Book Review: “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones

This was a children’s book I was really looking forward to reading. Earlier this year, I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s film adaption and enjoyed it! It wasn’t my favorite Miyazaki movie, but it was whimsical and fun and I’d heard the book was even better (as it usually is). I have to say, watching the movie and reading the book ended up being very similar experiences. If you loved the movie, you’ll love the book. If you were indifferent about it, the book might not quite be enough to change your opinion.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Howl’s Moving Castle” is a whimsical, joyful story with clever, funny, endearing characters. Clocking in at over 400 pages, the pacing was a little wonky and the story seemed to lose its way about 2/3 of the way through. However, the characters and their magical antics keep you engaged and the ever-changing setting (due to the moving castle) will keep you picking up the book again and again so you can return to this enchanting story where nothing is ever as it seems.

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. If you’re wanting to avoid any spoilers, you are welcome to jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page if you’d prefer!

“Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones
Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Castle Book 1) - Kindle edition by Jones,  Diana Wynne. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
  • Year of Publication: 1986
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Summary:

“Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.”

Format: Paperback

Themes: Only you are in control of who you are. Be yourself. Friendship is found in the unlikeliest of places. Sisters have an unbreakable bond. Be brave and do the things you think you cannot do. Appearances can be deceiving.

Character Development: Strong for the main characters. Sophie, Howl, Michael, and Calcifer were a great main cast of characters. They were strong-minded and strong-willed, independent, and endlessly caring when it came to their friends and loved ones. That being said, there were so many characters in this novel that it became a little difficult to keep track of everyone. There were characters mentioned early on that didn’t make another appearance until a couple hundred pages later, and it took me a little while to remember who they were.

Plot/Pacing: Strong in the beginning, but a little bit off by the end. It picks up steadily throughout the first half, and builds a little more until about 2/3 of the way through. After that however, it’s a little bit all over the place. My biggest issue with the pacing (and the book in general), however, was the ending. The entire 429-page book wraps up in the last couple pages. The ending is so abrupt and jarring, and because the climax and falling action are rushed through it feels kind of anti-climactic.

Writing Style: The writing style kept me engaged the whole time. It’s fun and whimsical and even had me laughing out loud at times.

“Bingeability”: High for adults but maybe moderate for children. The length of the book might make it intimidating for younger readers.

Emotional Investment: Moderate. Due to the rushed ending, we didn’t get the full development and connection to the characters I was hoping for. It felt like some of the heart of the story was missing at the end.

Windows and Mirrors: Sister/sibling relationships. Step parents. Single mother household.

Overall Thoughts: I was really loving this book in the beginning, but it really let me down at the end. Interestingly, this was my exact experience when watching the movie. Unique and interesting initially, but rushed and convoluted at the end. It’s a well-written story the raises some interesting questions about identity and facing your fears, but the plot, characters, and themes are underdeveloped due to the rushed ending. It’s still a well-written and clever book, but the ending was a let-down for me.

Recommendation: I recommend this book (for both children and adults). It’s an imaginative and magical story that children and adults alike would enjoy. From a teacher’s perspective, I think this would be difficult to use in the classroom. It’s a little too long for a read-aloud or to be used for a novel study/book club, and the rushed ending is a little difficult to follow (I found myself reading certain sections several times to try to figure out what happened). I do think this would be a great book to recommend to more advanced young readers, however.

TL;DR:
Year of Publication: 1986
Genre: Fantasy
Summary: “Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.”
Themes: Identity. Friendship. Sisters. Courage. Appearances.
Character Development: Strong for main characters, but too many minor characters to keep track of.
Plot/Pacing:
Strong for the first 1/2-2/3, but then a little all over the place. Ending is abrupt.
“Bingeability”:
High.
Emotional Investment:
Moderate.
Windows and Mirrors:
Sister/sibling relationships. Step parents. Single mother household.
Overall Thoughts:
Whimsical and enchanting story that is let down by the rushed ending.
Recommendation: Yes for children, adults, and teachers. Classroom recommendation: independent reading for advanced readers.

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones

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