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Howl's Moving Castle (Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What is there to say about Sophie and Howl and Calcifer? What is there to say about Diana Wynne Jones, except that she had some spark of genius, some way of writing books that don’t feel like they could have been written by anyone else? Books, and characters, and marvelous little bits and pieces – objects and places that are infused with the best kind of magic.

Before this, I’d only read Fire and Hemlock, which is completely unlike this book in some ways, but also clearly from the same pen. Somehow, that book convinced me that I would enjoy anything she’d written, but for whatever reason I didn’t rush out to read them, knowing I had a nice large body of work waiting for me.

My kids’ bookgroup chose this as their April selection, based on the recommendation of one girl who’s recently become a DWJ convert. I owe her a debt of gratitude, because it jump-started me.

Sophie had me hooked from the beginning – she believes herself to be completely subject to fairy tale conventions, based on her birth order. As the oldest of three girls, she’s bound to fail at any quest or pursuit, and it’s best for her to just stay home and work at the hat shop and leave it to her youngest sister to successfully make her way in the world. Of course, that’s not how it goes at all, and Sophie turns out to be possessed of a marvelous kind of magic, the kind where she can persuade or harass others (people and things) into doing as she asks. I do love a good stubborn heroine.

Added to the cast of fabulous characters (hilariously vain Howl, grouchy Calcifer) is the moving castle itself. I suppose you can’t quite separate Calcifer from the castle, but it does feel like a another character, and its ability to be in four places at once is the kind of thing I love in fantasy novels. In fact, Jones manages a perfect balance between seriousness and humor in the whole book – I cared deeply about the characters at the same time that I was laughing and enjoying the ride.

Source: my public library

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Shortly after finishing the book, I watched the movie adaptation. While I was a bit distracted by analyzing differences between book and movie, I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie. They’re completely different animals in some ways, but they still have a core similarity in tone and feel. I recommend both, but maybe not back to back.

Fire and Hemlock Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Why on earth did I never read DWJ in middle school? Probably because I was too busy rereading Robin McKinley, Madeleine L’Engle and L.M. Montgomery. But I think the real answer is so that I have a whole pile of new-to-me books to read as an adult, with delights around every corner, I’m sure. Thanks, Laura!

When I picked this one up at Powell’s, I’d forgotten that it was a Tam Lin retelling. And really, you could read most of the book before you realize it – the beginning of the book has a very subtle fantasy element – the occasional odd encounter that could be explained away somehow. Towards the end of the book, Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer (which I wasn’t familiar with) come in much more heavily. Oddly, exactly the same thing happened in another version of Tam Lin.

I wouldn’t describe the book as action packed at all – it’s more of a thoughtful fantasy, perfect for readers who like to try and puzzle out what it will all mean rather than rushing headlong into action. It’s got a nice spooky element, too, that will appeal to mystery fans. The book begins with Polly remembering her childhood, but she’s in college in the ‘present’ part of the story, which I think makes this a good choice for both middle school and high school readers. There’s a bit of romance (it IS Tam Lin after all) but that really takes a back seat to the more mysterious elements in the story.

Now, off to think gleefully about all the DWJ books waiting for me to read them…

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