Title: House of Many Ways
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
# of Pages: 404
Favorite Line: "I can't wear thethe! I want my thtwipey oneth!"
From School Library Journal
Grade 5–10—Sheltered teenager Charmain Baker is sent by her domineering great-aunt to house-sit for a distant relative, the royal wizard. She finds that his residence has myriad magical rooms and hallways and soon learns that there is trouble in the seemingly peaceful kingdom of High Norland. The treasury is disappearing, and no one knows where the money is going. Princess Hilda invites Sophie Pendragon, the main character from Howl's Moving Castle (1986), to come help solve the mystery, with her husband, Howl, disguised as an annoying preschooler, and the fire-demon Calcifer. A lubbock, one of Jones's more threatening magical creations, and its offspring, the lubbockins, threaten the kingdom, and it's up to Charmain and her nascent magical talents—and her new friends—to save the day. A whirlwind conclusion sets all to rights and leaves Charmain ready to start life outside of her parents' shadow.
Gosh, what a reading weekend! I have binged on all my Howliverse books and now will sadly have to visit another world with my next book. But it was a fun weekend with Howl and Sophie and Calcifer. The characters feature much more in this book than they did in Castle in the Air, which to me, was a huge plus. Particularly because I didn't care for the main character, Charmain. She's pretty much a brat through most of the book and not very warm at all. Also, the first half of the book is pretty slow- nothing much seems to happen until about 150 pages in (which is when Sophie shows up with her family). But after that, it's a madcap ride.
Howl, as usual, steals the show. This time, he spends most of the book as a lisping and precocious four-year-old who wants everyone to tell him how pretty he is. His lisp is absolutely hilarious because he really makes sure to use as many words with the letter s in them as possible, probably just to annoy his much put-upon wife. A stroke (thtroke?) of genius on Diana Wynne Jones's part- it was great.
I didn't find any of the other characters quite as winsome, though. Charmain grows into a bit of a better person at the end, but she's still pretty selfish. And Peter, her great-uncle's apprentice, could have had a much bigger role but was swept to the side. And one quibble many readers have with DWJ is her propensity to spend about three paragraphs at the end of her books sweepingly cleaning up any mess and muddle her characters have gotten into, so that everything ends neatly. I also find this slightly annoying. But it's important to remember, also, that DWJ's target audience is mostly children- and children's books usually end neatly and happily. Just because adults love DWJ as well, and delve into her books, doesn't mean that she should write to cater to that audience. But once in a while, it would be nice to have things end in a slightly more open-ended manner.
What's most depressing, though, is that I have no more Howl and Sophie books to read! Considering that there are several, several years between the publication dates in the Howliverse, I have a feeling that I will have a long wait for another book featuring the duo. But I bet the book will be worth the wait. Maybe now I should just go buy the DVD version of Howl's Moving Castle. Not quite as good as the book, but it could tide me over!