Castle in the Air
By Diana Wynne Jones
Paperback, 298 pages
Abdullah often dreams that his life is not truly his own – amid the daily tasks of running the carpet shop he inherited from his father, he fantasizes that he is truly a prince who was kidnapped and adopted by a rug merchant after a lucky escape. His dreams also include marrying a beautiful princess (of course). When a mysterious bearded man appears at his shop and offers to sell him a magical, flying carpet, Abdullah snatches as the chance for adventure. After falling asleep atop the carpet, Abdullah wakes to find himself in a night garden with a beautiful princess – his dreams are finally coming true! But his princess is quickly kidnapped by a djinn and Abdullah sets off to rescue her with only his carpet and his wits.
The cover of this book declares it to be the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, but the connection is tenuous at best.
Yes, the characters inhabit the same world and familiar faces from Howl’s appear towards the end, but they’re very loosely connected. You don’t need to read Howl’s first to understand or enjoy Castle in the Air. While the ending did provide a little insight into what happened to the familiar characters from the first book, it didn’t add much. I was expecting a direct sequel and was disappointed as a result.
I enjoyed the Aladdin vibes I was getting from the setting and the magical details. Abdullah’s home was set so far apart from the city of Ingary that it was almost like reading a book set in a different universe though. A map would have been helpful, just to orient myself. (“But Millie,” I hear you say, “You always talk about how maps are cool but you never look at them!” Ok, well maybe in my old age I’m starting to see the benefit of maps!) About halfway through the book Abdullah finds himself in Ingary though and the world begins to feel more familiar, if less interesting.
I don’t have much to say about the characters. Abdullah didn’t stand out much. His language is polite and flowery and sometimes humorous in its cleverness, but I didn’t get much of a sense of his character. His princess wasn’t on the scene long enough to make an impression and fell into the “damsel in distress” category for me. The genie in a bottle was one of the more interesting characters and at the very end of the story, I found out why.
Overall, this was an average read. I enjoy Jones’s writing style, so it wasn’t a bad read, but I just coasted through, wondering at what point this would seem like a Howl sequel (that point was never.) If I’d known going in that this wasn’t a true sequel, I might have enjoyed it a little more, though I’m not sure. You might like this if you weren’t too interested in Howl’s Moving Castle, simply because it’s so different. Perhaps the third book, House of Many Ways, will give me more of what I was looking for.
Bonus picture of Lilu: