Young merchant Abdullah leads a humble life. Or he did until a stranger sold him a threadbare—and disagreeable—magic carpet. Now Abdullah is caught in the middle of his grand daydreams. Waking one night in a luxurious garden, he meets and falls instantly in love with the beautiful and clever Flower-in-the-Night. But a wicked djinn sweeps the princess away right before Abdullah's eyes, leaving the young man no choice but to follow. This is no ordinary quest, however, for Flower-in-the-Night isn't all the djinn has stolen. Abdullah will have the so-called help of the cantankerous carpet, a cranky genie in a bottle, a dishonest soldier, and a very opinionated black cat. Will this motley crew be able to find the djinn's mysterious dwelling and rescue a castle full of princesses? (from Amazon)
I think I hated Castle in the Air when I first read it. It’s got instalove, which is annoying even in a DWJ book. It’s got Sophie and Howl being annoying. And the story wasn’t very exciting.
This time around I liked it a lot better, and even Sophie and Howl didn’t annoy me as much as I thought they would. (Maybe because Howl spends almost the whole book as someone else, and that someone else is HILARIOUS.) I could also spot the genre conventions DWJ was touching on better, and how she was changing them just a little bit– like Flower-in-the-Night and her rapid transformation from ignorant damsel in distress to independant/super clever awesome lady.
I also liked Abdullah a lot more. He’s such a quiet person that he can fade into the background of his own book if he’s not careful. When Sophie shows up she immediately outshines anything Abdullah can do, but that doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly a pile of poo. He did a lot of clever things before she showed up, and he does a lot of clever (and kind) things AFTER. He saves everyone! I didn’t remember that. I have a feeling that I thought Sophie and/or Howl saved everyone.
Castle in the Air is a WEIRD book, though. Everyone’s someone other than who they say they are. Abduallah’s family pretends to be loving and kind once they think he’s going up in life. Abdullah pretends to be a prince. Howl and Sophie get enchanted into being something other than they are. So does Calcifer, a prince, a demon/angel thing, and a few other people that I’ve temporarily forgotten. The ending sequence is basically a great unveiling, and it’s a lot of fun. It felt a bit like the end of a Shakespeare play when everyone gets married: a great big mess of happy feelings and truth and stuff.
It’s still on the lower rung of Howl’s Moving Castle sequels (House of Many Ways is my favorite, obviously), but it’s a much better book than I remembered it to be. Plus, some of the characters in it show up again in HoMW, so it was nice tracking them back to this earlier book.
This is probably the most Howl-like book of the two sequels, though, because it’s definitely more fairy tale-y than HoMW. HMC had the heavy emphasis on enchantments and destinies and so on, and CitA has likewise got a lot of traditional fairy tale elements. If you ignore the spotlight hogs that’re Sophie and Howl, it’s actually a very good fairy tale story with lovely characters and an exciting plot. There are princesses, and demons, and magic carpets that fly! I may be wishy-washy about some things in this book, but I DID have a good time reading it on the whole.
Read: March 11, 2013