‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Diana Wynne Jones

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Genres: Fantasy, YA, Romance, Humor, Classic, Fairy Tale, Urban Fantasy, Portal Fantasy, Non-violent

Similar books: The Wind in the Willows, Mairelon the Magician, Kings of the Wyld,

Previous books in the series/by the author reviewed: The Pinhoe Egg

Rating: Recommended 

Here’s the TL;DR for my review:

  • Pros
    • Fun, nontraditional main characters. Sophie is a dowdy firstborn daughter destined for small things, and she knows it. She is resigned to her spinsterly fate. Howl is a dapper-but-lazy Welsh wizard who has left the boring world of Earth to come to Sophie’s fantasyland and be her useless employer.
    • Fun plot. After Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Wastes, transforming her into an old woman, she fully embraces her granny-status and uses it to get away with all sorts of shenanigans. When you’re old, you can get away with a lot of sillyness because ‘respect the elderly.’
    • The Setting is amongst Wynne Jones’ best. At first it’s just a regular old Fantasyland (an excellent regular old fantasyland), but then it transforms into an Urban Fantasy novel when the characters go to Wales (!).
    • There is an excellent movie of this book. I suggest you watch it.
  • Mixed
    • The pacing was touch and go. A lot of the book is low tension. I liked it, but I can see people having problems with it.
  • Cons
    • Wynne Jones didn’t outline her novels, and this book shows it. There are a lot of extraneous characters. There’s an animated scarecrow man. There’s a dog man. There’s not one but two fire demons. There’s an evil witch. There’s a good witch. The list goes on. It felt to me as though Jones was just adding random characters at points when the pacing got slow. Now I have to say that all of the characters were vital to the plot- Diana Wynne Jones was  excellent at wrapping up novels in such a way that all plot points and characters were involved. However Jones could have killed her darlings and combined many of these random characters into fewer characters.

Spoiler-tastic Review

This novel is a classic in the Fantasy genre, as well as the YA genre. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is the first book in a three book series which takes place in a happy fantasyland with wizards, witches, curses and flying castles. The world is filled with excitement and joy, a world where fairytales are evidently true. In all the fairytales the eldest daughter will accomplish nothing at best, or will die horribly at worst.

Sophie, the eldest daughter of three and aware of the trope of doomed eldest daughters, has resigned herself to an unfulfilled life of servitude to her wicked step-mother, making hats for her step-mother to profit off of.

But one day she makes a hat for the wrong person. The Witch of the Waste curses Sophie for making a ‘bad’ hat for her, causing Sophie to turn into an old woman. Sophie, not wanting to be seen by her family a  nonagenarian, runs away from home. She eventually winds up becoming housekeeper for notorious wizard Howl in his Moving Castle.

Sophie was raised to fear Howl, hearing he eats young women’s souls… but she’s no longer a young woman and since she doesn’t have much to lose she stops by the castle to sleep for the night. She finds that not only is Howl not evil, but he’s so lazy that he has his apprentice do all his sorcery work. Howl’s main flaw is his heartlessness: he traded his heart away to a demon in exchange for magic.

Plot: Compelling, but not super strong. This is not a plot-oriented novel, but a character one. Sophie must break curses upon a. herself, b. Calcifer the fire demon, c. Howl, d.the scarecrow and e.the dogman. The Witch of the Wastes is the main antagonist, the source of these curses.

Characters: I liked Sophie as a protagonist. She’s a little old granny who don’t give no d***. After being cursed into old age, she basically goes “Well, I was a dowdy  anyway, might as well go with this,” and start to use her old age as a tool to influence the people around her. Not only that, but she also displayed good character growth throughout the novel.

Pacing: Was a bit slow in parts.

Setting: Loved it. It’s a Portal-Fantasy-Meets-Urban-Fantasy, with the character hopping from their Fairy Tale planet to Wales to solve problems. I particularly loved the Fairy Tale setting, though, because it was super charming.

Style: This book oozed Fairy Tale style. The narrative voice played into the Fairy Tale-meta thing super hard. Myths are real, and fundamental forces which shape and warp reality around them. First daughters of three are doomed, there are seven-league boots, love is a fundamental power and so on. The characters are seemingly aware that they are in a Fairy Tale themselves, even if only peripherally aware, and it worked.

Overall, loved it.

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