When Diana Wynne Jones comes out with a new book, I do the happy dance! And I've been waiting very anxiously for this one, which is billed as the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle. Who doesn't want to see more of handsome, charismatic Howl? House of Many Ways is the sequel in the same way that The Tombs of Atuan is the sequel to A Wizard of Earthsea - eventually we get to see Howl and Sophie, but the main character of this book is a young girl named Charmain.
Charmain has always sat around the house with her nose stuck in a book. There are plenty of things she'd also like to be doing, but her mother has definite ideas about the "proper" things a young woman should do. Magic, unfortunately, is not among them. Neither is dish washing, laundry, cooking, dog ownership, or anything else that might either be fun to do or useful to know. One day Charmain's formidable Aunt Sempronia sweeps into the house, and before Charmain and her mother know it, Charmain has been sent to house-sit for her great uncle, a wizard who is ill and must go away for medical care. Charmain is torn between annoyance that she has had no say in the matter and excitement that finally she'll have a bit of independence.
Her great uncle is a kind old man, but Charmain has only a moment with him before he leaves. She is faced with a huge mess - bags of laundry, piles of dishes, no food in sight - and her lack of any sort of practical experience leaves her despairing of ever setting things straight. The house appears to be small, but in fact consists of many strange and mysterious layers of rooms that somehow manage to fit into the space of a small cottage. Charmain finds herself in very unusual (and sometimes dangerous) places, but luckily her uncle has left magical directions (his disembodied voice speaks out of thin air) to help her find her way around. Soon she is joined by Peter, who has traveled there to be her uncle's apprentice, a very tiny white dog named Waif, and gets a job helping the king and the princess in their library up in the royal mansion. It is immediately apparent that something is seriously wrong in the kingdom - they seem to barely have enough money to survive, and soon Charmain and Peter are caught up in an intriguing mystery, which must be solved quickly - but luckily they have a little help from Sophie and Howl (although he looks quite a bit different from the last time we saw him).
This book was so much fun! I loved the sense of wonder that is so evident throughout the entire book. Who wouldn't have a house that works exactly like that one if they were a wizard? Jones clearly had a lot of fun with it, and it was delightful to read about. I loved Charmain - even though she was a bit of a grump, she had a good heart, and she was quick to do the right thing when she finally understood what was going on. It was wonderful to see Howl and Sophie again - and to meet their little "darling," too! What a hoot to see them descend on the kind old king and his prim and proper daughter, setting the royal masion upside down. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I highly recommend it. While I'm waiting for Jones to write something new, I'll have to go back and revisit some of my old favorites.
House of Many Ways (the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle) by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, 2008)
Also reviewed at:
I Read What??
Other B&OT reviews of Diana Wynne Jones books:
The Pinhoe Egg