Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle

Diana Wynne Jones

Publication Date: 1986

Publisher: HarperTrophy

Pages: 329

Genre: Fantasy

In which a witch bewitched the hatter's daughter--and then some...
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 bargained for...
I have been a fan of Diana Wynne Jones for such a long time, I cannot even remember when I picked up my first book by her (though I can remember that book was The Year of the Griffin). So when I saw a commercial years ago for Miyazaki's version of Howl's Moving Castle I almost fainted, as I was obsessed with him at the time, the same time I considered Wynne my ultimate favourite author. Of course at the time I hadn't actually gotten to reading Howl's Moving Castle (Wynne has written a lot of books), but because of the movie, the idea of reading it got planted in my head.

When I eventually first read the book I was blown away by just how good it was, just how much better it was than the movie (although I love that as well), to the point where the magic of the movie just doesn't hit me, because the book has it amplified. So when I had a chance to actually purchase a copy of the book, I jumped.

I began to reread this book this time around because none of the books I had on hand were good before bed. To begin with I love Wynne's prose style, it is the epitome of comfort read for me, and a joy to read out loud to others. Sophie as a character is very sensible, in fact she's too sensible, so sensible it gets her into trouble, because she lets herself get trapped into situations that she could easily get out of. She is the eldest sister so all lore tells her she shall make nothing of herself is she tries to make for her fortune, but then she is forced to do just that when the Witch of the West comes around for some reason and curses Sophie with an old woman's body.

As soon as she leaves she ends up with the wicked Howl and that's where things of course get good. Being an old woman gives Sophie a burst of confidence to show her true personality (instead of just being sensible) and she bullies her way into the hearts of the characters who live with Howl. These characters are also a joy. Having read the Chrestomanci books now, Howl reminds me a lot of flamboyant Christopher Chant, and the connection between worlds also seems like an echo of that idea.

The plot is also so layered and complicated, yet is told so simply that it boggles my mind and is a show to Wynne's genius.

If you loved the Miyazaki's movie, you need to read this book. It has the magic of the book multiplied by about a hundred. If you love prose in the style of Diana Wynne Jones or Patricia C. Wrede, you need to pick up this book because it is just in that style while being a masterful fantasy story



Unknown said...

I loved it (and reviewed it too)! Have you read the second two books set in this universe? Worth reading, but I don't think they are as good as Howl's.

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