For many years and through many re-readings, one of my favourite childhood books was Dogsbody, about arrogant, hot-tempered Sirius (the dog-star) banished to the body of a dog on Earth and rescued by his human owner Kathleen, herself struggling as an Irish girl in a hostile English family.
Not until I read Howl’s Moving Castle did I realise the author was the same for both, and since then I have been on a quest to read her full back-catalogue – not easy, since Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1970 and has written about 45 books (mostly YA). Her breadth is astonishing, and she has a brisk and clever style I love. In fact, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the few books I finished feeling jealous: I wished I’d written it, and I rarely feel that (since every author is different with different approaches etc).
The basic story is simple: Sophie is the eldest of three daughters, and therefore expects no adventures for herself (it’s always the third child, after all). Working resignedly in her step-mother’s hat store, she falls afoul of an evil witch and is transformed into an old crone. Seeking help, or at least refuge, with the supposedly cruel dark wizard Howl in his fantastic moving castle, Sophie helps him avoid his responsibilities while trying to break her curse. Meanwhile, her two sisters have their own plans about the fates laid out for them.
It’s a fun and sweet story, with comedy, romance, life lessons, surprises, battles and such an excellent cast of characters that if it wasn’t for Howl and Sophie, it’d be hard to pick a favourite: as it is, I’m evenly split between those two.
Howl’s Moving Castle has been made into an animated movie. Howl also makes guest appearances in two other Wynne Jones books: Castle in the Air and the upcoming The House of Many Ways. More about Diana Wynne Jones here.
Interested? Buy it from Fishpond.com.au. Terrible cover, though.