Monday, January 23, 2012

A book review: Howl's moving castle

Title: Howl's moving castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Published: Greenwillow Books (1986)

Synopsis: In the land of Ingary, such things as spells, invisible cloaks, and seven-league boots were everyday things. The Witch of the Waste was another matter.

After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch was about to terrorize the country again. So when a moving black castle, blowing dark smoke from its four thin turrets, appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls.
The Hatter sisters--Sophie, Lettie, and Martha--and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. But that was only the beginning.
In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, people and things are never quite what they seem. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? And what will happen to Sophie Hatter when she enters Howl's castle?

Star parts: Start with action, introduce your main character straight away, let your reader know what he or she wants. To be honest Wynne Jones doesn't do that. By the time Sophie had got herself into a perfect pickle I was rather fed up with her. She was a wet blanket without a ingle bit of oomph around her. Or at least that's what I thought until she picked the wrong customer to get all lippy with and as I said ended up in a bit of a fix.

Another strong point in the book are the characters. Right from the beginning Wynne Jones made the reader lost sympathy with Sophie, so that when she has to sort things out we're right there with her cheering her along, because she's finally taking some action. Her sisters Lettie and Martha are originally painted as Sophie sees them, and boy is Sophie wrong about her sisters. Michael provides some relief from all the tricky characters by being exactly what he says he is, Howl's apprentice. Calcifer tries very hard to be mean, but he just can't manage it in the end. And Howl, well you never quite know with him, although I did suspect that he couldn't be all bad. 

I loved the world building in this book and then when we were unexpectedly transported back into our own world those scenes were hysterical, but I won't say too much about that. Wynne Jones' imagination keeps the reader hooked and then makes you go back through the book to catch all those little hints and clues that you missed the first time. 

Black clouds: This is more of a slightly grey cloud on the horizon that can be blown away. The beginning was kind of slow and I was slightly tempted to put the book down, I'm glad I didn't. And the ending was all kind of quick. It reminded me a bit of the ending of Oscar Wilde play (I won't say which one) or a certain Shakespeare play (again won't say which one), and perhaps it was all intentional, but I would have liked maybe a page more of ending. 

Do I recommend it: What do you think? Of course I do and I've got another Wynne Jones in my TBR pile. 


Andrew Leon said...

I didn't even realize this was a book. I've seen the movie.

I'll have to look into it. I'm partial to books that start off slow. I think they tend to be more rewarding in the end.

Michele Helene said...

Oh, I was the opposite, I didn't realise there was a film until I started to look for a picture of the book cover. Was the film any good?

As for slow starts, I'm sitting on the fence at the mo, but I do think that pacing is important, I've read too slow and too fast and when writing I'm terrible for the soggy middle. So yep, just collecting splinters for the moment and will get back to you on that one.

Andrew Leon said...

Yeah, the film is good, but I liked Spirited Away more.

Here's my thing about slow starts: All (and I pretty much do mean all) of the greatest books in literature have a slow start. To some extent, that's just because books just used to be slower (like Dickens), but even more recent books like The Hobbit and Harry Potter have slow starts. A fast start may grab you quicker, but they seem to fade faster, too. I think what they sacrifice in allowing you to come to know the character first actually weakens the story enough so that they become like candy. They may be fun to read, but they just don't really last.

Dad Who Writes said...

And (after adding you to my reader) I noticed this post! Glad you loved Howl - I think one of the joys of Diana Wynne Jones is her utter refusal to go by the rules in any way shape or form, especially the slow start. Though some of her books take off at such a gallop and in a whirling mass of 'What is going on?' confusion (like Archer's Goon).

Michele Helene said...

I came to her late, but I'm putting that to rights now. I have another one in my TBR pile (which is struggling to break out of my bedside table at the moment). I may have to push her to the top. I'm being more ruthless as I have the choice at the moment and if it doesn't grab me within the first few chapters I'm sticking them to the bottom of the pile for much later.


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