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Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Series: World of Howl #1
Author: Diana Jones
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
18-year-old Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters living in Market Chipping, a town in the magical kingdom of Ingary, where fairytale tropes are accepted ways of life, including that the eldest of three will never be successful. As the eldest, Sophie is resigned to a dull future running the family hat shop. Unknown to her, she is able to talk life into objects. Things change however when the powerful Witch of the Waste turns her into an old crone. Sophie leaves the shop and finds work as a cleaning lady for the notorious Wizard Howl. She strikes a bargain with Howl’s fire-demon, Calcifer: if she can break the contract between Howl and Calcifer, then Calcifer will return her to her original youthful form. Part of the contract, however, stipulates that neither Howl nor Calcifer can disclose the main clause, leaving Sophie to figure it out on her own.
Sophie learns that Howl, a rather self-absorbed and fickle but ultimately good-natured person, spreads malicious rumours about himself to avoid work and responsibility. The door to his castle is actually a portal that opens onto four places: Market Chipping, the seaside city of Porthaven, the royal capital of Kingsbury and Howl’s boyhood home in Wales, where he was named Howell Jenkins. Howl’s apprentice Michael Fisher runs most of the day-to-day affairs of Howl’s business, while Howl chases his ever-changing paramours.
When Prince Justin, the King’s younger brother, goes missing while searching for Wizard Suliman, the King orders Howl to find them both and kill the Witch of the Waste. Howl, however, has his own reasons to avoid the Witch; the Witch, a jilted former lover, has laid a dark curse on him. He successfully continues to avoid her until she lures Sophie into a trap. Believing the Witch has taken Howl’s current love interest, Miss Angorian, Sophie goes to save her and is captured by the Witch. Howl spends hours in the bathroom everyday primping himself to look handsome for girls; Michael had said that the day he does not do this is the day Michael will believe that Howl is truly in love. So when Howl comes to save Sophie, unshaven and a mess, it demonstrates his love for her. He kills the Witch and reveals that Miss Angorian was actually the Witch’s fire demon in disguise; the fire demon had taken control of the Witch and was attempting to create a “perfect human” by fusing Wizard Suliman and Prince Justin. It was to be completed by the addition of Howl’s head.
At the castle, Miss Angorian takes hold of Calcifer to capture Howl’s heart. Howl had given his heart to Calcifer. This was the contract between them; the heart kept Calcifer alive, and in return Calcifer put his magic at Howl’s disposal. Sophie uses her ability of bringing things to life to free Calcifer, thus breaking the contract between him and Howl. With his heart restored, Howl destroys the witch’s fire demon, freeing Suliman and Justin. Calcifer, as promised, breaks Sophie’s spell and she returns to her proper age. Howl had realized early on that Sophie was under a spell and secretly attempted to remove the curse; when he had met with failure, he’d figured Sophie simply enjoyed “being in disguise”.
Calcifer returns, preferring to stay with Howl. Sophie and Howl admit they love each other when Howl suggests they live happily ever after.
When I read Howl’s Moving Castle back in ’08, I only gave it 3 stars. I had enjoyed it, but wanted something a bit “more”. This time around, the light fluffiness hit the exact spot and this rocketed up to a favorable 5 stars. Which means that this is definitely a mood book and depending on how I’m feeling while reading it is going to affect how I rate it. So that might happen to others as well.
But my goodness, this was just delightful. As Mrs B might say on occasion “totes adorb”. This is definitely middle grade edging into ya territory but not once did I feel that Jones was dumbing things down or simplifying. I think is a story that a 5th grader could enjoy as much as a 40 year old (or older).
Part of it is that Sophie is a completely solid, dependable young woman but who has her blindspot. It was so interesting to see how she would be blind sided by something and I could relate exactly. The other part is that Jones introduces a lot of side characters but I was not confused about who was who or who was what at any point. Every single character was them and they slotted into the story perfectly and stuck in my head. That is how characters should be!
Delightfully light, thoroughly satisfying, wondrously fun; that about sums up my experience this time around while reading this book. I had so much fun that I’m going to be breaking my own rule and reading the next 2 books in the Howl’s World series much closer together (weeks instead of months). I hope I’m not making a mistake!
Ps, this is the first post where I’m experimenting with using google drive to host the cover pix. I have to use a stupid “iframe” and can’t get the info block of text to align around it. If you know how to do that or if anything comes up wonky or if there anything you think I should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Thanks!