Everything I’ve read by Diana Wynne Jones I’ve loved and I’m making an effort to get through more of her work. House of Many Ways is the third book set in the same universe as Howl’s Flying Castle and is loosely considered a sequel but like Castle in the Air features all new characters and can stand perfectly well on its own.
Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few.
By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind?
Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations.
No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.
One of the best things about a Diana Wynne Jones story is her characters, and House of Many Ways is no exception. I love Charmain, even when she’s completely exasperating. As someone who really just wants to be left alone with a good book, she’s a girl after my own heart. But, through her interactions with Peter, her uncle’s supposed wizardly apprentice, you learn that Charmain has never really had to do very much for herself and she’s ignorant in how to fend for herself and incredibly lazy about doing most basic household chores. I could empathize with Peter in this as well–we all have at least one person in the household who acts like they don’t know how to pick up after themselves (or is that just my house?). Although, the other part of me totally gets it because obviously reading > chores.
Also, if you’re a fan at all of Sophie and Howl their appearances here are quite more substantial than the second book in the ‘series’, Castle in the Air. Sophie appears at the King’s house with not one but two children in tow–one of which is Howl bespelled as a four year old boy. Howl doesn’t want to cooperate with the King and Sophie’s at her wit’s end with him and his antics but this has to be the most hilarious form of protest ever as no one except Sophie and Calcifer know that Sophie’s elder ‘child’ is actually her husband. Howl really gets into the part, too.
The plot of the book starts out fairly simple–Charmain goes to watch her uncle’s house while he’s away recovering from an illness. But of course things are never that simple when wizards are involved and Charmain finds herself tangled up into quite a mess involving supernatural creatures, wizards, wizard apprentices, and royalty. The kobalds and their demands are quite the thing for Charmain and Peter to contend with, but the lubbocks are another thing entirely. These creatures mean business, and that business is to sneak up behind you and lay their eggs inside you so you can birth their half-lubbock/half-human hybrid children. The lubbocks are truly the stuff of nightmares. *shudders*
Sometimes it felt like there was a little bit to much going in the story, what with the kobalds, the stray dog, Peter suddenly showing up, the lubbocks, the king, wizardly antics, and the house’s strange ways–it felt a bit chaotic at times. And yet everything ties up nicely in the end.
Overall, The House of Many Ways is a fun book full of quirks and if you’re a fan at all of Diana Wynn Jones and haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend it. 4/5 stars.