Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle
Image from Asia Pacific Arts

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy

After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch of the Waste was going to terrorize Ingary again. So when a moving black castle appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls. The Hatter sister – Sophie, Lettie, and Martha – and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? What is the mysterious contract that binds the Wizard to his fire demon? When the final stormy duel between the Witch and the Wizard is fought and won, all the pieces fall magically into place.

I’d actually passed over this book multiple times in the library, partly because of the lame cover and partly because of the even lamer blurb. Then Angie at the Bibliophile Support Group reviewed it and loved it, so I decided to give it a chance. It was short, anyway.

Sophie was interesting. At first, she was a lot like me – organized, responsible, and didn’t get upset easily. Then, once she became an old lady…she was still Sophie, but an almost older-seeming Sophie. I got the impression that before she was more soft-spoken, but old Sophie wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. It wasn’t really a bad thing, and I did enjoy her, but it seemed like a big personality change after the spell.

Howl was completely fun. He was definitely eccentric – a lot like I’d expect from a wizard, actually. He had a bit of a temper, and wasn’t the best at communication. I’m sure I would have smacked him a couple times if I’d have been his housekeeper, but he was so much fun to read about.

Michael, Howl’s assistant/apprentice, was also enjoyable. If the book said how old he was, I don’t remember, but he struck me as mid to late teens. He was diligent and tried his hardest, and I liked him – he just didn’t stand out as much as Howl and Sophie.

There were a couple major plots woven though this story, and I’m not sure which one is the main one. There’s Sophie trying to break Howl’s hold on Calcifer the fire demon so Calcifer will de-spell her. Then there’s Sophie’s complicated and mostly antagonistic relationship with Howl. And the Witch of the Wastes causing trouble. And so many other little fascinating things. It was all fantastic and completely enjoyable.

The setting was one of my favorite parts of the story. It was like a traditional fantasy world, except they knew all the tropes. Sophie, being the oldest, would never amount to anything. Lettie, the middle child, might be able to marry well. And Martha, the youngest, would be the one to have the most success. Plus, there were places like Howl’s actual castle, which was utterly impossible and completely fun.

The best thing about Howl’s Moving Castle was its understated awesomeness. And apparently there’s two sequels (even more exciting, I remember looking at book three in the library at some point). So now I need to go find Castle in the Air.

The Howl’s Moving Castle series:

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. Castle in the Air
  3. House of Many Ways
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