Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE: Foreshadowing in unexpected places

In the land of Ingary, it is believed that the eldest of three children is doomed to fail, so Sophie Hatter, the eldest among the three daughters of a shop owner, isn’t expecting much in life. But when she unwittingly attracts the attention of a wicked witch, she finds herself in a terrible curse that transforms her into an old woman. She is forced to set out to find a way to break the curse, and soon enough, she finds herself in the ever-moving castle in the hills. Howl, the owner of the moving castle, could just be the one who could dismiss the spell. But it’s not that simple. After all, Sophie Hatter is doomed to fail because she is the eldest of three.

The premise might be childish -- it’s a children’s book after all -- but believe me, the story could still be entertaining for adults. The primary reason for this is how Diana Wynne Jones, the author, plays with the story’s plot elements. Plot points that seem random turn out to be important. Who would have guessed that the scarecrow would play such an important part? Who would have guessed that the random guy with the Witch of the Waste would be such an important person?

The whole book is so full of seemingly ordinary sequences that will be revealed later on to be extraordinary. I must admit that I dropped the book a couple of times because I was too stunned of the revelations. Further in the book, I started giving particular attention to every detail, thinking that they could be important later on, and I did the right thing.

In the end, all the plot elements fit together harmoniously. It’s obvious that the story is very planned-out. I’d go as far to say that Diana Wynne Jones is a master storyteller for doing such an amazing job of weaving the story.

Another proof of Diana Wynne Jones’s talent is her exploitation of the limited perspective. The book follows Sophie Hatter, but her story is interweaved with more stories -- not subplots, but full plots -- that affect her even though the reader doesn’t have a full account of what those stories are . The perfect examples of this are the King’s issue with his brother and everything about Wizard Suliman. These stories still appear to be solid even though the reader only has a glimpse of them. And how they affect current events make them more intriguing.

But Howl’s Moving Castle is not perfect. First, there are instances where the writing is very wordy. The author really likes the words ‘quite’ and ‘seemed’ among many others. But I really enjoy her writing style, particularly in the chapters that are dialogue-based. The narrative-based chapters are a bit weaker in my opinion.

As for the characters, I admit that they have very distinct characteristics and personalities, and that makes most of them trigger an impression. But I think they’re not that complicated to deserve psychological analyses and whatnots. Howl’s vanity and his tendency to slither out are interesting, but they’re not that worthy of discussion. Sophie, Calcifer, and other characters’ complications are the same case. But that’s fine. The mere fact that they have something going on inside them is enough to keep things interesting.

Overall, Howl’s Moving Castle is a must-read, especially for the fans of children and young adult books. It’s out of the current trend of romance and dystopian futures, but in my honest opinion this is one of the best in the genre. Its core entertainment value is Diana Wynne Jones’s masterful weaving of plot elements, that will surely put you on the edge of your seat.

            Additional Note: I've also reviewed the anime adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle. You can find it here.

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