House of Many Ways
By Diana Wynne Jones
Published by Recorded Books
Read by Jenny Sterlin
This is the second sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle and fits the mood and feeling of the first book better than Castle in the Air did. The setting is vaguely Western European rather than Middle Eastern and the connecting characters (Sophie, Howl, their son, Morgan and the fire demon, Calcifer) appear sooner in the story than last time although, once again, they are supporting characters.
The main protagonist this time is a young woman named Charmain (Miss Charming) Baker who has been brought up in what her mother feels is a “respectable” family, although bakers must be held in higher regard in the Kingdom of High Norland than in most places as her surname comes from the fact that her father is a baker. I mean it is a respectable trade, for certain, but her mother and aunt put on the airs of high aristocracy. In contract, the King and his daughter, Princess Hilda (who was one of the captured princesses in the second book) are much more down-to-earth. And then there is Waif, a magical “Enchanting dog,” who adopts Charmain, and Peter Regis, the apprentice magician of Charmain’s uncle, the Wizard of High Norland.
When Charmain’s uncle falls mysteriously ill, she is sent to take care of his cottage and on the way encounters the evil Lubbock, an evil man-like insectile creature that lays its eggs in the bodies of unsuspecting men and women (usually a fatal experience) but fortuitously escapes unharmed. Charmain knows nothing about her uncle’s magical house or of magic at all. She does not seem to have any really useful knowledge at all (apparently doing chores or making your own tea is not respectable according to her mother) save that she is an avid reader and would like to be a librarian. Peter is really not much more useful. He knows a bit of magic and frequently gets it wrong, but has little common sense.
Without giving it all away, Charmain gets a job helping the King and Princess and soon finds herself (along with Sophie and the others) working toward solving the kingdom’s many problems.
It’s a fun story, very well told and my only complaint is that the author wrote no further stories in this series before her death, although she continued to write other stories as long as she could. However, the three books together make for a nice trilogy and maybe that is best. It leaves the rest of us to imagine the future adventures, and misadventures of Sophie, Howl and the others in their world for ourselves.
Jenny Sterlin’s readings always make me shift gears in my head. I think the majority of narrators seem to be men and most of the women who read audiobooks, in my experience, seem to sound like they are somewhere in their late twenties or early thirties. Ms. Sterlin has a warm, natural sounding voice and she reads in a manner that I recall hearing my mother use when reading to young children. It is engaging and draws me in every time even if I generally need a few minutes to adjust at the start of each book.
So… The book is a lot of fun to read and to listen too. Nice combination!