Just a quick update before we dig into this book review. Edits on The Steel Armada are now complete!
I’m just writing up a quick epilogue, mainly because I’m not sure about the ending. Granted, I’m not sure about the epilogue, but that’s what Beta readers are for, amiright? I should have the novel sent to said Betas this weekend, and I can hardly believe it.
Stories are still coming in for The Audient Void, and since I’m editing them as they roll into my inbox, I feel confident that we’ll release Issue #1 in a timely manner. If you enjoy Weird Fiction, à la Lovecraft and Bierce, check us out here. We’re accepting submissions of short fiction and poetry, through March 20th. So if you want to submit, you still have some time, and if you’re waiting for the issue, like our page and keep an eye out for sometime in April.
The What I’m Reading page has been updated, so take a peek, and follow me on Goodreads to see real time updates and annotations.
Anyway, enough gibber jabber! On with the review!
House of Many Ways is the third and final installment of the Howl’s Moving Castle series. I’m not sure if it was intended to be that way, because the ending definitely leaves the door open for Sophie and company to have further adventures.
Published in 2008, 18 years after its predecessor and a whopping 22 years after the original title, House of Many Ways is a very different book.
Instead of a whirlwind love story, as the two previous books, this one is more of a coming of age story. It follows teenage Charmain Baker on an unexpected, and rather unwanted adventure. You see, her Great Uncle William, the Royal Wizard of High Norland, has taken ill, and needs someone to watch his house while he’s away being treated.
In true Wynne Jones style, Charmain gets very little say in the matter, and before she knows it, she’s at Great Uncle William’s house, forced to take care of it, the multitude of chores left behind by the ill man, and his dog, named Waif.
Sadly, Charmain is pretty miserable at first. Both as a character in the book, and as a character for the reader. She’s cantankerous, entitled, and snobbish. She doesn’t clean anything, which is the whole reason she’s been brought to the house, and just complains the entire time that she can’t read and eat all day. Brat. It doesn’t help the that house is giant, full of magical hallways that require precise movements to navigate, and a long, 3-Dimensional map to keep track of everything. There are even segments that haven’t been mapped yet! Charmain is mostly annoyed by the house, and refuses to learn more of its secrets, until she’s forced to.
If you can’t tell, Charmain and I didn’t quite jive. I identified much more with Sophie’s determination and optimism than I did Charmain’s bitterness and laziness. But, I agreed much more with the book when Peter showed up.
Peter is the son of the Witch of Montalbino, good friends with Great Uncle William, and his new apprentice, which of course is all unbeknownst to Charmain. She immediately takes a stern disliking to the boy, and yet he weathers her various stormy moods, and helps take care of William’s house. Though, he’s a bit clumsy and accident prone, so he often causes Charmain more trouble than he is help.
Serves her right!
Anyway, Charmain, in the midst of supposedly caring for the house, has taken up a job with the King, sorting through and cataloging the vast Royal Library. This is where the plot really comes in. The Royal family is in a bit of a pickle. Their fortune is disappearing, to the point where they’re selling artwork off the walls.
Usually, they would consult William, him being the Royal Wizard and all, and yet they sent him off to the Elves, on account of his illness. So, in their desperation they’ve called upon a dear, old friend.
Sophie Hatter. Or, rather, Sophie Pendragon, as she’s now called. And in tow she has not only toddler Morgan (who we met in the last book) but small, eerily golden-haired boy, with a very suspicious lisp. And attitude.
I knew early on that this Twinkle, as he calls himself, is none other than Howl in an infuriating disguise, and felt rather badly for Sophie who now had to pull double mother duty. Between Howl’s antics and Morgan’s demanding nature (he takes after his father) Sophie is hardly much help to the Royal Family, but true to her nature, she does her damnedest to find the missing money.
So, Charmain realizes that the King is near destitute and that the gold has been hidden somewhere. Through a vast series of interlocking coincidences, which are never actually coincidences, Twinkle (Howl) finds the gold, Charmain discovers who’s stealing the tax money, and Peter and Charmain out the Prince and his waiting man as Lubbockins.
Lubbockins, for the record, are inherently evil, half humans identified by purple eyes or patches of skin.
There’s much running about and yelling as Twinkle fights the Lubbockin Prince in order to free Morgan (who was taken hostage by said Lubbockin) and Sophie chases after him promising murder. If she means the Lubbockin or Howl, I’m still not quite sure.
But, in the end, the evil is vanquished, the money returned, Uncle William is restored to health, and Sophie and her family return to their castle, still yelling and arguing, as is their way. Charmain learns valuable lessons in patience, kindness, and the joys of a job well done, and Peter gains an unexpected champion and defender in Charmain.
As per the usual storytelling of Diana Wynne Jones, every detail comes together at breakneck speed in the last 20 pages or so, living you laughing, mystified at the perfect, shiny bow that is the ending.
Usually these types of ending seem convenient and unsatisfying, but I’ve yet to feel that way with the Howl’s Moving Castle books.
I will say, this was my least favorite of the three. Maybe because I knew it was the last one, so my expectations were set pretty high. I expected this massive sendoff for Howl and Sophie, a grand adventure. Instead I saw them in glimpses and spurts, while I was forced to follow along with Charmain and her complaints. Perhaps I’m too far removed from her and her concerns, and much closer to Sophie and Howl’s. I don’t know. But, it was a little difficult for me to care about Charmain.
I did thoroughly enjoy Waif and Peter, who ceaselessly made life difficult for Charmain, who thoroughly deserved it. And of course, the moments shared by Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer were magical. They will forever be some of my favorite characters, and they will always have a warm spot in my heart and memories.
Again, House of Many Ways was not my favorite installment, but it was an extremely quick read. I will say that this one felt more like a children’s book than the last two, and that could be another reason why I didn’t enjoy it as much.
I’m glad I read it, mainly because there’s never a good reason to leave a perfectly good series unfinished. I can now say that I’ve read them all, check them off the TBR list, and move on with my reading life.
Right after I buy a copy of Howl’s Moving Castle…
Tomorrow’s my long work day, but I’m planning on finishing the Epilogue for The Steel Armada tomorrow night. Then I’ll send it to the Betas on Saturday. Book Club meets Wednesday to discuss Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I usually don’t post book reviews for those until after the meeting, but I leave for Disneyland the next day, so I’ll probably post it before Thursday.
So, if all my planning goes well, there should be some activity here before Thursday! See you then, Blogland!