Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review: House of Many Ways

HOUSE OF MANY WAYS: An interesting premise ruined by pacing and unnecessary details

Charmain Baker has been tasked to look after her great-uncle’s house. She thinks that it will be a blissful, parent-free time to read – well, that is until she learns that the house bends time and space. Before she knows it, she takes responsibility over a magical dog and an apprentice wizard, and somehow, they become targets of a dangerous creature called a Lubbock, and significant players in the King’s search for the legendary Elfgift. How will they get out of these complications, and most of all, how will they explain to her great-uncle all the mess that they’ve done in the house?

House of Many Ways is a companion book to Howl’s Moving Castle, like Castle in the Air. The first thing I like about this book is that it doesn’t start with an elaborate narration about the setting, which has been the case for the other books. House of Many Ways immediately jumps to the plot and just mixes exposition between the lines. This kind of storytelling is just more entertaining for me as a reader.

In truth, House of Many Ways is more entertaining than the two books in many departments. The sarcastic comedy is funnier. Great-uncle William’s house holds a lot of promise for entertainment, with its mysteries and all. The overall plot seems complex. And the vagueness of the Elfgift and other plot elements just makes me want to read more, to learn more.

As much as I like these departments, there is a big overall problem in House of Many Ways, and that is the extremely slow pacing. The first chapters have no overall conflict, just minor conflicts to keep things going. Charmain is just going around the house exploring, and other unnecessary tasks. The author hasn’t given me a solid conflict to subscribe to the story fully.

The story only starts to take off after a hundred fifty pages, wherein Charmain is mixed up with the King’s search for the Elfgift. This is where the plot thickens. The Royal Family’s history is expanded. The dangers of the Lubbock and its offspring are expanded. And there is just a sense of danger of conflict everywhere. However, it still has a problem. The pacing is still excruciatingly slow.

I’ve mentioned in my reviews of Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air that I like how Diana Wynne Jones juggles her plot elements. She has a way of putting them together that I don’t see on other authors. True, House of Many Ways also passes this criterion. But I think it is not as smooth as that of the other two books. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still surprised in the revelations from time to time, but the feeling is not as intense. Perhaps the slow pacing has killed it for me.

As for the pool of characters, I admit that out of the three books, I enjoyed House of Many Ways’s the most. The characters are very flawed, and that makes them really interesting, especially whenever their flaws become catalysts for more conflict. This is particularly obvious in Charmain and Peter. But these main characters are not just the ones who show distinctiveness. The supporting cast, and other characters, are also successful in triggering unique impressions. What makes the characterization even better is that all the characters blend well together.

Overall, I still think House of Many Ways is an interesting read. Diana Wynne Jones’s prose in this book is the best out of the three books under Howl’s Moving Castle. And in my opinion, its synopsis is also the most interesting. If the pacing has been a lot smoother and faster, and if unnecessary details have been removed, it might have even stood out.

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