Last year, one of my bookish dreams came true when the Folio Society published Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. For existing fans of DWJ it was most gratifying to see one of our favorite books appear in a splendid illustrated edition, joining a list that includes many great authors of the past and present. Folio aficionados were likely intrigued enough by the gorgeous presentation to take a chance on an author who definitely deserves more of their attention.
For whatever reason, this edition became a bestseller for Folio, and I’m pleased that for once market trends have produced a desirable result: Folio has just published the sequel, Castle in the Air, with another outstanding binding design, slipcase, endpapers, chapter-head vignettes, and six color illustrations by Marie-Alice Havel. It’s a lovely work of the bookmaker’s art that will enchant equally those who know Jones well and those who don’t, and I hope it sells like hotcakes.
For readers who don’t know either story (a regrettable omission), the main thing to tell you is that while Howl’s Moving Castle is set in a land that owes its flavor to the fairy tales of Europe, Castle in the Air is in the Arabian Nights mode, with genies, flying carpets, secluded princesses, enchanted gardens, prophecies, curses, and cats. The protagonist is a young carpet merchant named Abdullah, who gets more than he bargained for when he buys a carpet that turns out to be hiding some secrets, and who quickly comes into more adventure and danger than he ever dreamed of. (It’s not at first an obvious sequel to the first book, but if you know that one, just be patient; Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer will appear, in some delightfully unexpected ways.)
As in all books by Diana Wynne Jones, the tropes and trappings of traditional stories are given her own inimitable twist. This an affectionate send-up of a narrative tradition filtered through a modern sensibility, not in any way an attempt to accurately imitate the ancient tales of Scheherezade. Rashpuht and Ingary are clearly lands that exist in the realm of imagination alone, where words themselves become the source of creative action.
This verbal magic, the power of storytelling, is something that Jones plays with in both books, but in Castle in the Air it’s particularly the music of language, its sound and rhythm, that becomes the focus, and source of much of the fun. The way each character speaks is important; and has definite effects on their ability to shape their world, or even to survive. So pay attention as you read, or read aloud; this would be a wonderful book for that.
Naturally the Folio edition is also beautiful to look at, as you can see from the samples reproduced here, every detail attended to with exquisite care. I’m so glad we have another magical book to enjoy from Folio and Diana Wynne Jones, and my only wish is that there may be many more.
Review copy gratefully received from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are independently held by the reviewers.