Saturday, June 12, 2010

House of Many Ways Review (Diana Wynne Jones)

Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William's tiny cottage while he's ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard of Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places - the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few. By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king's most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift - so desperate that they've even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? Of course, with that magical family involved, there's bound to be chaos - and unexpected revelations. No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.

This, apparently, is the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle. I didn't read Howl's Moving Castle first (though now I certainly intend to), and it seems that House of Many Ways can act as a good stand-alone book. That said, time to move on to my review.

First point: it's funny. I would venture to say that there is even a bit of an early-Victorian flair in its style and humor. Especially with Charmain's Aunt Sempronia and the various tea parties that Charmain inadvertently disrupts. Diana Wynne Jones also throws in various humorous spins on famous myths - the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, dirty laundry breeds (which is a fact that my mom will testify to), etc. The chaotic scenes are not slapstick chaotic - they are very funny and rather ordered in their chaoticness.

Second point: the characters. Charmain can grate upon the Reader's nerves - thankfully, this book in not written in first person, so her irritatingly-quick temper does not get overly annoying. To her credit, Charmain does attempt to be kinder to people, and she cannot entirely help the fact that she doesn't know how to do any household chores - that would be her mother's fault. But in short order, you get used to Charmain and don't mind her too much. Peter is more annoying that her, because he thinks he knows how to do everything, but really doesn't. He bungles his spells all the time, causing more problems. But there's something endearing about him in his know-it-allness. But my favorite character (aside from Waif the dog and The Boke of Palimpsest; it's always a good sign when a story can make a book a funny character!) was Calcifer. There was something about the fire demon - who is nothing more than a blue flame with red eyes who sleeps in fireplaces - that I really liked. Howl was not in the story enough as himself for me to fully enjoy him, but what short time he was, I liked him as well. Still, Calcifer stands out as my favorite.

The one complaint I have is a very small one - that being the Author constantly inserted the utterance of "Er" in dialogue. To me, that's a sign of weak dialogue writing and it gets on my nerves. But my overall enjoyment of the comical story and likable characters overshadowed this minor annoyance. I'm not a fan of fantasy, but comical fantasy like this - fantasy that pokes fun at itself - I like. The slight Victorian flavor made it even more enjoyable. I'm going to read Howl's Moving Castle as soon as I can and I'll probably end up buying at least House of Many Ways.

If you're looking for a relaxing, amusing read, House of Many Ways is definitely a good pick.

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

Others in This Trilogy:
1)Howl's Moving Castle
2)Castle in the Air
3)House of Many Ways


  1. This book does sound interesting - I'd like to check it out but I think I'd want to read the "first" book first. I see that you've written a review for it a few posts up, so I'm going to go see what you said! It's so weird being back and trying to catch up on your blog. I've got a lot of reading material ahead of me, but I love hearing what you have to say and learning about your life, so it's cool. :o)

  2. Thank you. So far, you're my most faithful fan. ;)


Thank you for visiting 667B Baker Street! Please feel free to leave a comment; I love hearing from my Readers and I always try to respond, especially if you have a question!