the succession, and that their uncles would as soon kill them as the person who killed the old Earl. Nor do they realize that the boy who attempted to blow him up is armed and hiding on board.
What begins as a hostage situation, however, gradually turns into a friendship as the three children sail through a terrific storm, aided by the presence of a couple of "lucky" effigies that are actually connected to the forgotten gods of old. Then they rescue a man from a storm-tossed boat, a man who turns out to be their worst nightmare. How they survive him, and the people he works for, makes up the balance of this suspenseful, exciting tale.
Meanwhile, all three children do a lot of soul-searching, and they learn to understand each other-- and themselves-- enough to save Navis, do wonders with the help of the gods (informally known as Old Ammet and Libby Beer), and bring hope to the Holy Isles.
Recommended Age: 12+
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