House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

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House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Gorgeous magical fantasy, third in the Howl's Moving Castle series. It's an energetic romp, with Jones's trademark comic timing. The mystery has clever plotting and the characters are, as ever, unforgettable.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0007275684

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Charmain Baker doesn't particularly want to look after her great uncle's house while he's ill, but she does want to get out of her own house, where her mother stifles her with respectability. Charmain doesn't want to be respectable; she wants to live a little. Doing her great uncle's washing up and laundry isn't quite the thing that floats her boat - cataloguing books in the Royal Mansion is her big ambition - but at least she'll be out on her own.

The thing is, Great Uncle William is also the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house isn't like most houses. It bends space and time and has any number of rooms, led into by ever-changing doors and routes. The bags of laundry seem to breed and the dirty crockery is overflowing, and there are no taps in the kitchen. They, apparently, have been removed by the kobolds, with whom Great Uncle William is in some kind of dispute. There's a confused apprentice wizard called Peter, whose spells, however well-meant, have a terrible habit of going wrong. There's a greedy magical dog who gets into all sorts of scrapes. And up at the Royal Mansion, nobody can find the Elfgift.

My bestest, bestest, bestest, favouritest thing about Diana Wynne Jones is that she is not a trainspotter. She doesn't go in for much of that tiresome world-building stuff that drags out even children's fantasy novels to a gazillion pages. Instead, she goes for laughs to break up the spells. And yet, her worlds are as fully-realised and vivid even as Tolkein's. High Norland is a land of fairy tales, but it's full of immediately recognisable characters - the over-protective mother, the posh old maid, the forbidding auntie, the geeky girl and the over-enthusiastic boy. Wynne Jones always writes a strong female character and she doesn't let us down with Charmain, who is feisty and determined, but utterly untried.

The plot itself centres on the location and meaning of the Elfgift. It's a fairly straightforward baddies-versus-goodies affair, and we do get to meet Sophie, Howl and Calcifer again, but mostly we simply enjoy the magic and Charmain's discovery of it, which is just as it should be.

It comes recommended not only to all junior fans of magical fiction, but also the hordes of over-protective mothers out there. Loosen up!

My thanks to the nice people at Harper Collins for sending the book.

They shouldn't miss Diana Wynne Jones's superb Chrestomanci series. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett will also appeal. We can also recommend Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones.

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