Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Posted January 9, 2014 by Debby in Book Reviews

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Series: Howl's Moving Castle #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on April 1st, 1986
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 302
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

"How about making a bargain with me?" said the demon. "I'll break your spell if you agree to break this contact I'm under."

In the land of Ingary, where seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter catches the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help - the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls...

3 Stars

I’ve loved the movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle since I first saw it years ago, so I was really happy when Daph suggested this as a book club pick. It’s one of those books that I was meaning to read sometime, but I needed to be reminded and given that extra push, since it is a pretty old release. So I am glad that I finally got to reading this, and I did enjoy it, but it didn’t have a wow factor.

What I truly love about Howl’s is the beautiful writing style. This is regarded as somewhat of a fantasy classic, and it’s easy to see why. She’s an absolute masterful storyteller. Not only is the prose charming and fluid, but her imagination is amazing. The kind of fantasy she writes is just so unique and vivid. It makes you wonder, how did she even come up with these things? A moving house, with one door leading to multiple places. A fire demon who entered into a contract with a wizard. A girl who is bewitched to become a 90 year old woman – and is rather okay with that for the most part. It was easy to get sucked into such a unique world.

I love how magic is woven into this world and the characters in the story. Calcifer, the fire demon, is absolutely adorable, even though he’s mean to bacon. *cough* I adore Sophie. She’s so awkward but kind. However, the third person narrations, which I usually prefer, did keep me from connecting to her a bit. Howl was a laughable drama queen. It was hilarious how upset he got about tiny little things. But that also got tiring after a while. On the other hand, the magic he did was definitely charming.

Where I think Howl lost a few points is in the lack of shippy feels until the end. I mean, Howl and Sophie, there was a lot of potential there (as evidenced by the movie), but it didn’t actually happen until the very end. It was still adorable, but there could have been more of a build up. Also, it was much more middle grade than I expected. I found this in the Children’s section in Waterstones, which should have been a giveaway, but many people still classify it as young adult. Although the main character is 16, at least at the start, the story is much more a detached adventure story than a character-driven young adult novel. Surely, if I had read this when I was 9 or 10, I would have been all over it, but now it just felt a bit below my level. However, it still was truly charming.

Summing Up:

I ultimately wasn’t that impressed with Howl’s Moving Castle, because I just didn’t connect with the characters that much. I do love the magic and the world, and I am definitely impressed by Diana Wynne Jones’s writing, but I wasn’t wowed. I will say that the movie’s better than the book – I even gave it a rewatch after finishing reading it. But all in all I will probably check out the others in the series and more of Diana Wynne Jones’s writing, because for unique and creative fantasy, I know I can count on her.

GIF it to me straight!


Recommended To:

Fans of middle grade classic fantasies and creative world building.

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8 responses to “Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

  1. Yes, exactly this! I thought it was a charming story, but I didn’t feel the characters and there was something lacking.. I hope to see the movie soon, since you love that one so much πŸ˜€

    • Oooh definitely watch it πŸ™‚ It’s very different from the book, but so much fun in its own right. Very imaginative and quirky and adorable πŸ™‚

  2. I seriously have to read this book! It sounds like it would make for such an entertaining read, plus I could totally follow your example and watch the movie afterwards. I do like stories with unique, imaginative elements and fun characters!

  3. I’m kind of really sad it didn’t blow your mind away, Debby! (though I’m glad you did like it, to a degree)
    This is one of my favorite books ever; I just loved everything about it – and the third person narrative added charm to me. I thought Sophie and Howl’s “relationship” was brilliantly done because at the end, everything suddenly made sense and you realize everything you THOUGHT you saw was wrong, and Howl did so much out of his feelings to Sophie. I do agree that it’s middle-grade-ish, but I adored it nonetheless! I read it three times in the last two years πŸ˜‰
    I agree with everything you said about Dianna’s beautiful writing and incredible imagination.

    Really great review, Debby!

    Just curious, what did you think of the huge differences between the movie and the book? I mean, the movie just basically took the characters names and created something completely different based on a “moving castle with door that lead ways & girl into 90 years old’ deal…

  4. This is so odd, because we read it for Forgotten Friday for this week! (Our review is up). I have to admit, I feel that the book and the movie were two separate beasts. I like the steampunk feel of the movie, where the novel was strictly fantasy.

    I am also a bigger fan of the film, even though i liked the book quite a bit. The one thing that the book had over the film was the background of Howl. On the flip side, book Calcifer was so freaking awesome!