Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones
Castle in the Air is the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, both of which are two of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books (and according to an interview Howl’s Moving Castle is one of hers). I strongly suggest reading this preceding novel before tackling the sequel as several of the characters and plot twists found here will not be fully appreciated without knowing the previous story (which is a mistake I made).
Diana Wynne Jones takes the setting and atmosphere of Arabian Nights and creates her own story filled with flying carpets, deserts, exotic princesses, genies and djinns (although what the difference between these last two species are, she unfortunately never clarifies — I think that genies are contained within an object of some kind, whilst djinns are more god-like). Abdullah is a humble young carpet merchant, with meddling relatives and a strange prophesy recorded at his birth. But Abdullah has no such interest in these things; his favourite past time is day-dreaming about his pretend royal lineage, beautiful princesses, and luxurious surroundings.
But once a stranger sells Abdullah a so-called magical carpet, things begin to change. After sleeping on the carpet, he awakes in a night garden in the company of the lovely Flower-in-the-Night. Needless to say, the two fall in love and whilst trying to figure out the logistics of the carpet, they plan an elopement. But on the intended night, Abdullah is horrified to witness Flower’s kidnapping at the hands of a hideous djinn. Being pursued by the Sultan and all his guards, and still finding that his daydreams are coming true, Abdullah soon finds himself in strange company: traversing the northern land of Ingary (the setting of Howl’s Moving Castle) with a dishonest soldier, a tricky genie, and a rather strange cat and her kitten.
He soon finds out that Flower-in-the-Night is being held in a castle in the air (once the former moving castle of the wizard Howl) by a wicked djinn named Dalzel who is sending his captive brother Hasruel out to collect all the princesses in the world for potential wives. The princesses of course, are not going to put up with this — but it’s up to Abdullah and the previous cast of Howl’s Moving Castle to put everything right.
Abdullah is a pleasant enough character, but Flower-in-the-Night is a gem: someone intensely naive and sheltered, but intelligent and educational. The brother djinns are also fascinating in terms of their relationship and predicament — I just wish there was more of them, and the soldier is an intriguing enigma.
Touches of Diana Wynne Jones’s wonderful humour are sprinkled throughout, from the soldier’s near-worship of the two cats, to Flower-in-the-Night’s insistence that Abdullah is a female. The climax is a little rushed, and I’m not exactly sure how the genie discovered where Hasruel’s life was, but over all Castle in the Air is a great sequel, and a great book. But read Howl’s Moving Castle first!
The Wizard Howl gets mixed up with djinni, genies (in this story they’re two different species) and some Arabian Nights-type characters (from the sanitized version I read as a child) in this sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. Abdullah, a humble young carpet merchant with big (day)dreams, is sold a magic carpet by a suspicious-looking stranger, which leads him to a beautiful princess named Flower-in-the-Night, a genie in a bottle, and other adventures. Abdullah is forced to leave behind his daydreams and take action when a djinn kidnaps Flower and takes her to his castle in the air to be one of his wives.
Eventually Abdullah’s and Flower’s story twines together with many of the characters from Howl’s Moving Castle.
Abdullah’s ability to use flowery language to good effect is told with affectionate humor:
“O elegant tapestry of enchantment,” Abdullah said, “O carpet composed of most complex cantrips, I pray you to move at a sedate speed toward Kingsbury, but to exercise the great wisdom woven in your fabric to make sure that we are not seen by anyone on the way.”
Obediently the carpet climbed through the mist. . . A hoarse and trembling voice said from the bottle, “Do you have to flatter it so disgustingly?”
“This carpet,” said Abdullah, “unlike you, is of an ensorcellment so pure and excellent that it will listen only to the finest of language. It is at heart a poet among carpets.”
A certain smugness spread through the pile of the carpet. It held its tattered edges proudly straight and sailed sweetly forward into the golden sunlight above the mist.
This was a fun, delightful Aladdin type of story, great for middle grade/YA ages and anyone who enjoys children’s lit. The plot line is a little smoother and easier to follow than Howl’s Moving Castle, but perhaps also a little less complex. If you’ve read that book, the ending of this one will be more enjoyable and will make a little more sense, but I think it could still be enjoyed without having read Howl first.
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