by Diana Wynne Jones
404 pages (hardcover)
Charmain Baker, an utterly respectable young lady, is sent to house-sit for her Aunt-by-marriage's Great Uncle William, better known as the Wizard Norland. The house--of the title and thus many-wayed--is magic, of course; events are further complicated by the arrival of a clumsy (but not in the way you would expect) apprentice, and the danger of a purple insectoid creature called the lubbock lurks in the pretty meadows beyond. Howl and Sophie enter the story about halfway through; this is also where the action picks up and I really started enjoying the story. I didn't particularly care for Charmain at the beginning; she is appealingly bookish but also frustratingly naive. However, once the original HMC cast comes on stage, things really get interesting with palace intrigue (the royals, especially Princess Hilda, are delightful). There is a clear villain, as one might expect in a YA novel; I didn't find this too detracting. Overall, a strong Jones book that doesn't live up to Howl's Moving Castle (as no sequel can ever match the original) but is on par with Castle in the Air. The voice and style are very classic DWJ, and very British (I giggled every time Charmain said "shall"). The plot twists were excellently executed, fun and foreshadowed; I still love Howl/Sophie, and on top of all that, the cover is just beautiful. I do think, though, that a reader would get more out of this book if they were already familiar with HMC (either book or movie), despite its standalone status.