House of Many Ways
by Diana Wynne Jones
The cover of this book says it is "The Sequel to Howl's Moving Castle." It would be an understatement to say this claim intrigued me. Rather, it shocked me. Here I had been thinking, all these years, that Castle in the Air was the sequel. But now that I check the covers of the latest editions of all three books (which have been redesigned along a common theme), I find that Castle in the Air is merely "A Companion to" HMC. Even after reading all three books, I can't tell you what makes one a companion and the other a sequel. I guess that shows how little I know. But I know this much: fans of Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer are in for a treat. Even if you don't know those characters, but enjoy a story with wit, surprises, a touch of horror, a dollop of mystery, and a whimsical blend of fairy-tale magic and dimension-bending weirdness, you will love this book.
Charmain Baker (I kept catching myself thinking "Chairman" and having to go back and re-read her name) has been brought up by strictly respectable parents who don't want her to have anything to do with socially lowering activities, such as cooking, cleaning, or magic. So far they have been quite successful, allowing the girl to spend all her time with her nose buried in a book. But their hopes are dashed when a bossy, dowager aunt fast-talks Charmain into housesitting for an ailing wizard named William Norland, who has been taken away by the elves to have some illness treated. You're supposed to think it's cancer, but it turns out to be something far more horrid and, not coincidentally, connected to the mystery of where all the king's gold has gone to.
The King of High Norland is in deep financial trouble. Charmain learns this when, driven by her love of books, she moonlights as His Majesty's library assistant. She isn't too worried about Wizard Norland's house, which has doorways magically leading to many different places - far too many to fit under its modest little roof. After all, the house is looked after by lots of tiny, blue-skinned kobolds and a magically hopeless apprentice named Peter. Besides, Charmain has more magic in her little finger than Peter has in his whole body. She also has the devotion of an enchanting dog named Waif. But now the murky history of a good thing called the Elfgift is tangled up in the dire plots of a couple of purple-eyed Lubbockin. The arrival of a wizardly family, including Sophie, her toddler son, and an angel-faced little devil with a flamboyant lisp, add just the right spark to touch off an explosion of palace intrigue, magical chaos, and mildly romantic hilarity.
If D.W.J. isn't careful, she may find herself forced by demand from her fans to turn the Howl trilogy into a quartet... at least! I have always had my eye out for Wynne Jones titles that I haven't read before. I have even enjoyed reading some of them more than once. Her work is an ongoing gift to the inner child of readers at any age who enjoy such authors as E. Nesbit, J. K. Rowling, Eva Ibbotson, and Joan Aiken. And this book shows that she still has the knack. I am looking forward to reading her next book, Enchanted Glass.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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