Friday, 23 October 2009

House Of Many Ways - Diana Wynne Jones

This is DWJ back on form, as far as I’m concerned. There did seem to have been one or two recent books that wobbled (although a DWJ wobble is still better than most work of this nature). Here we return to the world of Howl and his moving castle along with favourites such as Calcifer and Sophie (all much better in the books than in the film).

Charmain Baker is sent to look after the house of a distant relative, a wizard, whilst he is away being treated by the elves for an unspecified illness. Comic mayhem ensues as Charmain is drawn into the quest to discover exactly why the King is so poor. There is much else besides and most things are rarely what they seem to be. In fact, that is such a trademark of DWJ’s stories that one can spend a lot of time wondering what is happening and miss the journey. Which is why I will doubtless re-read this fairly soon.

The writing is spare yet manages to conjure acute descriptions and set a rich background. Characters are well drawn without getting unnecessarily complex. And the frustrations of growing up and learning life’s little lessons are well presented with a gentle humour. The only jarring note was the odd flash of cruelty. Not out of place one might think in a fairy tale, and when it is between humans I do no flinch as there is invariably payback. Here, though, there was a touch of casual cruelty involving animals and it didn’t sit well with me. I would also like to have seen more use made of the interior of the wizard's cottage, but perhaps a sequel is in the air.

All in all a smooth and delightful read that is worthy addition not just to the Howl series, but to her entire canon.