Retro Friday Review: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones


July 20, 2012 by Heidi

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!

book cover of Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne JonesTitle: Castle in the Air [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Diana Wynne Jones [Website]
Standing: Companion sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Published: April 22nd, 2008 by Eos (Originally published in 1990).
Format: Paperback; 383 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Spoilers!: This review contains no spoilers for Howl’s Moving Castle, but the book itself does contain some very minor ones, so you may want to read that first!

Young merchant Abdullah leads a humble life. Or he did until a stranger sold him a threadbare–and disagreeable–magic carpet. Now Abdullah is caught in the middle of his grand daydreams. Waking one night in a luxurious garden, he meets and falls instantly in love with the beautiful and clever Flower-in-the-Night. But a wicked djinn sweeps the princess away right before Abdullah’s eyes, leaving the young man no choice but to follow. This is no ordinary quest, however, for Flower-in-the-Night isn’t all the djinn has stolen. Abdullah will have the so-called help of the cantankerous carpet, a cranky genie in a bottle, a dishonest soldier, and a very opinionated black cat. Will this motley crew be able to find the djinn’s mysterious dwelling and rescue a castle full of princesses?

One of the marks of my favorite authors is their ability to keep me guessing–the knowledge that when I crack open one of their books, I should expect the unexpected.  This is only my second Diana Wynne Jones read, but I can already see her name rising in the ranks of the authors who do just that.  Like Howl’s Moving CastleCastle in the Air is an incredibly smart, adventurous, twisting read that is a credit to readers of all ages.  At no point did I know where the story was going, and in the end I was so incredibly happy to see how it all ironed out, I can hardly wait to see some of my favorite characters back in House of Many Ways!

Now, all of those twists and turns have a major drawback in the reviewing front in that it’s difficult to talk about a lot of the story in Castle in the Air without spoiling some things, so I’m going to be careful and brief!  Abdullah as a main character provides an interesting change of pace.  Not only do we shift to the male point of view, but we also have a massive cultural shift in Castle in the Air.  Somewhat of a more respectable Aladdin character, Abdullah is a hard-working, respectful carpet merchant rather bored with his current state of existence.  Well, you know what they say, “May your life be interesting” is as much a curse as it is a blessing, and Abdullah’s life certainly takes a turn for the interesting in these pages.  His cultural upbringing, far from the headstrong hills of Ingary, dictates that he speak in the most flattering and luminescent terms possible, also makes him a little unused to strong minded women (of which Castle in the Air has no shortage), and an expert at placating argumentative companions.

Harnessed with a persnickety magic carpet, a somewhat vile genie, a soldier who looks trustworthy while awake, and most devious while sleeping, and a pair of most unusual cats, Abdullah is bent on rescuing his love and fulfilling the prophecies that were made at their births.

While I did greatly enjoy Castle in the Air, I’m sad to say that my enjoyment did not come near that which I had for Howl’s Moving Castle.  I appreciated that Abdullah was a completely different character from those we dealt with previously, but still what I loved so much about the first book were the characters Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer.  For some reason, I’ve also never enjoyed the Arabian folklore as much, and I was somewhat confused by the presence of both a genie and djinn in this book.  It was always my understanding that the word ‘genie’ was the American vernacular of the term ‘djinn’, but it would seem that in Castle in the Air they have completely different identities and mythologies entirely!  The genie is a creature tied to a bottle that is required to grant wishes to their master–very similar to the popularized notions we’re accustomed to from pop culture like Disney’s Aladdin or the old TV series I Dream of Jeannie.  The djinn, however, are more powerful beings that have no such ties, and from what I have read seem much closer to the creatures in Arabian mythology.  If anyone has any more info/has read any good explanation of this, please let me know!

Also, Ana of The Booksmugglers pointed out in a recent review Diana Wynne Jones’ perchance for writing very negatively of fat people.  You know the glass shattering episode of How I Met Your Mother?  Yep.  I notice this now, and Castle in the Air was no exception, though I’m sure I would not have noticed it if it hadn’t been pointed out to me.  We see this in the women Abdullah’s father’s first wive’s brother’s daughter Fatima (yep, you read that right) wants Abdullah to marry.  Also, there was a point that made me uncomfortable where they slap a child to get her to stop crying, and recommend this sort of abusive behavior.

Those quibbles aside, Castle in the Air is a wondrous adventure story which answers the question, what do you do when all of your dreams (and nightmares) come true?  Fans of Howl’s Moving Castle will adore appearances by their favorite characters, and appreciate the wit, charm, and elegance that is Diana Wynne Jones’ writing.  Oh, um…I said brief, right?  Sorry…

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Undoubtedly!  Diana Wynne Jones has easily become one of those authors whose backlog I intend to devour entirely.  It’s likely that my next read will be House of Many Ways, the final Ingary book.

Recommended for: The young and the young at heart, anyone who loves adventure or fairy tale-esque stories, or is a particular fan of stories like 1001 Arabian Nights.

Get a second opinion:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Teen Book Review Blog
Teen Ink

I’ve also reviewed:
Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1)


If you liked that you might like this:


  1. VeganYANerds says:

    I feel like I’ve heard so much about this but I’ve never really known what it was about! I really enjoyed your review and would now like to read this!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks! I hope you do, her books are so fun and lovely. Even for those that aren’t usual readers of Middle Grade, I think Diana Wynne Jones works well.

  2. Alyssa says:

    I still haven’t read any Diana Wynne Jones!! ACK! I know I need to!!

  3. I really want to read this one, even though I’m sure I’ll agree with you that it wasn’t as good as Howl. It would be hard to measure up to that one for me, anyway. :) I love that this one has middle-eastern mythology. You really don’t see that very often. In that book I read recently, Alif the Unseen, there are several djinn characters and they are like you describe – powerful beings that exist in their own world and occasionally cross over to ours to get up to mischief.

    • Heidi says:

      I really think I need to read Alif, I’ve heard only really great things about it! And no, you don’t see Middle Eastern mythology so much, which did make Castle in the Air refreshingly different. Maybe I never enjoyed it as much because I’m not as familiar with the mythology–I did pick up Tales from Arabian Nights from Sync, so I’ll have to check it out!

  4. […] I reviewed Graceling by Kristin Cashore I recapped the Books of Wonder event with Gayle Forman, Kristin Cashore, and Melina Marchetta I reviewed Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones […]

  5. Great review. House of Many Ways is my favorite DWJ! I own a copy of this one, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Ruth! I wasn’t sure if there was a strict reading order between this and House of Many Ways or not, but apparently not! I like the companion novel set up, but I think you’d still miss out on some things if you read this one before Howl’s Moving Castle. Hopefully I’ll be reading House of Many Ways soon!

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