House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

The third and final novel in the Howl series feels much closer in tone to the first book, rather than the second, and for that reason, I think it was probably my second favourite of the three. There’s a whimsical charm to it, but its story definitely feels slightly more focused than the first one (even though I prefer the first).

In this book, a girl named Charmain is sent to house sit for her uncle, a wizard, who has had to visit elves in order to recover from an illness. This house is bigger on the inside, and doesn’t have a consistent layout – there are ‘many ways’ and it’s difficult for her to figure out which halls lead to which parts of the house. Meanwhile, most of the stuff in there is enchanted with some kind of magic, so she keeps inadvertently causing all kinds of bizarre things to happen which she doesn’t understand.

One of the book’s biggest strengths is its great sense of setting. You get a real feel for this mysterious old cottage with its seemingly endless corridors. Though it is very, very different to the classic gothic novels, in this regard, it does remind me of them, with the beautifully described house, out in the middle of nowhere, that the protagonist is trying to adjust to.

Charmain herself is a great character too, who gets paired up with a boy named Peter for most of the book after he arrives to come and work with her uncle as an apprentice (not knowing he isn’t there). Peter is pretty arrogant, and Charmain’s endless frustrations with him are really funny sometimes.

Characters from the first book do also return, but in a similar way to Castle in the Air. I won’t spoil anything, but I laughed out loud when I found out how a certain character factored into what was happening in this one. I definitely didn’t see it coming either – a wonderful twist.

However, as much as this novel can be really funny at times, it is also a lot darker than the other two. We’re introduced to a creature called a Lubbock, which is a humanoid insect that lays eggs in people’s stomachs. When the eggs hatch, they burst out and kill the host – or if the host is female, they are born like a regular human, then sneakily live out their life looking like a normal human, but secretly trying to create more Lubbocks. They’re so sinister, I genuinely think they could have been the villains in a straight horror novel, rather than a whimsical fantasy book.

Overall, the only real criticism I can aim at this book is that it doesn’t really feel like a conclusion to the Howl novels – just another story. This isn’t really a problem, but as I enjoyed all three books, it would have been nice to have some kind of closure. Maybe we would have had some too, if Diana Wynne Jones hadn’t died just a few years after this was published. I think it’s best to view them all as novels that share a world, rather than a trilogy, because there’s not much of an over-reaching storyline that ties them together (though you definitely benefit from reading them in order). If you’ve read the first two, I strongly recommend you round it off with this one.

Rating: 9/10

Buy it here.

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