House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 2008 by Greenwillow. Fun fact: it’s marketed as the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, but really it’s a sequel to Castle in the Air (the true sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle).

Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle Williams’ tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few. By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizards, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a Lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations. No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.

Rating: 4/5

House of Many Ways is, in my opinion, more fun than Castle in the Air, but sacrifices some plot intricacies and worldbuilding in the process. The plot is just one step shy of being fully developed; some revelations feel too fast and too out-of-nowhere to feel like a tightly-crafted plot. I felt it a bit strange and contrived that a lot of the conflict revolved around one solitary creature that was revealed to have his fingers in many of the character’s pies, but I suppose for a short fantasy novel for middle graders it’s an acceptable plot to use.

I do love Howl, though, and he’s in top form for this book. Sophie, however, is nagging and irritated at Howl every time we see her, so that’s a disappointment. Yes, I do realize that she spends most of her time in Howl’s Moving Castle doing that, but we’re in her head then and we get to see other “faces” of Sophie at the same time. In House, there’s only the one and it’s disappointing to see Sophie reduced to a “Howl! Stop doing that!” broken record.

Charmain is also a decent protagonist and I like that she’s the lazy sort who has some flaws to overcome. It gives her something else to do besides “figure out the mystery” and it’s fun to see her and Peter struggle to figure out the house’s magic.

House of Many Ways is still nowhere near as good as Howl’s Moving Castle, and though it’s a fun, decently-developed book, it nowhere reaches the height of intricacy and development that earlier Jones’ books have. I felt that some things came a bit out of nowhere and I was sad to see some great characters sidelined to one-dimensional sidekicks. The problems I had with the plot are probably why I prefer her older books to her newer ones, actually. But in any case, House of Many Ways is a decent sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, as was Castle in the Air before it. The only real problem with it is that it’s not nearly as good.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Charmain jumped to her feet and smiled terrifically, so broadly and welcomingly that she thought she might have sprained her face. “Oh, hallo!” she said. “I didn’t hear the door.”

“You never do,” said Aunt Sempronia.

Mrs. Baker peered at Charmain, full of anxiety. “Are you all right, my love? Quite all right? Why haven’t you put your hair up properly?”

“I like it like this,” Charmain said, shuffling across so that she was between the two ladies and the kitchen door. ‘Don’t you think it suits me, Aunt Sempronia?”

Aunt Sempronia leaned on her parasol and looked at her judiciously. “Yes,” she said. “It does. It makes you look younger and plumper. Is that how you want to look?”

“Yes, it is,” Charmain said defiantly.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2dd38UN

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Castle in the Air, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 1990 by HarperCollins. It is the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle.

Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, there lived in the city of Zanzib a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer name Abdullah who loved to spend his time daydreaming. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet. That very night, the carpet flew him to an enchanted garden. There, he met and fell in love with the beauteous princess Flower-in-the-night, only to have her snatched away, right under his very nose, by a wicked djinn. With only his magic carpet and his wits to help him, Abdullah sets off to rescue his princess.

I like Castle in the Air, even though I don’t think it’s nowhere near as delightful as Howl’s Moving Castle or some of Jones’s other books. It has a classic complex Jones plot, some funny moments, and has all the beloved characters from the first book (minus Michael and Martha) even if they are only in the background for the most part. I think, though, that it was a smart move on Jones’s part: I enjoy seeing characters from an alternate perspective and it would be harder to do a good sequel from the point of view of Sophie than from a new character’s point of view, in my opinion. And Castle in the Air is a much better sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle than Year of the Griffin was to Dark Lord of Derkholm.

A few things did bother me, though. For one thing, I don’t think Abdullah ever told Flower-in-the-night that he actually wasn’t a prince (though he might have done in the end, I can’t remember), although I suppose it doesn’t matter considering where they end up. Also, Sophie’s awkward maternal feelings didn’t make much sense to me, seeing as the first time we see her she’s perfectly fine with Morgan. Then all of a sudden she starts thinking she’s going to drop him or whatever? That doesn’t really sound much like Sophie to me, but it’s different being outside of her head rather than inside.

As a final note, I really do like Jones best when she does the interconnected plots. One of the best things about Howl’s Moving Castle for me was the “everything is important” plot, and Castle in the Air has it too, only to a slightly lesser extent.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“O most excellent of carpets,” he said, “O brightest-colored and most delicately woven, whose lovely textile is so cunningly enhanced with magic, I fear I have not treated you hitherto with proper respect. I have snapped commands and even shouted at you, where I now see that your gentle nature requires only the middles of requests. Forgive, oh, forgive!”
The carpet appreciated this. It stretched tighter in the air and put on a bit of speed.

“And dog that I am,” continued Abdullah, “I have caused you to labor in the heat of the desert, weighted most dreadfully with my chains. O best and most elegant of carpets, I think now only of you and how best I might rid you of this great weight. If you were to fly at a gentle speed—say, only a little faster than a camel might gallop—to the nearest spot in the desert northward where I can find someone to remove these chains, would this be agreeable to your amiable and aristocratic nature?”

Overall Review:

Castle in the Air, while not as good as Howl’s Moving Castle, is a charming, nicely-crafted sequel. Even though the main characters are new, a lot of familiar faces show up—rather conveniently at times. I had a few small problems with characterization, but other than that I enjoyed the book thoroughly.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1Q2t3jt

Howl’s Moving Castle: “Sophie, Your Hair Looks Just Like Starlight!”

Howl’s Moving Castle is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1986 by Greenwillow. Jones’ website can be found here.

General  spoilers.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Summary/Blurb:

“Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did—especially when the Witch of the Waste got her dander up. Which was often.

As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes, Sophie stayed in her father’s hat shop. Which proved most unadventurous, until the Witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased. Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady. Which was spiteful witchery.

Now Sophie must seek her own fortune. Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl. Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on. Which was more than Sophie had bargained for…”

~Back Cover

Passages/Quotes:

She settled herself more comfortably, putting her knobby feet on the fender and her head into a corner of the chair, where she could stare into the colored flames, and began dreamily considering what she ought to do in the morning. But she was sidetracked a little by imaging a face in the flames. “It would be a thin blue face,” she murmured, “very long and thin, with a thin blue nose. But those curly green flames on top are most definitely your hair. Suppose I didn’t go until Howl gets back? Wizards can lift spells, I suppose. And those purple flames near the bottom make the mouth—you have savage teeth, my friend. You have two green tufts of flame for eyebrows…” Curiously enough, the only orange flames in the fire were under the green eyebrow flames, just like eyes, and they each had a little purple glint in the middle that Sophie could almost imagine was looking at her, like the pupil of an eye.

~Jones 43-44

“Mrs. Fairfax is a family friend,” said Sophie. “How was I to know you would be there too?”

“You have an instinct, Sophie, that’s how,” said Howl. “Nothing is safe from you. If I were to court a girl who lived on an iceberg in the middle of an ocean, sooner or later—probably sooner—I’d look up to see you swooping overhead on a broomstick. In fact, by now I’d be disappointed in you if I didn’t see you.”

“Are you off to the iceberg today?” Sophie retorted. “From the look on Lettie’s face yesterday, there’s nothing that need keep you there!”

“You wrong me, Sophie,” Howl said. He sounded deeply injured. Sophie looked suspiciously sideways. Beyond the red jewel shining in Howl’s ear, his profile looked sad and noble. “Long years will pass before I leave Lettie,” he said. “And in fact I’m off to see the King again today. Satisfied, Mrs. Nose?”

~Jones 143

“Go to bed, you fool,” Calcifer said sleepily. “You’re drunk.”

“Who, me?” said Howl. “I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold stober.”

~Jones 288

Cover Art

Warnings: None.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

Diana Wynne Jones is my absolute favorite fantasy writer. I have read almost every single one of her books, and have enjoyed almost every single one of them. Howl’s Moving Castle is among my top favorites of her books, and is also one of the first books by her I ever read. It is top-notch, wonderful, creative fantasy at its finest. What I like a lot about Jones is that she almost never dumbs down the plot for her audience. This book could be read by twelve-year-olds, but it’s not written for twelve-year-olds. The plot is complex and a lot is going on behind the scenes. And yet Jones makes it exciting, understandable, and engaging. She always has a unique fantasy world with unique rules, her plots are always more complex than they let on, and she has a great humor and wit to her writing that makes everything really delightful to read.

I love the fact that at the end we realize just how great of a wizard Howl is and that he’s not nearly as stupid/ignorant/in the dark as Sophie thinks he is. It impresses us, the readers, because the entire time we’ve been seeing him through Sophie’s eyes, and it is at that moment that we get a glimpse of the complexity of not only Howl, but also the plot and the world that Jones has made. Seemingly unrelated events suddenly connect. Innocent actions or words become important (such as Calcifer’s hints. Read the book again after you finish it, and you’ll start picking up on a lot of foreshadowing).

The Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film, (roughly) based on the book.

Howl and Sophie. Howl and Sophie. When Calcifer mentions that he will only believe that Howl is truly in love when he spends less than an hour in the bathroom, you just sort of file it away as an obscure detail. But then, when you read about how Howl goes to the Witch’s fortress to rescue Sophie, unshaven, it just clicks (which, like I was mentioning above, is a wonderful thing I love about Jones, how great she is at minute details). I never noticed it until this read-through, and I almost immediately went “Awwwww.” Another great thing about this relationship is that Sophie was an old woman for almost all of it. And no, this does not mean that Howl fell in love with an old lady. He knew almost right away that Sophie was not actually an old woman. It means that he fell in love with Sophie because of her character, not because of her looks, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

What I Didn’t Like:

The plot is a little too complex, at times. I must admit, even though I’ve read it before, a few times I scratched my head and went “Huh?” It all made sense in the end, of course, but at the time, it was really obscure.

Overall Review:

Howl’s Moving Castle is amazing, plain and simple. It is one of my favorite fantasy books, written by my favorite fantasy author. It’s funny, the plot is wonderful, the characters are instantly likeable, the interaction between them shows a lot of development, and Howl and Sophie are one of the strangest, but cutest couples ever. If you’ve never read this masterpiece, you need to.

You can buy this book here: Howl’s Moving Castle

And here’s the movie: Howl’s Moving Castle

Coming Up Next: If I Tell by Janet Gurtler