Tag: Diana Wynne Jones

Review – Howl’s Moving Castle (audiobook)

Posted April 28, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Howl’s Moving Castle (audiobook)

Howl's Moving Castle

by Diana Wynne Jones, Kristin Atherton (narrator)

Genres: Audiobook, Fantasy
Pages: -2
Rating: five-stars

In the land of Ingary, where seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter catches the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a spell.

Deciding she has nothing more to lose, she makes her way to the moving castle that hovers on the hills above Market Chipping. But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the souls of young girls... There she meets Michael, Howl's apprentice, and Calcifer the Fire Demon, with whom she agrees a pact.

But Sophie isn't the only one under a curse - her entanglements with Calcifer, Howl, and Michael, and her quest to break her curse is both gripping - and howlingly funny!

This is a review more of the audiobook (narrated by Kristin Atherton) than of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s a book I love very much, even though I saw the (very different) Studio Ghibli animation first. I love all the touches that show very clearly that Howl is Welsh in more than name: the rugby jersey, “Sosban fach”, etc. I enjoy the relationship between Howl and Sophie, and the way the real Howl is slowly revealed.

In the audiobook, Kristin Atherton does a great job. She does all the voices (though one or two come out sounding much the same — inevitable, really), and she does a Welsh accent for Howl and his family which is recognisable without being ridiculously exaggerated. The emotions of the characters come across perfectly, and the narration is lively when it ought to be. I kept wanting to keep listening, which is a little rare for me — often with audiobooks I get fidgety.

It’s really well done, and I really want to try more audiobooks narrated by Kristin Atherton. Luckily, looks like there are one or two in my collection already!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Fire & Hemlock

Posted December 2, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne JonesFire & Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones

This was the first adaptation of Tam Lin that I ever read, so it was sort of odd to come back to it now with various sung versions of the ballad rattling round my head. I remembered much of the story and the events — one thing that stuck with me in particular was Polly’s mortification when she realises (or at least thinks she does) that Tom knows about her crush on him and thinks she’s too much of a kid. Gah. Cringe.

It’s funny the way the story weaves slowly through Polly’s childhood, dropping clues, and then suddenly at the end Jones puts her foot down and zooms off. This is kind of a feature of her endings, which take careful reading sometimes — you can’t just let them wash over you, or you’ll be left asking “wait, what?”

It’s sort of aged badly for me, though: it feels completely gross the way Tom uses Polly, not just because of the grossness of using someone but because she’s so young (I don’t care if he’s not as old as she initially thinks; you can make an argument that he grooms her, with the gifts and the letters). Her grandmother is quite right to worry about it, and though she’s the solid and dependable centre of the book in many ways, it feels like she isn’t listened to enough there!

Despite that ick factor, I kind of want to reread it again sometime sooner, to see if the memories layer over each other better and show up more of the hints and clevernesses to make that ending work.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted November 25, 2020 by Nicky in General / 1 Comment

Greetings, friends! I just caught up on all the unanswered blog comments I could find — and I’ll try to be better here on out!

Cover of MetaZoa by Peter Godfrey-SmithWhat are you currently reading?

Without much enthusiasm, Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Metazoa. I remembered really liking Other Minds, so I am disappointed by this one, which I’m not finding very readable. I don’t expect much popular science stuff that focuses on biology to be new to me except in the finer details — I read it for a) obscure factoids and b) comfort through familiarity and order — but this one isn’t new and it’s slooow.

I’m also partway through Abaddon’s Gate (James S.A. Corey), and a reread of Fire & Hemlock (Diana Wynne Jones). It’s fun to rediscover the latter now I have a more than passing familiarity with the Tam Lin story.

Cover of Network Effect by Martha WellsWhat have you recently finished reading?

Uhhh, good question… I think the last thing was Network Effect (Martha Wells) and The Churn (James S.A. Corey). The former was a lot of fun; it is nice to hang out with Murderbot. The latter was… superfluous, I think, if you’ve read the main series. It doesn’t tell us much more about Amos than we already knew.

What will you be reading next? 

Nooo idea. My brain isn’t cooperating very much, so I think it’ll be a while before I get to reading something else.

What’re you folks reading?

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Review – Enchanted Glass

Posted April 18, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne JonesEnchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones

I think that Enchanted Glass was one of the very first books I got on my ereader, and I couldn’t remember much from it beyond the general enjoyment and the immortal line — wait for it: “I seem to have excalibured this knife.” I’m not sure why that stuck with me in particular, though I suppose given my other interests it makes sense. So a lot of the plot was almost new to me, and it was surprising how long it took me to catch on. The book opens with the death of Andrew Hope’s grandfather, leaving him with the house — and his grandfather’s “field of care”. The magic system is revealed rather slowly and organically, and to be honest there are never clear rules, as such. Instead, you have to sort of intuit what’s going on, figuring things out rather like a child learning to talk.

(I use that metaphor because I remember Diana Wynne Jones as having written that children intuitively understand magic, and it’s adults that always need to ask too many questions. There’s something true in that, and it reminds me of how children learn languages. If Diana Wynne Jones didn’t write that observation, she should’ve, because I always find her books like that!)

In any case, into Andrew’s beginnings of a quiet life wrangling his computer, his gardener and his housekeeper comes Aidan Cain, pursued by who-knows-what and vulnerable after the death of his own grandmother. Andrew’s not even quite sure how to take over his grandfather’s field of care, and there seems to be something awry with an odd neighbour…

The book barrels along at a good clip, with endearing side characters (“I got zips!”) and entertaining scenes, heading toward an inevitable conclusion: a struggle between the land of Faerie, and Andrew Hope’s own ordinary townspeople. (Sometimes not so ordinary.) It’s solidly entertaining, sometimes funny, and basically everything you’d expect from a Diana Wynne Jones novel. I still enjoyed it greatly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Howl’s Moving Castle

Posted June 18, 2018 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Another reread of a favourite during my exam period! I originally watched the Studio Ghibli adaptation first, and loved that, and I think the first time I actually read the book it took me a while to get into it; certain aspects at the end seemed so rushed, and there was so much to keep track of. Perhaps it’s familiarity that means I didn’t really have a problem with it this time; certainly, experience helps in untangling exactly what’s going on!

While I still love the Studio Ghibli version, there’s a lot to enjoy in the book that didn’t make it into the movie. Sophie’s family, for one thing, and Wizard Suliman, and everything about Wales — which means a lot to me, being Welsh, because hey! Howl is short for Howell! And of course he takes the last name Pendragon. And of course Calcifer sings Sosban fach. And, and — it’s just a delight, okay? And there’s the stuff that didn’t make it into the book in the same way, like pretty much everything about Michael and most of Sophie’s magic.

Also, I can’t help it. I do love the adversarial not-going-to-take-each-others’-nonsense couples, and Howl and Sophie have that in spades. Lots and lots of spades. That ending is also a thing of delight, for me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Unnatural Creatures

Posted January 16, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Unnatural Creatures ed. Neil GaimanUnnatural Creatures, Neil Gaiman

Unnatural Creatures is a fun collection with a rather diverse set of authors, including Gaiman himself, Peter S. Beagle, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, Diana Wynne Jones… it includes some stories published before which fit with the theme, and a couple which seem to be published for the first time here. Most of them weren’t stories I knew already, and I thought overall it was a good selection; there were none which really didn’t work for me, though I wasn’t so interested in ‘The Compleat Werewolf’, particularly given how long it was.

Some of the creatures are more traditional than others: werewolves and ancient animal gods and the spirits of trees juxtaposed against a predatory bicycle, the story by Gahan Wilson, etc. Which is always good, to my mind, because werewolves and unicorns and such have been done, and a bit of new blood is always interesting.

My favourites of the collection? Hmm. ‘The Griffin and the Minor Canon’, by Frank R. Stockton; ‘The Sage of Theare’, by Diana Wynne Jones; ‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’, by E. Lily Yu; ‘Prismatica’, by Samuel R. Delaney… Stockton’s story, for example, is fairly traditional in the sort of structure and moral, but then there’s that odd sad note of pity for the Griffin, despite — well, you should probably read it for yourself. ‘The Cartographer Wasps’ is a fable, too, with a different sort of feel. And then ‘The Sage of Theare’ has a figure familiar from Jones’ other books — Chrestomanci!

Yes, it’s definitely an interesting combination, and a collection worth spending some time with, I think.

Rating: 4/5


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Review – Howl's Moving Castle

Posted April 26, 2015 by in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this now, but it’s probably my favourite of Diana Wynne Jones’ work. I actually saw the Studio Ghibli adaptation first: it’s very different in some ways, but it still captures some of the ideas and tone. The thing I really loved, though, coming to the book after the film, was discovering all the Welsh background. The ‘saucepan song’, Howl’s family, his Welsh Rugby shirt, even some of the things he says — “there’s a welcome in the valleys”! As well as the Welsh background, there’s just a lot more in the book: Sophie’s sisters, her aunt Fanny, a different view of Howl…

And Sophie is a fun protagonist: capable, pretty, not stuck up, capable of making mistakes, admitting she’s wrong, and being really ratty about it. She’s not perfect, by any means — which is fortunate, because neither is Howl. Both of them have a lot to put up with, in fact! And yet it doesn’t go too far, either: most people have something redeeming about them. For a while we think of Sophie’s Aunt Fanny as rather exploitative and unfair; a wicked stepmother, in fact. But there’s another side to the story, and Jones makes sure we know it.

Then of course there’s the tone. It’s light, silly, and yet you come to care about the characters easily because they make you smile, and because sometimes you can see right through them to their real motivations. Like people, really. I love all the references to traditional folk tale structures, too, like Sophie thinking she’ll never come to much because she’s the eldest of three.

Rating: 5/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted November 11, 2014 by in General / 28 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is “top ten characters you wish would get their own book”.

  1. Verity Farseer (Realm of the Elderlings, Robin Hobb). Or maybe his wife, Kettricken. Either way, they’re both great characters, I love the idea of “Sacrifice”, and I wish we’d seen more of Verity being awesome. I don’t think there’s really space for a Verity book in the series, and arguably his crowning achievements are in the Fitz books anyway, but for dreaming about, there’s all the time before Fitz is born, or the time Verity spends alone in the mountains before Fitz and company catch up.
  2. Faramir (Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien). I had the biggest literary crush on Faramir; I think he’s one of the strongest characters we see in Middle-earth. He’s as worthy as Aragorn in his way — both consciously resist the Ring — and he had pretty short shift from his father. He deserves more!
  3. Jane Drew (The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper). Arguably Greenwitch is her book, but it’s so short! She’s the only girl in the Six, and it’d be great to see more of her.
  4. Susan Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis). She deserved more than being dismissed as too interested in “lipsticks and nylons”. As of The Last Battle, she’s still alive and there’s room for redemption or reinterpretation of what’s going on with her. I don’t think Lewis could ever have really handled her with subtlety, but you can dream…
  5. Ysanne (The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay). We only briefly see what Ysanne is like and get hints of her history. A story set entirely within Fionavar that ties up some of that would be lovely.
  6. Mel (Sunshine, Robin McKinley). There’s so much mystery around that character that was never resolved. It adds an interesting background to Sunshine, but I think everyone wants to know more about him.
  7. Jasper (A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin). He’s just a plot element, really, to set Ged on his path. He vanishes out of the story and we never really know why he leaves Roke, whether he ever gains some redemption. He’s presented a little too simplistically — I want to know more, even though he’s not a pleasant character.
  8. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones). Because Calcifer.
  9. Anafiel Delaunay de Montrève (Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey). We know a little about his past, and enough about him to sketch in what we need to know, but I’d like to get to know the character close-up, rather than through Phèdre’s eyes.
  10. Prim (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins). We see her through Katniss’ eyes, but it’d be fun to know what Prim’s thinking, what drives her — what little rebellions are in her, against Katniss and for her, as they’re growing up and Katniss is doing all this self-sacrificing. She’s presented as pretty much totally cute, but there’s gotta be more complex things going on.

What about you guys?

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Throwback Thursday

Posted June 13, 2014 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Since I liked doing this last week, here it is again — a little highlight of some books that have been lurking on my shelves for a while.

  Cover of The Adamantine Palace by Stephen DeasThe Adamantine Palace, Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemically was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-plays that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses.

Dragons! Dangerous dragons! I’ve read some less than glowing reviews since I impulsively bought this book, but I’m still pretty hopeful. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how this take on dragons works out.

Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds

Three hundred years from now, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable due to a technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust. Archaeologist Verity Auger specializes in the exploration of its surviving landCover of Century Rain by Alastair Reynoldsscape. Now, her expertise is required for a far greater purpose. Something astonishing has been discovered at the far end of a wormhole: mid-twentieth century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Somewhere on this alternate planet is a device capable of destroying both worlds at either end of the wormhole. And Verity must find the device, and the man who plans to activate it, before it is too late – for the past and the future of two worlds.

I’ve actually read this before, but something like eight years ago. Eep. Now I feel old. Anyway, I picked this up again when I went to a signing by Alastair Reynolds, and it’s high time I got round to rereading it. It is, after all, the book that got my sister back into reading.

A Sudden Wild Magic, Diana Wynne Jones

Our world has long been protected by “The Ring” – a benevolent secret society of witches and conjurers Cover of A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jonesdedicated to the continuance and well-being of humankind. Now, in the face of impending climatic disaster, the Ring has uncovered a conspiracy potentially more destructive than any it has ever had to contend with. For eons, the mages of a neighboring universe have been looting the Earth of ideas, innovations and technologies – all the while manipulating events and creating devastating catastrophes for their own edification. And unless the brazen piracy is halted, our planet is certainly doomed.

It’s the words “kamikaze sex” later in the blurb that really get my attention. Diana Wynne Jones does a more adult novel, which sounds like a sexier version of her usual quirky worlds. It’s not gonna beat Fire and Hemlock, but it should be fun.

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