Review – Howl’s Moving Castle

Cover of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this now, but it’s probably my favourite of Diana Wynne Jones’ work. I actually saw the Studio Ghibli adaptation first: it’s very different in some ways, but it still captures some of the ideas and tone. The thing I really loved, though, coming to the book after the film, was discovering all the Welsh background. The ‘saucepan song’, Howl’s family, his Welsh Rugby shirt, even some of the things he says — “there’s a welcome in the valleys”! As well as the Welsh background, there’s just a lot more in the book: Sophie’s sisters, her aunt Fanny, a different view of Howl…

And Sophie is a fun protagonist: capable, pretty, not stuck up, capable of making mistakes, admitting she’s wrong, and being really ratty about it. She’s not perfect, by any means — which is fortunate, because neither is Howl. Both of them have a lot to put up with, in fact! And yet it doesn’t go too far, either: most people have something redeeming about them. For a while we think of Sophie’s Aunt Fanny as rather exploitative and unfair; a wicked stepmother, in fact. But there’s another side to the story, and Jones makes sure we know it.

Then of course there’s the tone. It’s light, silly, and yet you come to care about the characters easily because they make you smile, and because sometimes you can see right through them to their real motivations. Like people, really. I love all the references to traditional folk tale structures, too, like Sophie thinking she’ll never come to much because she’s the eldest of three.

Rating: 5/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten characters you wish would get their own book”.

  1. Verity Farseer (Realm of the Elderlings, Robin Hobb). Or maybe his wife, Kettricken. Either way, they’re both great characters, I love the idea of “Sacrifice”, and I wish we’d seen more of Verity being awesome. I don’t think there’s really space for a Verity book in the series, and arguably his crowning achievements are in the Fitz books anyway, but for dreaming about, there’s all the time before Fitz is born, or the time Verity spends alone in the mountains before Fitz and company catch up.
  2. Faramir (Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien). I had the biggest literary crush on Faramir; I think he’s one of the strongest characters we see in Middle-earth. He’s as worthy as Aragorn in his way — both consciously resist the Ring — and he had pretty short shift from his father. He deserves more!
  3. Jane Drew (The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper). Arguably Greenwitch is her book, but it’s so short! She’s the only girl in the Six, and it’d be great to see more of her.
  4. Susan Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis). She deserved more than being dismissed as too interested in “lipsticks and nylons”. As of The Last Battle, she’s still alive and there’s room for redemption or reinterpretation of what’s going on with her. I don’t think Lewis could ever have really handled her with subtlety, but you can dream…
  5. Ysanne (The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay). We only briefly see what Ysanne is like and get hints of her history. A story set entirely within Fionavar that ties up some of that would be lovely.
  6. Mel (Sunshine, Robin McKinley). There’s so much mystery around that character that was never resolved. It adds an interesting background to Sunshine, but I think everyone wants to know more about him.
  7. Jasper (A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin). He’s just a plot element, really, to set Ged on his path. He vanishes out of the story and we never really know why he leaves Roke, whether he ever gains some redemption. He’s presented a little too simplistically — I want to know more, even though he’s not a pleasant character.
  8. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones). Because Calcifer.
  9. Anafiel Delaunay de Montrève (Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey). We know a little about his past, and enough about him to sketch in what we need to know, but I’d like to get to know the character close-up, rather than through Phèdre’s eyes.
  10. Prim (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins). We see her through Katniss’ eyes, but it’d be fun to know what Prim’s thinking, what drives her — what little rebellions are in her, against Katniss and for her, as they’re growing up and Katniss is doing all this self-sacrificing. She’s presented as pretty much totally cute, but there’s gotta be more complex things going on.

What about you guys?

Throwback Thursday

Since I liked doing this last week, here it is again — a little highlight of some books that have been lurking on my shelves for a while.

  Cover of The Adamantine Palace by Stephen DeasThe Adamantine Palace, Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemically was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-plays that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses.

Dragons! Dangerous dragons! I’ve read some less than glowing reviews since I impulsively bought this book, but I’m still pretty hopeful. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how this take on dragons works out.

Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds

Three hundred years from now, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable due to a technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust. Archaeologist Verity Auger specializes in the exploration of its surviving landCover of Century Rain by Alastair Reynoldsscape. Now, her expertise is required for a far greater purpose. Something astonishing has been discovered at the far end of a wormhole: mid-twentieth century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Somewhere on this alternate planet is a device capable of destroying both worlds at either end of the wormhole. And Verity must find the device, and the man who plans to activate it, before it is too late – for the past and the future of two worlds.

I’ve actually read this before, but something like eight years ago. Eep. Now I feel old. Anyway, I picked this up again when I went to a signing by Alastair Reynolds, and it’s high time I got round to rereading it. It is, after all, the book that got my sister back into reading.

A Sudden Wild Magic, Diana Wynne Jones

Our world has long been protected by “The Ring” – a benevolent secret society of witches and conjurers Cover of A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jonesdedicated to the continuance and well-being of humankind. Now, in the face of impending climatic disaster, the Ring has uncovered a conspiracy potentially more destructive than any it has ever had to contend with. For eons, the mages of a neighboring universe have been looting the Earth of ideas, innovations and technologies – all the while manipulating events and creating devastating catastrophes for their own edification. And unless the brazen piracy is halted, our planet is certainly doomed.

It’s the words “kamikaze sex” later in the blurb that really get my attention. Diana Wynne Jones does a more adult novel, which sounds like a sexier version of her usual quirky worlds. It’s not gonna beat Fire and Hemlock, but it should be fun.