REVIEW: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (#dwjmarch)

REVIEW: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (#dwjmarch)House of Many Ways (reread) (Howl's Moving Castle #3) by Diana Wynne Jones
Published: Greenwillow Books (2008), Hardcover, 416pg
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Source: Bought


Summary:

A chaotically magical sequel to Howl's Moving Castle. Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great Uncle William's tiny cottage while he's ill should have been easy, but Great Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places - the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, to name but a few. By opening that door, Charmain is now also looking after an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard and a box of the king's most treasured documents, as well as irritating a clan of small blue creatures. Caught up in an intense royal search, she encounters an intimidating sorceress named Sophie. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? (from Amazon)

Buy on Amazon | Goodreads

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The Howl’s Moving Castle companions/sequels are a bit like the Chronicles of Chrestomanci: they’re set in the same world, they have characters that show up in every book, and they’ve got different kinds of magic in each one. House of Many Ways is actually the second sequel, and it stars Charmain, a bookworm.

Charmain’s a great character, and she’s luckily able to hold her own against the tidal wave that is Howl + Sophie. I love that she’s a bookworm, inclined to stick her head in a novel rather than deal with anything. She’s definitely not an action!girl, but that doesn’t make her BORING. She’s also selfish, a bit mean, and entirely too full of herself for a lot of the book. And yet she’s so much fun to read about!

She doesn’t STAY boring and mean, see: she makes an effort to change for the better, and she’s pretty successful. This happens because of the situation and various plot-related circumstances. First, she’s gotten away from her overprotective parents (who won’t let her do anything because it’s not “seemly” or whatever– terrible adult alert!) and she’s living basically on her own. Indepenence! Second, she makes new friends. This forces her to re-evaluate how she treats people, and she decides to be nicer. Character growth + friendship + self-awareness = awesome!

I liked the other characters besides Charmain, too. For instance, there’s King who spends all his time cataloging books with his daughter.1 He’s very kind and a bit dotty, and isn’t it interesting how DWJ almost always makes Kings and Queens nice while non-royal parents tend to be terrible? Wonder what that means.

Then there’s Sophie and Howl. And my main problem with the HMC sequels.

For some reason, the part where Sophie and/or Howl show up is where I start disliking the book. I think I’ve figured it out, though: it’s because Howl and Sophie are like non-actor celebrities who do a guest star episode in a sitcom. The whole focus of the episode is on them and their inability to say lines correctly, instead of on the actual stars of the show.2

Likewise, whenever Sophie and Howl show up, they take over the book. The protagonist gets the backseat, and it becomes the Howl and Sophie show. I like Howl and Sophie, but I DON’T like when the guest stars take over.3

Luckily that doesn’t start to happen in House of Many Ways until nearly the end, and the rest of the book is perfectly entertaining. There’s multiple plot threads going on, like in most of DWJ’s books. There’s Charmain’s sick uncle, a monster thingy terrorizing people, the King and his daughter and their money problems, Howl’s insistance on being a toddler for the majority of the book, and more. It all comes together at the end, of course, and it ties up pretty neatly, but in the middle it got somewhat wobbly.

On its own, I like House of Many Ways (see rating for proof). I like Charmain, I like the humor, and the story (though wobbly) is entertaining. As a sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, though, I don’t much like it. I’ve read it twice now, and I still don’t like it as a sequel. But I DO like it as a book, so I guess that’s good?

You do need to have read HMC before this book, really. For one thing, if you’re not familiar with HMC, Sophie and Howl’s characters read like weirdos who snuck in from another story altogether. Partly that has to do with it being several years after the events in HMC, and so Sophie and Howl have naturally changed a bit, but I think it’s also because we’re seeing them from an outside perspective. That sort of thing is something that features a lot in DWJ’s books– POV characters see themselves is usually vastly different ways from how other people see them.4 But it still helps to have a basis, and so I’d definitely recommend reading HMC before either of the sequels.

Read: March 2, 2013 (reread)

Footnotes

  1. HoMW is VERY heavy on bookworms, but it doesn’t spend too much time on them actually reading.
  2. The Chrestomanci books don’t have this problem, btw, even when Chrestomanci LITERALLY takes over the story. Hm.
  3. TOTAL turn-around from the first time I read House of Many Ways, btw! Back then (in 2009) I LIKED that Howl and Sophie were in the book so much.
  4. This is highlighted in The Merlin Conspiracy, which I’m reviewing later this week.

8 Comments

  1. Interesting how your perception of this one changed over time. Mine did too, but I wasn’t ready for it – it had only been 2-3 years. The Merlin Conspiracy is one of my favorite DWJ books… I’ll be looking forward to reading what you think of it!

  2. I agree that this one works in every way except as a sequel. Still, I forgive the grandness of Howl and Sophie because they can’t help themselves. They simply can’t imagine that there is anyone who is more important than they and their family are and they can’t imagine that there’s any problem that they couldn’t solve better than anyone else. You’ve got to love them. 🙂

  3. Yes! This is a good book – but I didn’t enjoy Howl and Sophie in it as much as I had hoped to. Same with Castle in the Sky. This irks me since HMC is one of my favorite books ever and I was so excited that Howl and Sophie crop up in other stories. Oh well. I think Kristen’ comment above is pretty spot on! I dislike being annoyed by favorite characters though. 🙁

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