The magic of Howl’s Moving Castle continues in full resplendence with Castle in the Air. The magic in question being Diana Wynne Jones’ voice, which straddles a wonderful line between eldest sibling, beleaguered mother, and matter of fact Brit, all wound through the whole way with dry, sardonic humor. If you loved Howl, you will love this, full stop.
The story hasn’t aged well in one small degree: the portrayal of the country of Zanzib, which has all the feeling of a depiction of the middle east centered around mythical Arabia down to the frantic ululation of roving war bands. That being said, it’s a fantasy story and a fairy tale, so if you are able to think about it in the sense of Arabian Nights, which it definitely cribbed, it becomes more tolerable, and really it’s worth looking past that because of the delight of the story.
The main character, Abdullah, is a carpet salesman in the city of Zanzib. He makes a tidy profit but is henpecked by his the relations of his father’s second and so on wives, who want him to marry, or make more money, or generally do whatever he isn’t currently doing because none of it is enough. Abdullah for his part is polite to the point of it almost being a super power, and makes a steady enough living which keeps him content, along with his daydreams of magnificent gardens, the princess that lives in said garden, and of imagined origin stories hidden away from him.
When he chances to buy an ostensibly flying carpet, all that changes. In the middle of the night on which he slept stretched out on said carpet, he is whisked away to a garden just like the one of which he dreamt, occupied by the girl of his dreams. He visits her in the night several times more, until she is snatched away by a villainous Djinn, at which point he learns it was the Sultan’s daughter after whom he lusted, primarily when the Sultan arrests him and threatens to impale him on a spike 40 feet tall to be eaten alive by buzzards.
The story progresses from there with the further involvement of the magic carpet, which must be flattered in order to work, the attachment of a malicious Genie who seeks to twist every wish into trouble for the wisher, and the inclusion of a wandering soldier who adopts a size-shifting violent black cat, much to Abdullah’s dismay and threat. It is hilarious from cover to cover in ways I don’t want to spoil. Just get out there and read it!