Retro Review: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

TITLE: Howl’s Moving Castle
AUTHOR: Diana Wynne Jones
PAGES: 224
FORMAT: Very love-worn paperback
ISBN: 978-0688062330
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 11/10 [These go to eleven.]

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? Diana Wynne Jones's entrancing fantasy is filled with surprises at every turn, but when the final stormy duel between the Witch and the Wizard is finished, all the pieces fall magically into place.

I’m taking a step back today to talk about one of my favorite books of all time. I do not use those words lightly, but Diana Wynne Jones has captivated me from the beginning, ever since my mom gave me a copy of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume I for Easter. Diana is the master of breathtakingly original fantasy. You’ll never find a stale elf-and-dwarf Tolkien-rip-off or a flat plot. I love every single book of hers I’ve read, but HMC has always, always stood out above the rest.

To me, it’s the perfection of young adult fantasy. Strong lead character with spunk, charisma, and a voice that’s unmistakably hers. Equally strong supporting cast, with a snarky, adorably dandyish wizard straight out of Oscar Wilde, a demon with a heart, a wicked step mother who’s not all so wicked, and many more. Romances built on friendship and trust and passion. A style bursting with wit, snark, and clever tricks with words. Kooky magic that turns your run-of-the-mill fantasy straight on its head, in a way that only Diana can.

All those features make it perfect fantasy, but it’s more than that. Its “In which” titles and storybook tone are straight out of Grimm but it’s not your average fairy tale. Every page pulls you towards the next and when you’ve finished, you just want to read it over (or catch the sequels!). It’s fun and lighthearted but the dangers are real, and in the end, the characters must face up both to the problems of magic and danger as well as the problems of growing up, finding themselves, and looking past appearances. Nothing is what it seems, but nothing feels contrived or tricksy. I get shivers every single time I read it. Literally. It's written a little younger so don't expect steamy teen lit style makeout-scenes, but does just fine without 'em.

And I will leave you with this: GO READ IT. Now! No, don’t wait, just go! Because I just realized that if I buy it for Kindle, I can carry it around with me. Best. Day. Ever.

Look out in the next couple days for my review of Bone Dressing by Michelle Brooks!

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