Fantasy Review: ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Diana Wynne Jones

I think I would have been into fantasy at a lot earlier age if someone had introduced me to Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Diana Wynne Jones.  As is I didn’t discover her until Eight Days of Luke was being mentioned as being similar to the much later published American Gods.  I read it, loved it, and read a few of her other books the same year.  And yet the book she is best known for, the one that inspired a very popular movie?  Never read it.  Until now.

A floating castle holds the wizard Howl, known for abducting young women all over land.  But when young, but sensible, eldest daughter Sophie is cursed to look grandmotherly she no longer needs to fear such things.  So when the opportunity comes she joins the castle, bargains with the demon powering it, and eventually is even noticed by Howl.  Looking for an opportunity to break her curse she finds herself knee deep in a battle with a witch, searching for a missing prince, and dealing with Howl’s tantrums.  Of course she finds out that Howl perhaps isn’t the legend that the stories say he is. 

Jones was aware of and playing with genre tropes before it was cool.  Her Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a riot, especially since almost twenty years later almost everything she pokes t is still very prevalent in the genre.  But Howls Moving Castle is ten years older than that book and having fun with it just as much.  I knew I was going to like the book when Sophie showed how aware she was of her fantasy surroundings; being the eldest daughter forcing her life path.

I find it ironic that it was Gaiman that first pointed me to Jones, because for reasons I can’t quite explain I feel I finally have that recommendation for lovers of Gaiman’s works.  Howl’s Moving Castle reminds me a lot of Stardust.  It is a whimsical tale that has a fairy tale feel to it, without actually have been taken from any existing fairy tale.  It has familiar elements (demons, witches, etc) doing unfamiliar things.  And lead player Sophie is aware, at least subconsciously, that she is living by some pretty silly fairy tale rules.  Okay, maybe the witch doesn’t do much that surprises but my point still stands.

I find myself not having much else to say.  I liked it quite a bit, but that has proven to be a pattern when reading the author.  I would say I recommended it, but I think everyone has already read it so that doesn’t mean much.  So…

4 stars

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