Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Genre: Children’s Fantasy/Adventure
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Summary (from Goodreads):
“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”
In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.
But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…
THIS WAS SO CUTE.
Okay, so I finished it about a week ago and never got round to typing this up (procrastination, yay) but I meant to because this was so good!!!
It’s been a while since I read a children’s fantasy book, much less a standalone, much less one that I enjoyed this much – Diana Wynne Jones just has this wonderful feeling of childhood and adventure in her writing. Prior to this I’d read her book Witch Week (going back to when I was like 8 years old) and absolutely loved it, to the point it’s one I’ve always, always remembered, so when I found out that she wrote this I just sort of had to read it!?
Sidenote, check out how cool this cover is:
All her world-building is adorable, I love how she just kind of throws you in the deep end like “this is a fantasy land, I will spend approx. 0 minutes explaining how it works, you’ll figure it out as you go along”. As far as I remember, there wasn’t some huge info-dump where they explain the King and how everything ended up how it was, which is pretty fun – you just pick bits up along the way and it all works out.
The moving castle is BRILLIANT. I wish I had that kind of imagination, because all the technicalities of it are so cool. It just kind of shuffles along the fields but THERE’S MORE which I won’t spoil because all that stuff is like, the heart of the book and drives most of the narrative so yeah.
One of my favourite parts of this is by far the characters (let’s be real, when is it not?). They’re something Jones does really well, to the point I remember most of the ones in Witch Week. They’re all just something else.
Oh my God, I want to be Sophie. Genuinely. It’s not that she’s a particularly bold person or anything, but she spends the majority of the book being a crotchety old lady with a walking stick and sewing, and she just goes around cleaning stuff. Like, she makes full use of the fact that she’s old to get away with being blunt with people and it’s hilarious.
Also! The author does such a good job of writing her voice that I looked up from the book a couple of times and was disappointed to find that I am not, in fact, a 90 year old woman in a castle. I haven’t legitimately been lost in a book in aaages, so it made a nice change!
Howl is…Howl. Simultaneously nothing and everything I expected him to be. He’s a wizard, he’s tricky, he’s a pain in the neck. Definitely becomes less annoying as the novel continues. Also he has impeccable fashion sense.
Calcifer (that’s such a good name for a fire demon omg) is wonderful. And bitter. And snarky. And absolutely nothing like the cute orange blob in the film, which I am yet to watch but have seen screenshots from. He’s shaped more like an actual person – think Harry Potter floo-powder conversations kinda floating in the flames and you have a good idea.
Michael is also adorable (I thought he was Howl at first) and I am baffled at how he managed to deal with Howl for so long before Sophie showed up. Also the fact he mistook a poem for a spell was just…bless him.
Actually, the plot was really good too!! I raced through this in two days because it was bouncy enough to keep me entertained (to be fair, it’s a children’s book so) and the whole mystery of it was genuinely intriguing. I’m really interested to see what the movie did with it because I know they changed one huge aspect of it.
(That one huge aspect happens to be my favourite part of the book, which I’m gonna talk about rn, so SPOILERS though it was published in 1986 so I mean…there’s been plenty of time to read it)
Without doubt though, my favourite part of the book is the fact that the black door leads to rural Wales. There’s no magic here, no monsters, and the scariest part about it is Howl’s sister. Considering most fantasy stories would have the black door lead to some terrifying wasteland (coughcough), I thought this was a nice touch.
So yeah – great world, amazing characters and a surprisingly gripping plot! Has anyone else read this (or even watched the film?)
Lots of love,