This is just the kind of fantasy that I love. Many people have probably heard of the popular anime adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle, but it’s also a fantastic book, and I definitely recommend it as a different, but equally strong, experience.
Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of a young woman named Sophie who is suddenly aged far beyond her years by the Witch of the Waste – a figure who is feared across the land. Afraid and not sure what to do, she runs away and meets Howl and his famous moving castle. Howl himself isn’t exactly well respected or regarded in the community (indeed, rumours say that he eats girls’ hearts), but Sophie tags along with him and his young apprentice, Michael, and his resident demon, Calcifer, who powers the titular moving castle.
Though it times, it can feel a little aimless, with the characters just going from one small adventure to the next, it’s all tied together by the overall plot related to The Witch of the Waste, and Sophie looking for a way to reverse her curse. What appealed to me the most was how whimsical the book often was, but never to the extent to being too silly – unlike you see in some more modern fantasy and sci-fi, it takes itself completely sincerely.
Howl is a very funny character too, in that he’s supposed to be this big scary wizard, but he’s actually a pretentious layabout – even if he is still very powerful. Sophie doesn’t have time for any of his nonsense though, and the way the two of them constantly bicker about things is a great source of entertainment.
One of my favourite chapters of the book has to do with the relation between the fantastical world of Ingary, where the majority of the story takes place, and our real world. I won’t spoil it, but it’s bizarre, and unexpected, and I loved that. I always enjoy fantasy worlds having some tie to our own, and I look forward to seeing that thread explored further in later books in the series.
Though the very ending seemed a little cheesy for me (though true to fairy tales, I suppose), it was also very nice to see how many of the seemingly random things that were introduced all tied together – especially in relation to Calcifer.
While it has the capacity to be quite dark at times, it’s also a book that gives you such whimsical things as boots that can take you several miles in a single steps, conversations with falling stars, scarecrows coming to life, and more. There are even a few references to other pieces of fantasy and literature in it, which all help to make reading this book a very charming experience.
As children’s fantasy goes, this is definitely one that will appeal to adults too. If you want a bit of light and enjoyable escapism, this is a book to try.