Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

This is the second book in the Howl series of novels. While it is set in the same universe as the first book, for a long time, it feels very much like an entirely unrelated story to Howl’s Moving Castle. You are introduced to a character called Abdullah who lives in Zanzib, a completely different country, and while Ingary is mentioned, you won’t find any familiar elements for quite a while.

The main character, Abdullah, is a simple carpet merchant who dreams of a better life, liking to imagine that he might actually be a prince, and not related to the family that he struggles to get on with. Of course, adventure soon comes his way, when he is sold a magic carpet… the only problem is that he can’t figure out the magic word to activate it, but somehow says it in his sleep.

He whooshes off to a beautiful garden, where he meets a woman called Flower-in-the-Night, and the two seem to got on really well – and she’s a princess too. Everything is going well, until a djinn swoops down and kidnaps her, which of course leads the sultan to believe that Abdullah himself has something to do with the disappearance. To prove his innocence, he heads out to find and rescue her.

Along the way, Abdullah is joined by an old soldier, who’s a wary character, uninterested in helping others – the two make a very different team to Howl and Sophie from the first book. Aside from that change in dynamic, the biggest difference is the fact that the story is much more focused this time. Abdullah is on a journey to rescue Flower-in-the-Night, while Sophie Hatter just kind of hobbled along with Howl, encountering one whimsical thing after the next.

In true Arabian Nights fashion, the story also features a Genie, who comes under the control of Abdullah. He also adopts a cat called Midnight. I can’t say a lot about either of them without spoiling anything, but the way that they were used was absolutely fantastic. Indeed, I might say that they contributed to my favourite part of the book.

While the book may seem standalone at first, towards the end in particular, you will get a lot more out of it if you read Howl’s Moving Castle first. Those who are put off by the huge differences should keep going, as you won’t be disappointed. While I personally prefer the charming whimsy of the first book, it’s clear that Diana Wynne Jones was going for a different style and feel for this one, and I can’t fault her for expanding her universe in that way. If you wanted the first book to be just a little more serious, then you might like this one even more. If you’re an Aladdin fan, then I think you’ll definitely love it, but regardless of your taste, I think it’s fair to say that this is a great fantasy adventure that should appeal to most fans of the genre.

Rating: 8.8/10

Buy it here.

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