House of Many Ways
Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, 2008
House of Many Ways is a young adult fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones. It is the
second third book in the Howl's Moving Castle series. It is a darned good book, but if you haven't read Howl's Moving Castle, you should go read that first. (Having seen the movies doesn't count. At all.)
The front cover of House declares proudly that it is the sequel to Howl's. This is of, course, nothing but a low marketing ploy. The sequel to Howl's is actually the chronically under-read Castle in the Air. The series will not suffer too much if you skip the second book, and Castle in the Air is admittedly not quite as easy a read as the other two. But a lot of the characters in House make their first appearance in Castle in the Air, and it really is a very good book. I suspect that it was only ignored because so many people have heard of the movie version of Howl's that any book that claims alliance with the film is guaranteed better sales. "The sequel to Castle in the Air" just doesn't mean anything to most people.
Anyway.... Jones starts the book by introducing a new character in a new country. Charmain Baker finds herself suddenly and unexpectedly elected to take care of her uncle's house while he is ill. Her uncle, as it turns out, is one of the strongest wizards in the country, and his house is highly magical, containing an unknown, but very large, number of rooms in what appears to be a small two-room cottage. Charmain, unfortunately, has no magical experience at all (magic is for the common folk!), and just as little experience in taking care of common household chores (likewise!).
There is however, a bright side (or two) to the situation; Charmain has been looking for a chance to escape her mother's clutches, and uses her newfound freedom of movement to apply for a post in the Royal Library. And just as exciting, her uncle has a large collection of books, many of them dealing with magic.
Charmain has to deal with monsters in the back yard, kobolds going on strike, unexpected apprentices, and a house that has too many ways -- all while trying to hold down a job as a librarian (it's harder than it sounds).
As you must expect, there is a plot to overthrow the kingdom, and Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer make appearances (along with Howl's and Sophie's two-year-old child Morgan, who will come as a complete surprise to you if you do not read Castle in the Air first). Some of the princesses and Jamal and his dog also make appearances. Unfortunately, explaining their role would involve spoilers that I am unwilling to give, so you will just have to read the book.
This is a very good book, and is well worth reading. If you absolutely cannot get ahold of the first two books, you can still read and enjoy this one (but do try to read the first two). It is written more in the style of Howl's than Castle (a good thing), but it shares a lot of the same features with Castle -- the introduction of a completely new story line and new characters before we meet up with Sophie and Howl, for example, and a new set of monsters and magics to go along with the new land. The connection to the other books seems a little contrived, but not so much as to distract from the enjoyment of the book. It is on par with her Chrestomanci series.
I give it 4/5 stars.