Retro Friday Review: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones


October 19, 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!

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones book coverTitle: House of Many Ways [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Diana Wynne Jones [Website|Facebook]
Standing: Book 3 in the Howl’s Moving Castle series.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Published: June 10th, 2008 by Greenwillow Books (First published in 1996).
Format: Hardcover; 404 pages
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Spoilers!:  This book (and review) contain minor spoilers for the two previous books in the series–read at your own risk!

Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places–the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few.

By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift–so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind?

Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos–and unexpected revelations.

No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.

Diana Wynne Jones may be my favorite author for those days when life seems altogether mundane.  For those days when I need some magic and adventure, but I also need a helping of the charmingly flawed and stubbornly relatable.  House of Many Ways, DWJ’s final book in her Howl series does just that.  There’s something incredibly gratifying about having a go-to author whose books you can pick up in a time of need and know for certain that she’ll pull through for you.  Returning to the world of Ingary, though this time in the neighboring country of High Norland, we get to fall in love all over again with a new cast and see more of our beloved Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer than we did in the previous installment, Castle in the Air.  Not to mention, we get to see some great bits of the terrible tantrums of a wizarding toddler with Morgan, and welcome back Jamal and his dog who received a lovely position as a royal cook for the King of High Norland at the end of Book 2.

House of Many Ways is primarily a story about young Miss Charmain (not Charming–at least not with a good deal of work) who longs only to spend her days in the proper way–with her nose in a book.  Through familial circumstances, she finds herself house sitting for her Great Uncle William, the royal wizard, and through even more unexpected circumstances finds herself in the company of Peter and Waif.  Peter appears to be the magician’s apprentice who can never get a spell to go right, and Waif is the odd little stray dog who attaches herself firmly to Charmain’s side.  Charmain finds it easy to brush off Peter and responsibility to seek employ in the royal library, where she soon finds herself wound up in the mysterious disappearance of the King’s gold, the strangers from Ingary who are determined to help, and the creepy Lubbock that lives in the meadow.  When will one find time to pick up Memoirs of an Exorcist for a little light reading?

Charmain is the kind of cautionary tale any one of us avid readers can’t help but love.  We all identify with a character who wants only to sit around and read all of the time, but we also realize how frustrating this can be when the world at large is attempting to have an adventure around us.  We all must put the book down and roll up our sleeves at some point, but with laundry breeding in the kitchen and taps missing from the sink, this is hardly an exciting prospect.  Charmain has been brought up to be “respectable” as her mother would have it–but as Peter says, it’s hardly respectable to not know how to do things.  She’d argue that she’s neither lazy nor stupid, but that she just hasn’t bothered looking around the edges of her mother’s way of doing things.  Charmain has an introspective state in which she is able to recognize her own faults, but hardly feels the need to rectify them.  She really wants to be kind and not hard hearted, but it can be ever so difficult.

I have to admit, I do believe I like the House of Many Ways more than I like Howl’s Moving Castle.  Not the book–the actual physical structure.  The home of Charmain’s Great Uncle William is full of unexpected turns and surprises, with layers and passages that take one in all sorts of varied directions–even through time!  To me, being able to reach all of these far strung places from my own home seems vastly more convenient than a castle that can be moved places…though I suppose one’s far less likely to get lost from Howl’s.

I just loved everything about House of Many Ways.  I was completely charmed by Charmain, Peter, and Waif while still getting a good dose of past characters.  The pacing was impeccable with never a dull moment, and there were magical surprises sprinkled throughout its entirety.  There are truly calculating villains who don’t like crumpets,–who doesn’t like crumpets?–books that will happily adopt you, elves, kobolds, and an interesting family tree.  What more could a reader ask for to convince them that even the mundane can be full of magic?

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:
I’m so sad that I’ve reached the end of stories involving Howl and Sophie!  They are quite probably my favorite couple I’ve discovered this year.  I’ll certainly be rereading Howl’s Moving Castle and House of Many Ways (I liked Castle in the Air, but not nearly so much), and I’ll be trying DWJ’s books outside of this world!

Recommended for:  
I truly believe everyone should read this series.  Read it with your kids, read it on your own, just read it!  If you’ve ever had a sense of magic, fun, and an appreciation for a good tantrum, you will love these books.

Get a second opinion:
This one hasn’t been featured nearly enough.  If you’ve posted a review for House of Many Ways, let me know and I’ll link you here!

I’ve also reviewed:
Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle 1)
Castle in the Air (Howl’s Moving Castle 2)


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  1. elena says:

    omg I didn’t know Howl was a series?! I just read Howl for the first time a few weeks ago because I love the film so much. The fact that you like the physical structure of this more than Howl intrigues me. It sounds fantastic and a great end to the series.

    • Heidi says:

      It is! There’s three books in the series. They’re sort of companion novels in that they all take place in various countries in the same world and focus on different main characters, but you still should read them in order because Howl and Sophie are in all three, even though they’re not the main characters. It’s a series very worth reading!

  2. I was a little worried that the first book in this series was the only really great one after your review of the second, but I’m so glad to hear that number three is excellent too. I will DEFINITELY be reading all three of these to my girls at some point. They loved the first one so much – I’m sure they’ll love the others too. It’s always great to have an author who’s a sure thing. Great review Heidi!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Catie! The second two aren’t as good as the first, but they’re well worth reading! This one more so than the 2nd, but it’s still quite charming. I do hope that you read these with your girls! I know your entire family loved Howl. 😀

  3. You know, I have never read this series but it’s something I have always wanted to.

    I’ve seen the film (and loved it) of Howl but I’ve never gotten round to actually picking up them. But, after your review, I’m definitely going to seek them out.

    I love the idea of having authors who you pick up and you know you’re going to love them. It’s very comforting.

    Brilliant review, Heidi. :)

    • Heidi says:

      It is comforting, isn’t it? I honestly couldn’t recommend this series more, particularly the first, Howl’s. I do really like the movie, but I must confess I like the book so much more. They are different in many ways–certainly worth checking out both! 😀

  4. I skipped this review since I haven’t read any of the novels in this series, but I DO own all three of them on my Kindle, so I intend to start soon. I’ve heard SO much about it, so considering how highly you praise this one, I’m sure I’ll love it!(:

    • Heidi says:

      You own all of these Keertana? YES! Get on them! The first is easily on my all time favorites list, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series.

  5. You liked it more than Howl’s? I’m shocked 😮 Totally valid opinion, of course 😛 I think this is my second favourite in the trilogy, with Castle in the Air being my least favourite. I loved Charmain, but I felt that the villains in this one were a bit too black and white and not quite up to DWJ’s usual standards of complexity.

    PS: You changed your header! I love it! This might be old news, but it had been a while since I’d actually clicked over from Google Reader because I’ve been a terrible commenter lately.

    • Heidi says:

      Oh no, I didn’t like the BOOK better than Howl’s Moving Castle, I just liked the actual building of the house better. 😛

      This was my second favorite in the trilogy as well. You’re right, the villains in this one were very black (or purple) and white.

      And thanks! It’s been about a month or so since I changed the header, but I certainly don’t mind hearing about it now! 😀

  6. I had no idea this was a series!
    Mind = blown.

    Also yes forever to bookish main characters! Wheee!

    • Heidi says:

      Mmmhmm, it IS a series. Of awesomeness. If you loved the first one, you should really read the next two, they’re also fantastic (though not quite as amazing, of course, it’s hard to top Howl’s).

  7. Maureen E says:

    You know, I really thought I had reviewed it, but it looks like it was about a sentence long. I definitely liked it better than Castles in the Air, though Howl remains (forever & always) my favorite.

    • Heidi says:

      Agreed, Maureen! I really enjoyed this one, and felt it was much stronger than Castle in the Air, but of course couldn’t overcome the genius of Howl’s. :)

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.