Title: Howl’s Moving Castle [Howl’s Castle 1]
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Genre: Children’s, Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW
It’s hard to talk about Howl’s Moving Castle (the book) without comparing it to the 2004 animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki. Though both similar and vastly different in various ways, both tell the fantastically beautiful and epic tale of Sophie Hatter, the elder, dowdy daughter of a hat maker who spends her days in the back room of her parent’s shop resigned to the dull life of adorning patron’s heads. On an unexpected whim, an old witch bursts into her hat shop one day and curses Sophie with the visage of a 90 year old woman…. and Sophie’s adventure begins.
The story is filled with demons, magic, castles that move on mechanical legs, star-eating wizards, and portals between worlds. This is a story of family, friendship, and love, and I adored nearly every moment of it. Like the movie, the book boasts a colorful cast of characters ranging from the very normal Sophie, to the insanely pieced together Turnip-Head scarecrow that bounds miles across the land in search of it’s missing pieces. There’s drama, hijinks, romance, and comedy sure to delight any middle-grade reader, and if you liked the movie, you’ll probably like this too. There are some major differences between the movie and book, especially towards the end, but I think for the most part, the changes will only add understanding to what may not have made sense in the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie (I highly recommend you do), this story is probably going to be a little more complicated for you to get through (there is a LOT going on), but it’s no less enjoyable without the movie to back it up.
The world building of the story is panoramic in it’s scale. There’s so much going on that at times it’s hard to soak it all in, but the world is rich and detailed in a way that can’t help but suck you into the story. The characters are distinct, colorful, and loveable in so many ways (Sophie and Howl of course being my favorites), but I will admit that the romance is a bit lukewarm. It’s understandable—this is a novel geared towards younger readers, but I couldn’t help but feel that the connection between Sophie and Howl, particularly at the end, seemed to be very loosely tied together. I really wish the story had delved deeper into their friendship and subsequent romance (and I certainly hope it develops in the later books of the trilogy).
Technically speaking, the story was pretty well written. There weren’t any obvious grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes, and the text was clear and easy to read. My only complaint, if one at all, is that the voice of the narrative is very “tell-y” There’s very little dialogue comparatively to the descriptions within the story, and at times it does feel like the author is spending too much time telling the audience what is happening rather than showing us… BUT I also realize that this was part of how stories were written back in 1986.
If I had a complaint at all about this book (and this is the largest reason why this got 4 stars instead of 5) it’s that the story can be overwhelmingly complicated at times. Particularly near the end of the book, a lot of plots are being brought together, our idea of what and who characters are is changed, and there’s a lot of conflict going on between the characters. It gets a bit “busy”. There are so many ideas and subplots going on outside of the main Sophie’s Curse plot, that it’s a little hard to keep track and understand what is going on. Think of it as trying to hear a particular conversation in a room of several dozen people, all animatedly trying to get your attention. It was a bit much.
Overall, I still loved the book. I don’t know that I loved it more than the movie (because it is one of my favorite Hayao Miyazai films), but I’d say that it’s certainly on par. I’m so glad to have been able to read this book, and I’d certainly read it again given the chance. I’m thrilled to be able to move onto the next few books in the series, and if you like Middle-grade / YA Fantasy, I’d certainly recommend this book.