Welcome to Forgotten Fridays. This mission of this feature is, twice a month, to review books that are more than a year old. And we review them TOGETHER! Most reviews have minor spoilers because it is hard to block them out in a back and forth dialogue about a book. So keep that in mind when reading, though we do try to not mention anything that would ruin a book for anyone.
This time, Lyn picked Howl’s Moving Castle, a middle grade fantasy book written by Dianna Wynne Jones. Read on to get more information about the book and see how we felt about it!
Publisher’s Description: In the land of Ingary, such things as spells, invisible cloaks, and seven-league boots were everyday things. The Witch of the Waste was another matter.
After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch was about to terrorize the country again. So when a moving black castle, blowing dark smoke from its four thin turrets, appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls.
The Hatter sisters–Sophie, Lettie, and Martha–and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. But that was only the beginning.
In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, people and things are never quite what they seem. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? And what will happen to Sophie Hatter when she enters Howl’s castle?
Diana Wynne Jones’s entrancing fantasy is filled with surprises at every turn, but when the final stormy duel between the Witch and the Wizard is finished, all the pieces fall magically into place.
Lyn: Okay, I have to know – what did you think of this pick?
Kara: I liked it quite a bit. I thought it was incredibly inventive, and I had a lot of fun reading it. I thought the world-building was a lot of fun, and though it didn’t always make sense, it was a fantasy world so as long as you can suspend disbelief (I could), I think it works. I loved the characters quite a bit as well. Basically, this book was just a ton of fun and I had a hard time putting it down. I was always looking forward to getting back to it when I had to stop to do something else. You?
Lyn: Even though it was very different from the anime (the anime leaned more towards “Inspired by” Howl’s Moving Castle), I still found it so charming and sweet. I loved Howl from the anime, and I loved him in the book. I also found Sophie very likeable in the novel. The whole book was such a tangled knot of characters and events, but it all came together at the end. I also like that family played a big role, and the ROMANCE. I was highly impressed with the level of complexity. The twist in the middle of the book was a huge shock to my system, and I loved it.
Kara: You are going to have to refresh my memory already. Which twist are you referring to? See, this is what I mean. I brain dump EVERYTHING.
Lyn: Howl’s background. That was not present in the animated film, which makes me sad, because it was a very strong element in the storyline.
Kara: Okay, I get what you mean. Yeah, I liked that part of it. I guess what I was really entranced by was the castle itself, and Calcifer. I liked Howl and Sophie, but I was never particularly attached to any of the characters. But I did like Sophie and Calcifer quite a bit. It wasn’t a perfect book for me, however. I thought the ending came about too abruptly. Somehow I was expecting more.
Lyn: The ending was rushed. I thought that the final battle with the Witch of the Waste was very anti-climatic.
Calcifer just MAKES the book. I would love to see some more in this universe in his POV.
Kara: YES. It was rushed. I expected this major blowout and I just was left feeling underwhelmed. Everything up until that point though, I was pretty much in love with. There were moments when I thought for sure I would be giving it 5 stars. I really do want to see the anime now, although I have a feeling its vision for the book will be very different from how I imagined it to be.
Lyn: The anime and the book are almost two separate beasts. Still a great film, and still a great book. I love how the author connects to other works of literature. She didn’t even put it in to seem hip or educated. It was slipped in at the perfect moments.
Kara: Same. I liked it a lot for many reasons, that being just one of them. I love how quirky and detailed it was. I loved the scarecrow and it freaked me out! I loved how Sophie brought life to everything she touched. I loved the scene where she accidentally enlarged Howl’s suit. I also love how the author didn’t need to explain everything for the reader and she left it up to us to figure lots of stuff out. It was important to pay attention to details in this one, and as this is a middle grade book, I think it’s really awesome that she had that much faith in her children readers. It’s rare.
Lyn: The scarecrow! I thought it was sad how everyone was so scared of him! It made me feel really sad, actually. It was touching that she gave Sophie her own talents, and never seemed to draw too much attention. I also liked when it was revealed that she, too, fell for the charmed suit, and the entire clothing element really made it seem so charming.
That is why this book is getting high marks. It is refreshing to see an author take some real chances and challenge the reader, even though it is aimed at such a young audience. This has more wit in the first chapter than I have seen in some other literature.
Kara: Yeah, I know what you mean about the scarecrow but he freaked me out at first. It was the idea of him chasing after the castle over all the hills and I was having flashbacks to nightmares or something. GAH. Which, by the way, I luuurvveedd the castle and its construction and how the door worked. It was so well thought out and imaginative. I hope that much detail is given to the anime.
And totally agree with you there. I did feel the book challenged me as a reader, and I am an adult. I sort of feel like I could have read it twice because I feel like there were a lot of details I might have missed on the first go-round.
Lyn: This is going to have to be a reread. There was a lot happening. This wasn’t meant to be a one hit reader.
The castle was darling, and I like that each castle was connected to a fire demon.
The entire story with the sisters made me smile on the inside.
Kara: Yeah, I pretty much loved Calcifer. I was always on the fence about Howl. There were times when I really liked him, and others when his vainness got on my nerves. I loved the dog as well, obviously. I am always going to love the dog. Haha. So was there anything besides the abruptness of the ending that you did not like?
Lyn: I think that is it. I loved the pacing, I loved the characters, I loved the threads of each side story, and how they came together. I rated it 4 stars only because I was a little let down over the ending.
Kara: I am with you. That’s entirely the reason for the 4 star rating. If a book doesn’t come together perfectly for me at the end, it’s hard for me not to deduct an entire star. That is a MAJOR oversight on the author’s part. But honestly, that was the only thing I can nitpick about. I wish every middle grade book was as inventive and creative as this one. I felt like I was reading Frances Hardinge for a while there.
Lyn: Ah! You have a good point! Now that you pointed it out, I do get the same vibes that I felt for A Face Like Glass.
Kara: Yes! So did I! So now I need to read more of her less famous books because I was impressed. Maybe we could pick another at some other point.
So uhhh for our next book, we will be doing And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It’s also known as Ten Little Indians. It’s one of my favorites and it’s time for a reread. Also, we are reading it to prepare for reading Ten by Gretchen McNeil. At some point. Bekka will be joining us on the next one. Excitement!
Lyn: I’m really excited about our next novel!
Kara: Me too. I already know how it ends, which sucks, but I am interested to see how you guys feel about it, and I am also interested to read it from the perspective that I am so I can look out for clues.