Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl #1)

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Series: Howl

Sophie Hatter knows she’s doomed. As the eldest of three siblings (and step-sister to her youngest sister, no less), she knows her fate is to try first and fail hard, so that her youngest sister can eventually succeed. But fate has an odd way of working out. When their father dies, and her younger sisters are sent to be apprentices, Sophie is left with her stepmother to run the family hat shop. Then the evil Witch of the Waste comes and curses Sophie to be an old woman. Now the only thing Sophie can think of is to go after the dreaded wizard Howl, reputed to eat girl’s hearts, and hope he’ll notice she’s under a curse . . .

This is one of the best Diana Wynne Jones books, and if you’ve only seen the movie (or even if you haven’t seen it) you still need to read this. It’s just so smart. The layering begins immediately, when the story informs you that it is taking place in a fairy-tale like place of seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility—and promptly introduces Sophie, eldest of three, and very aware of the fairy-tale convention that favors the youngest in such settings. But even though it’s very clear up front this is a world of magic, Sophie starts grounded in practicalities and the mundane details that build up what life is like running a hat shop. And there are so many clever little touches as you can see both who Sophie is and how she thinks of the world, and, through her sisters, how Sophie has her blind spots to what can really be going on.

Sophie gives the impression of a stronger personality until time, the hat shop, and general everyday life have worn her into a mouse of a woman. Being an old crone ironically frees her to speak her mind and go after what she wants directly. It’s such a contrast to see shy Sophie cowering in the doorway of the May Day fair compared to old-maid Sophie who moves herself right into Howl’s moving castle, hoping he’ll somehow notice the fact that she’s under a curse (since part of the terms of the curse are that she can’t talk about it).

And this is also a very funny book. Howl is not what Sophie expected. Vain, self-centered, a huge drama queen, and a mighty wizard—when he gets mad or depressed, he tends to overreact in hysterical ways. The slime scene is one of my favorite parts of the book. (And one the movie thankfully preserves intact.)

This is a story just about anyone can enjoy. There’s so many little details that even after multiple re-reads I still see something I hadn’t noticed before.  I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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