1986 - Howl's Moving Castle
Beginnings and endings tend to get the most attention in book reviews. And rightfully so: they leave the most lasting impressions. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones has a particularly intriguing beginning. The opening sentence certainly piqued my interest:
In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.
Sophie Hatter is one such unlucky eldest of three and it is her plight on which the book focuses. Almost immediately, Sophie is bewitched with an aging spell and unable to tell anyone that she is actually much younger than her 80-year-old visage would lead them to believe. She sees no choice but to seek the help of the wizard Howl, whose mobile castle is drifting not far from her town. Once inside the castle, Sophie quickly realizes there is much more to Howl than his predatory reputation. Together with Calcifer the fire demon, Michael the apprentice, Sophie's sisters, Howl's love interests (plural) and multiple other minor characters, Sophie and Howl strike out against the Witch of the Waste to free the kingdom. Jones' ability to weave an intricately plotted story while remaining light and humorous makes this offbeat fairy tale a worthwhile read. Whereas the beginning excels, the ending may leave some readers disappointed in its non-sequitur conclusions, particularly in the romantic plot lines. There is hope the other two books in the series may redeem the ending to the first.
Here There Be Spoilers
Don't read the next paragraph unless you want plot points revealed!
Sophie faces witches, wizards, spells, atypically animate objects, magical items, time/space continuum travel, and (apparently) romance. What initially seems to be a frolicking fairy tale quickly turns darker and more complex. While Howl doesn't devour young girls' souls, as Sophie had been told, he does have a questionable relationship with a fire demon and frequently takes baths lasting multiple hours. The bath thing is never explained (I hope it is explained in one of the other books in the series; it's emphasized too often for it to be forever mysterious). But the relationship with Calcifer is nicely resolved in a manner very similar to that of Aladdin and the Genie in the Disney version of that tale. However, the resolution that really downgraded the overall reading experience appeared at the very end of the book. While I suppose I should have expected "happily ever after" in a fairy-tale style story, there is just so little evidence of a romantic relationship growing between Sophie and Howl throughout the book that at the point it was revealed I felt the need to re-read several chapters. The two seemed to be becoming friends at most, which I actually found quite refreshing for the genre. But just as every character, plot line, and inanimate object in the books has more to it than meets the eye, apparently so does the connection between Sophie and Howl.
Back to Spoiler-Free Territory
This was a fun way to kick off my reading challenge. Honestly, younger me would not have liked this book at all. I really didn't like fantasy until I was a teenager (The NeverEnding Story and A Wrinkle in Time gave me nightmares). But this was a pretty quick read full of fun magical elements.
I recommend Howl's Moving Castle to fans of young-adult fantasy who enjoy world-building elements, complex plotting, and a large cast of characters. Other books that are similar to Howl's Moving Castle include:
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Keep turning the page,