Most of the way through this, I couldn’t figure out why I had only rated it four stars on my first read (which was quite a while ago, in high school I think?). I was all, This is delightful! I love this! I’ve only ever had fond memories of it. And then I came to the ending, and I was like, Oh yeah, this is why. And then I also remembered Diana Wynne Jones book endings always tend to hit me the same way. They are often very chaotic and I find it hard to tell what’s going on! And I often miss things and have to re-read passages over again.
But the ending aside—which is a good ending to the story, if chaotically written and slightly confusing—this really was so delightful. I just needed something magical and happy and slightly cheeky.
If you’ve missed this one (and not seen the movie, which actually has some big differences, though it’s still a great story), Howl’s Moving Castle is about Sophie Hatter, eldest of three sisters, cursed into the form of an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. The central Thing here is that Sophie only starts to live her life properly and find her confidence when she’s in disguise. It frees her to act and do things she never would have done otherwise, and it gets her out of the rut her life had been in previously, and brings her to a very strange new one filled with fire demons, missing princes, and temperamental, vain wizards who inhabit moving castles. The whole thing is written in this slightly satirical tone. All the people of the land of Ingary live knowing that, like in a fairytale, their lives are ruled by tropes and stories. Jones has a lot of fun playing with those expectations.
I don’t remember liking book two very much but I will probably re-read it soon, so I can finally get to the third book, which I’ve owned for over ten years and never gotten around to.