Saturday, April 17, 2010

Arty -- Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Sophie Hatter has two problems. One, she's been cursed by the Witch of the Waste. Two, she can't tell anyone about it.

The eighteen-year-old girl (eldest of three, which is bad luck in Ingary) doesn't even know why she was cursed. A plain-looking person, she was just working in her deceased father's hatshop, talking to the hats as usual, when a strange lady walked in and asked to see their merchandise. The next thing Sophie knew, she had been turned into a wrinkled ninety-year-old lady.

But Sophie isn't to be outdone. She leaves home to find the infamous Wizard Howl, who supposedly eats the hearts of pretty young ladies, in the hopes that he can lift her curse. At the wizard's miraculous moving castle, Sophie meets and befriends (to use the word loosely) the fire demon Calcifer, Howl's apprentice Michael, and, of course, Howl himself. Thus begins Sophie's effort to break her curse, complete with bargains with fire demons, jealous witches, and dashing, vain wizards - along with experiences that teach her there's more to both Howl and herself than it seems at first.

When I first picked this book up, I was skeptical. How interesting could a book about a ninety-year-old woman be, anyway? But Persy told me the movie adaption was awesome, so I decided to read it anyway. I am so glad I did.

The characters were works of art, sharp, witty, eccentric, so mythlike and yet so real. The character development is marvelous as well. Sophie's and Howl's changes are subtle but dramatic - and they don't make an impression on their basic personalities. They're the same people - just more aware of their weaknesses. And the plot, or should I say plots - it'll take you a couple reads to fully grasp the intricacies of the various plot points at work, but it'll definitely be worth it.

The many subplots is really the only thing I can find wrong with Howl's Moving Castle. There are so many aspects of Sophie's world that come into play - her sisters' switching places, Howl's quadruple life, and the Witch's final evil plan - it can very easily get confusing. I had to go back and check a few places to make sure I had everything straight. Some of the coincidences Jones uses are sometimes a bit too... well, coincidental - the true nature of the Witch of the Waste and Howl's Miss Angorian, for example. But this is a fairytale of magic and mayhem - coincidences can be forgiven.

Another note: Howl, the Witch, and a few others do use various magics and spells. Nothing overpowering, but it's definitely there.

All in all, one of the most satisfying, humorous, and unwittingly touching books I've read in a long time. It also has two sequels, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways; if you can, check out the movie adaption of Moving Castle, too. Not as good as the book, naturally, but still very, very good.

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