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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doors through space and time, 20 July 2008
This review is from: House of Many Ways (Hardcover)
A few years ago, Hayao Miyazaki made a gorgeous anime movie based on the classic fantasy novel "Howl's Moving Castle," about a wizard and the artificially-aged girl who falls for him.

It must have made Diana Wynne Jones nostalgic for her flamboyantly-dressed, quirky wizard hero and his little family, because he plays a pivotal role in "The House of Many Ways." And the rest of the book is the kind of work Jones has been producing for many years -- a complex, tight little plot full of magical mysteries and bizarre problems, and at least one gutsy adolescent hero.

When the Wizard of High Norland falls ill and has to be hospitalized by elves, his great-great-niece-by-marriage Charmain is roped into taking care of his cottage.

But Charmain has a rather difficult time with the magical cottage and all the odd spells it contains. She also struggles with the cooking, cleaning, vast seas of soapsuds, a timid dog, a tribe of angry kobolds, and the arrival of Uncle William's new apprentice Peter -- who never gets magic quite right. In the middle of all this, she finds that she has a new job working with the King in his library.

But there are no fewer problems in the King's mansion, where Charmain is ordered to find information on something called the Elfgift. And the sorceress Sophie Pendragon -- along with her toddler, fire demon and cutesy, too-smart "nephew" -- have arrived to do some investigating as well. But even with powerful wizards nearby, this conspiracy's key may lie with Charmain -- and the vile magical creature lurking near the House of Many Ways...

It's been almost twenty years since Diana Wynne Jones last visited Howl, Sophie, Calcifer and the magical moving castle -- although they're presented so freshly in this book that you wouldn't know they'd ever been gone. And though Charmain is indisputably the heroine of this piece, she still gets the spotlight stolen by Howl -- or "Twinkle" -- whenever he appears.

And around this, Jones crafts a complex plot full of magical Elfgifts, missing gold, elves and a very suspicious heir to the throne. There are various minor plot threads, puzzles and developments that don't seem very important at the time, only to have Jones suddenly weave them all together. And I'll say this -- she knows how to spin up a brilliant fictional conspiracy.

And it's written in Jones' signature style, with plenty of English villages, castles, and wizards, and plenty of mildly eccentric characters -- not to mention the forays through the various space'n'time-bending doorways. Plus a wacky sense of humor, of course ("How DARE you do that! I'm not used to it!"). Charmain produces most of this, with her disastrous (and bubbly!) attempts at keeping house.

Charmain is a pretty good heroine for the book -- she loves books and dogs, and has been living with a mother who thinks magic and housework aren't nice or respectable. You can guess how long that lasts. And she works well alongside the understandably irritable Peter, a likable kid who has more real-world experience than Charmain has ever had.

And then there's the Howl Brigade -- our favorite wizard spends most of the book disguised as a truly nauseating, golden-curled, lisping child, which understandably drives Sophie crazy. His cleverness, power and vanity are undiminished, but it's a relief when "Twinkle" stops lisping. And the fire demon Calcifer gets to play a pivotal role in the story.

"The House of Many Ways" could as easily be called "The Story of Many Ways" -- a brilliant, sparkling book full of fantastical humor and mystery. Definitely a must-read.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Oct 2008 15:28:10 GMT
Last edited by the author on 27 Oct 2008 15:28:28 GMT
E. Martin says:
watch out! spoilers! ...too late :(

Posted on 6 Dec 2009 17:42:24 GMT
Fruit says:
Castle in the Air was the first "sequel" to Howls moving castle. Or at least the second book she wrote in Ingary in which the protagonists from Howls moving castle appeared as secondary characters.
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