Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three girls in a land where fairy tale is the norm. She doesn’t expect much from herself, since nothing ever happens for the oldest daughter in fairy tales, and is resigned to a life of dull loneliness. That all changes when an unexpected visitor enters the hat shop where Sophie works.
This book is the perfect example of why timing and media really matter in books. My friend Karen from Books and Chocolate has been trying to get me to read Howl’s Moving Castle for two years now. Considering I don’t really like fairy tales or fantasy all that much, I was reluctant to try it, but Karen spoke so highly of it that I decided to give it a chance. I picked it up from the library, read a couple pages, and turned it back in. Over two years, I did this four times. I kept thinking maybe I was just in the wrong mood, but every time I tried, I never made it longer than a few pages. Eventually, I gave up.
But something kept drawing me back to this book, and in late December, I picked up the audio version from the library. I figured I might as well try it again. I tend to be far more tolerant of books out of my comfort zone in audio for some reason. When I finally got around to starting it this past Saturday, I was hooked instantly. I spent three days neglecting everything else I wanted to do in order to listen to it. Now that I’m done, I’ve ordered the sequels and the movie version. I think I might be just a wee bit obsessed.
Howl’s Moving Castle was a fantastic book, the first book I’ve really loved since reading The Night Circus in late September. It was creative and interesting and well-crafted. It was like a fairy tale, without trying to copy the feel of old fairy tales. There was so much quirk! I adored the characters. Sophie, Howl, Michael, Calcifer, all of them. Even if I didn’t like them when I first met them, they grew on me, until even their flaws were adorable. I found myself grinning and laughing out loud so many times, and already I want to reread the book. And of course, it had the perfect ending.
If I had any complaint at all to make – and I don’t – it would be that so much of this book was extraordinarily predictable. However, I don’t feel like that was a negative point at all in this case. While that normally bothers me a lot, it fit the fairy tale quality of this story, like the reader was meant to see in advance what the characters couldn’t. I liked that. I kept waiting to see how it would all come together, even as I knew a lot of what would inevitably come up. It helped that there were also some real surprises, things I never would have guessed in advance. The predictability, therefore, felt intentional. So – no complaints!
I’m glad I gave this a fifth or sixth or whatever-it-was chance. I’m glad Karen kept pushing it on me. And I’m really glad to read something so great so early in the year! This is the sort of book that makes me excited about reading and reviewing again (even if my review is pretty pathetic). I highly recommend it, even if it’s outside your comfort zone. It really was such a fantastic book.
Okay, and I admit it. I fell in love with Howl, just a little bit. 😀
Performance: The audio version was read by Jenny Sterlin, and it was fantastic. As usual, I listened to this on double-speed (I rarely, if ever, listen to books on normal speed now), and didn’t have any trouble following along that way. Sterlin did a great job with the narration and all the character voices. She drew me into this world in a way all my attempts to read the print version didn’t. I’m very happy that she also narrates the two sequels!