Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: Castle in the Air

CASTLE IN THE AIR: Which is rather full of magic carpets, djinns, and genies

The story follows Abdullah, a young carpet merchant from Zanzib. One day, a mysterious man sells him a magic carpet, and this carpet leads him into a lovely garden. There, he meets and falls in love with the princess Flower-in-the-Night, only to have her snatched by a djinn. Now, Abdullah sets off to rescue his love, with nothing but a magic carpet and his wits.

Castle in the Air is a companion book to Howl’s Moving Castle, and like Howl’s Moving Castle, it starts off with an elaborate narration about the city the main character lives in. It’s an effective tool for exposition. It helps the readers feel -- and perhaps discover -- the complex world Diana Wynne Jones has created. But doing it the second time, the first time being in Howl’s Moving Castle, makes it a little off for me. I think she should have used a different method, like directly mixing exposition with the story progression itself.

Don’t get any weird ideas. I really like the book, and the thing stated above is the only part I can consider a flaw. It isn’t even an inherent flaw -- it’s more of subjective.

I admit that Diana Wynne Jones’s way of storytelling really impresses me. She has a way of juggling her plot points and characters that I don’t see on other writers. Seemingly random scenes, objects, and characters, always turn out to be important in the long run. And what I really like about them is that they are hidden quite well.

I’ve mentioned in my book review of Howl’s Moving Castle that halfway reading that book, I started giving particular attention to little details, because I already got the impression that they will play a big role in the end. I did the same thing in Castle in the Air. I gave particular attention to everything, but unlike in Howl’s Moving Castle, I was unable to predict which of these details will turn out to be important.

In this sense, Diana Wynne Jones continues to surprise me. She gives me this impression that everything in her story fits together. Scarcely a word is wasted in her storytelling.

Speaking of storytelling, Castle in the Air’s does require a little suspension of disbelief. Abdullah becomes too attached to Flower-in-the-Night rather quickly, and he has gone to many adventures for someone he barely knows. It’s a rather understandable plot point however.

The point I like best is the fact that the magic carpet and the genie are not utilized for deus ex machina, which always happens when these kinds of powerful elements are at the disposal of the characters. The limiting of their power has been reasonable as well, so it doesn’t appear to be forced.

As for the characters, they are actually very noble when compared to the characters of Howl’s Moving Castle. Howl’s Moving Castle’s characters have a lot of flaws in them, and that makes them more interesting. Castle in the Air’s characters, on the other hand, have very limited flaws, especially the two characters that support the overall story -- Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night. I would have preferred them to have more inner conflicts and such. But overall, I think the characterization of Castle in the Air is fine. I find the characters inspired from the Arabian Nights quite interesting.

Overall, Castle in the Air is a fascinating read. It deserves to be a companion book to the highly renowned Howl’s Moving Castle. In fact, Castle in the Air is better than Howl’s Moving Castle in something -- pacing and division of chapters.

If you find my review lacking because it is based solely on comparisons with Howl’s Moving Castle, I’m sorry, but I can’t help but compare the two because they are very similar and very different at the same time. If you think that’s a little hard to understand, well, me either. But hey, that’s what makes Diana Wynne Jones stories really fantastic, don’t you think?

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