Book Review: “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones

Warning: This book review contains spoilers for the book “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones! If you haven’t read the book and want to avoid spoilers, be careful treading this review!

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing the book “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones!

For those familiar with the Studio Ghibli movie of the same name, this is the book that the film was based on. Being someone who watched and knew of the movie first, it’s certainly a delight to pick up the book version and give it a read. Here’s the summary so we know what it’s about:

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.” 

Worldbuilding Development: 5 out of 5 stars

Plot Development: 5 out of 5 stars

There are definitely worldbuilding and plot development-related elements that differ from the movie version. For example, the way the moving castle works is ultimately the same as it is in both versions, but the Studio Ghibli version has much more mechanical flying machines in general than the book ever does. Other examples include Sophie being an only child in the movie, while she’s the eldest sister of three daughters in the book version. There will be plot points that are familiar to movie-readers, such as cooking breakfast on Calcifer’s flames and Sophie pretending to be Howl’s old mother, but overall the plot is written fantastically.

I also think that the plot in the book expanded on certain plot points that weren’t touched on as much in the movie, such as the purpose of the moving scarecrow and the plot points that go along with it, so it was nice to have that knowledge as a reader, go back and watch the movie, and understand more of that plot point.

Character Development: 5 out of 5 stars

Despite all the changes with worldbuilding and plot-building elements, I found that the movie seemed to stay true to the characters depicted in the book version. Comparing the movie version to the book version, it was easy for me to imagine the movie characters saying all the dialogue and doing all the actions that they did in the book. Sophie was my favourite to read out of the characters, with her being so spunky and determined to get what she wants once she puts her mind to it (assuming she isn’t in the mindset of low self-confidence at the time). I loved reading a nineteen year old Sophie, frightened and secluded after being cursed, throw off all of her fears and embrace being a ninety year old woman, ready to take on anything that got in her way.

I also really enjoyed reading the characters of Howl, Calicifer, and even the scarecrow. Said scarecrow plays a bigger role in the book than as portrayed in the movie, and I can’t say why here because that leads to major spoilers, but let it be known that the scarecrow was just as fun to read as Howl and Calcifer (though Sophie stole the show from beginning to end).

Romance Development: 5 out of 5 stars

Somehow, the romance between a spoiled, shallow drama-queen pretty boy (Howl) and a feisty ninety year old woman (Sophie) completely worked, just like in the movie. Do they fight a lot? Yeah. But it serves an integral part of their character development as well, and they learn to see past each other’s initial impressions of each other (and said initial impressions weren’t that good when they first met each other, so that’s a really big achievement on their part).

Warning to those who love romance, though: This is definitely a slow-burn and subtle romance that takes them the entire book to basically get together (just like how it took the whole film for them to get together in the Ghibli version). And you have to really read carefully to pick up all the hints of them caring for each other (for example, some of their bickering is often anger born of worry for each other’s wellbeing). However, it is worth the time and patience to read it. I also liked how it worked well with the overall plotline in general and didn’t overshadow it in any way.

Overall, I’m rating this book 5 out of 5 stars!

The character development, plot points, worldbuilding and romance will be rather familiar to those who saw the Ghibli movie version first, but the book is just as good (if not better, given some expanded plot points and some differences in worldbuilding/character backgrounds) and definitely worth reading!

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