House of Many Ways – Diana Wynne Jones

I have had a taste for books that poke fun at fairy tale norms ever since reading The Enchanted Forest series by Patricia C. Wrede. There aren’t many books that do this and are fun, but not ridiculous, to read. I can only think of the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett and books by Diana Wynne Jones.

“The House of Many Ways” is a continuation of the “Howl’s Moving Castle” world. Strangely, Amazon.com has a description that says “The House of Many Ways” is the second in the series, but “Castle in the Air” is clearly the 2nd in continuity, followed by “House of Many Ways.”

This book takes place in Norland, and it’s main character Charmain Baker is the daughter of a baker and a woman whose sense of propriety has resulted in Charmain staying inside to read and eat pastries because doing just about anything would be improper. In fact, reading all the time might be improper too.

Charmain’s overbearing paternal aunt sets up the story by having Charmain go and be a housesitter/caretaker for their great-great-x-uncle in his strange house, and Charmain furthers it by writing a letter to the King of Norland, asking to be an assistant in cataloging his enormous library. Whilst attempting to work as an assistant librarian, deal with her great-uncle’s strange house, and unravel myths and mysteries, Charmain learns that her previous existence ill-prepared her for her life and that she must first want to take care of herself before she can, well, take care of herself. When she finally starts wanting to be capable, she becomes more likable.

I enjoyed this book but I am unsure why I did, which is why it took me so long to complete this review.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t like Charmain, but I enjoyed the book. Perhaps enjoyed it because it’s a Howl and Sophy book, the last as Diana Wynne Jones sadly passed away last year.

Also, I didn’t enjoy Howl’s appearance in the book! Normally, I find him hilarious. This time, he was just grating. Sophy was not effective in this book either, which made me sad. She didn’t do things in her oddly effective way like in the previous books, and she kept saying, “Doh!” It made me think of Homer Simpson.

What I did appreciate was how Charmain realizes she is useless, and how she makes steps to try and be more useful. It takes her a bit to realize it, and she goes about adjusting herself in a roundabout manner, all the while unearthing strange things about her uncle and her country.

The world itself is more disturbing than in any other Howl book. There, potential violence was on the periphery, but in House of Many Ways, it was right there in the front. It took me aback.

I am going to keep this book, but I’m not sure I will reread it. I miss the omnipresent whimsy and bizarre fairytale touch in the other Howl books that did not appear here.

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