Had I realized that House of Many Ways was another sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle it would’ve ended up in my hands even quicker than it did. Nevertheless, it found its way there happily enough, allowing me another visit into my favorite of Diana Wynne Jones’ wonderful worlds.
House of Many Ways features Charmain Baker, an overly sheltered girl strong-armed by her aunt into taking care of her Great-Uncle William’s cottage — which just so happens to bend space and time, leading to any number of places, the royal palace included. Soon she finds herself embroiled in a quest to find the mysterious Elfgift and to stop a devious, murderous creature called a Lubbock. Fortunately (?) for Charmain, she has help: a magician’s apprentice, a woeful dog that just might be magical, and the family of the wizard Howl.
One of my problems (if you can exactly call it that) with these books is I always begin feeling completely unsympathetic to any of the characters involved. But even though she is defined as a fairly unsympathetic sort — spoiled, lazy, cranky — I find myself liking Charmain more from the beginning of the book than any of the other characters in this series. Perhaps it’s because she’s such a bookworm (you wouldn’t be reading this if you couldn’t relate to that, would you?) or because she’s a product of how she was raised. Whatever the case, watching her grow through the events in the book was interesting. Jones is masterful at creating characters that surprise, confound expectations, and grow and change without losing the core of who they are.
A second high point of the book is that Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer make their appearance much sooner than in Castle in the Air. The humor and chemistry of this family is utterly magnificent, and I generally found myself looking forward to the parts when they would reappear. The parts they play add an extra something to a semi-mystery plot that is interesting enough, but not all that much more.
House of Many Ways does slow at times, occasionally spending a bit more time on certain elements than really felt necessary. But even so it retains much of the irresistible, often difficult to define charm of Howl’s Moving Castle.