House of Many Ways
By Dianna Wynne Jones
Paperback, 404 pages
2008, Greenwillow Books
Charmain, having led a sheltered life mostly full of reading, finds herself watching her great uncle William’s magical house while the wizard is convalescing with elves. There’s a dog to take care of, piles of dishes to wash and mountains of dirty laundry (it breeds if not cleaned!) and Charmain has no idea what to do with any of it. When an apprentice wizard, Peter, shows up, the two find themselves not only tending after a magical house, but caught up in a plot that involves the king of the land and a familiar family of wizards.
I knew from the first couple chapters that I was going to enjoy this book significantly more than Castle in the Air.
Charmain is a bit spoiled, in that she’s never done any sort of housework or hard work and spends most of her time reading (though I think she does also go to school). Not a bad life if you ask me! Except that she has no idea how to house-sit and at first decides she’ll sit around reading. Despite being told to avoid the magical books set aside in her uncle’s study, Charmain decides to read one of them, and soon finds herself testing out a spell. After successfully learning to fly, she meets a disgusting creature called a Lubbock – it’s a humanoid bug thing that likes to lays eggs in humans and if it breeds with a woman she’ll birth a lubbockin (and then die) – and it promptly tries to lay eggs in her. Charmain gets away, but this incident makes her wary of performing more magic.
Charmain is likable, despite her semi-spoiled brattitude. She certainly grows throughout the novel and comes into her powers as well (a la Sophie in Howl’s). I will say though, that when I first read the back of the book, I read her name as Chairman Baker and thus, referred to her as Chairman the entire novel. Oops! Peter is the cute, bumbling wizard who does his best to teach Charmain how to function like a normal human. Surprisingly enough, there’s no love story here, and I quite enjoyed that, especially after the rushed romance in Castle.
Sophie, Howl and Calcifer return and play a much bigger part in the story this time, so that was fun. The plot was interesting and the lubbocks were disgusting and creepy. They made for great villains! There’s also a new kind of magical house, as Chairman’s Charmain’s uncle’s house has doorways that lead to different rooms and passages based on which way you turn through a doorway. It was kind of hard to follow, but I didn’t really need to know how the children moved to different rooms, just that they were doing it.
In all, this was a fun read, though not quite as enjoyable as Howl’s (not that I expected it to be) and I definitely recommend it. There is a cameo from a character from Castle, but you really don’t need to read that book to read this one. It does pick up from the end of that book, but has very little to do with those events. If you’re looking for more Howl and the gang and another magical house, pick up House of Many Ways!