© Diana Wynne Jones, jacket art © John Rocco.
The cover calls this a sequel to “Howl’s Moving Castle,” but that’s somewhat misleading. The focus is on new characters, and the Howl cast only comes into it toward the end, though in a quite entertaining way.
Charmain Baker is a young teenage girl pampered and spoiled by her parents whose favorite thing to do is read, and who never seems to be allowed to do anything adventurous. That changes one day when she’s given the task of caring for the home of her great-uncle while he goes away to have surgery. What makes this a fantasy is that Charmain’s great-uncle is a powerful wizard, and his house is crammed full of magic. As they meet for the first time, Uncle William gives her a few pointers, assuming she is already trained in magic, but Charmain actually knows nothing about it, thanks to her parents! Elves arrive to whisk away Uncle William before she can explain, and there she is with nothing but some verbal hints and a bag of instructions to get on with. You can imagine what sort of trouble that leads to!
I think I enjoyed this the most of any Diana Wynne Jones book I’ve read in the last five years, and that includes a number of them. Jones likes to increase tension in her stories by having things gradually get more and more out of control, which works, but sometimes gets frustrating to me as a reader. I want to give the protagonist a good shake and say, “Look, pay attention! All the answers to your problems are right in front of you!” And, it’s true in this book as well, but the story is so funny and entertaining, the premise and setting so imaginative, I enjoyed every frantic moment of it. Toward the end the story does get somewhat confusing as Jones combines the new cast with the Howl cast, creating scenes with too many characters doing too much at once, but other than that, it’s all great stuff. And, as a reader of fantasy, I loved the idea of a house full of magic just waiting to be explored. Beyond that, the house itself, of “Many Ways,” is equally fun, with an endless number of rooms connected to all sorts of unusual places. Charmain is soon joined in her adventures by a mongrel dog and a boy apprentice, and finds herself involved with the King and his family, hostile kobolds, a dangerous monster and an evil heir to the throne. Going from one disaster to another, how can Charmain and her friends come through unscathed, and perhaps even find the King’s lost treasure? Read this fun story and find out.
I just recently read HOUSE OF MANY WAYS myself, and liked it a lot, too. I enjoyed CASTLE IN THE AIR, but thought this was better.
I’ve just picked up the first two CHRESTOMANCI collections, as well, and look forward to reading them. Right now I’m reading Jim Butcher’s Calderon series, and I expect to plow through those in order until I run out of them.
But first: A DC comp box came in today, so I have a new(ish) FABLES, JACK OF FABLES and HOUSE OF MYSTERY…
I enjoyed the CHRESTOMANCI books, though I think Jones’ DALEMARK quartet is her best work, showing an emotional depth and seriousness that many of her later works lack. But the CHRESTOMANCI books have lots of great ideas. Just be prepared for protagonists that never seem to recognize their own abilities and power for so long you want to get into the book and give them a dope-slap.
Oh, I’ve read CONRAD’S FATE, so I have a decent idea of what I’m getting into.
I actually started reading Jones with the DALEMARK books. I liked CART AND CWIDDER, but the others didn’t hook me anywhere near as much, though I thought the last one had a lot of polish. I think she does a lot with protagonists who don’t understand what’s going on around them, and makes them the viewpoint character, and in the Dalemark books, she hadn’t really hit on the trick of having them explain enough so that the reader can comprehend while understanding that the character does not. Or maybe it’s just me. In any case, in the Dalemarks, I tended to find them murky, while the other Jones I’ve read manages that dissociation in a way that’s lighter, but more clear.
It may be that the Dalemarks are more emotionally affecting, since you’re more caught up in what the protagonists see, and the Chestomancis and Howls give you enough to stand apart from the characters and perceive things from more of a distance, which lets them be funnier.
But oddly, thinking back on them, I’m remembering a lot of the Dalemarks with a sense of emotional power, when reading them I was caught up in the stuff that felt murky. Maybe I’ll have to reread them at some point, now that I know what’s going on in them, and see if that changes my perspective.