Castle in the Air (YA Fantasy)

Castle in the Air

Diana Wynne Jones (YA Fantasy)

Abdullah was a young carpet merchant who lived in the city of Zanzib.  It was clear that he had always been a disappointment to his father for upon his passing, all he left Abdullah was just enough money to buy and stock a modest booth in the northwest corner of the Bazaar.  Despite this, Abdullah knew he was destined for greater things.  In his daydreams, he was actually the kidnapped son of a mighty prince who must now live a life filled with heat, haggling, and the smell of fried squid.  But soon came the day when a man entered Abdullah’s booth.  A rude, imperious stranger bearing a worn out carpet that he wished to sell.  A carpet that was magical.  Could this carpet be the key to what his prophecy foretold upon his birth: “…he will be raised above all others in this land.”?  With a flying carpet in hand, Abdullah would soon find himself encountering an evil djinn, a bottled genie, an enchanted cat, and the beautiful girl of his dreams.

Castle in the Air is the second book in Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Castle series.  Like its predecessor, this book is filled with wit, charm, action, adventure, and a lot of heart.  It’s the stuff that fairy tales are made of: a conniving stepmother, evil beasts, magical objects, princesses, curses, and large doses of bravery, kindness, loyalty, and love.  One thing that I appreciate about Jones is that she makes both her male and female protagonists equally strong, clever, and resourceful.  She resists the urge to diminish one character in order to elevate his or her counterpart and even writes that Abdullah’s love for his princess was strengthened by these admirable qualities: “Here Abdullah was somewhat amazed to discover that he, really and truly, did love Flower-in-the-Night just as ardently as he had been telling himself he did—or more, because he now saw he respected her. He knew he would die without her.”       

The first two-thirds of the book could very well have been a standalone story since only minor references to Howl’s Moving Castle were made.  However, once you just about hit the 200-page mark, that’s when things really pick up and several characters that readers fell in love with in the first book begin to make their appearances.  It’s not a showstopper if Castle in the Air is your first introduction to Jones’s wonderful flying castle trilogy, but you are lacking a bit of backstory that deepens the journey and makes reconnecting with these characters a nice reunion.    

Even though this series is targeted to young adult readers, it would be an engaging and delightful read for children grades five and up.  With strong females and morally-centered males, Jones gives us a nice alternative to darker fantasy books that tend to monopolize library and bookstore shelves.   With good triumphing in the end, bad getting its comeuppance after learning a valuable lesson, and a happy ending never far from sight, Castle in the Air reminds us that you cannot cheat Fate, to be very careful what you wish for, and that a little bit of kindness can go a very long way.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (YA Fantasy)

Howls Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle

Diana Wynne Jones (Young Adult Fantasy)

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.  Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

Sophie Hatter was a born blunderer.  Being the eldest of three daughters, it was simply inevitable and Sophie accepted her fate with as much dignity and resignation that she could muster.  She was well read, a talented seamstress, and abundantly aware that life—at least for her—held no interesting or exciting prospects.  But things certainly took an unexpected turn when Sophie found herself on the wrong end of a curse from the Witch of the Waste.  Suddenly, Sophie is now an old lady whose life is brimming with a stalking scarecrow, an enchanted fire, an arrogant wizard, and a magical, moving castle.  And here Sophie thought that her life would never hold any interesting or exciting prospects!

Howl’s Moving Castle is the first of three books by Diana Wynne Jones in the Howl’s Series.  In this novel, Jones takes readers on a thrilling and magical adventure full of charms and curses, mystery and mistaken identity, and frights and delights while our heroine goes on her own adventure of self-discovery and acceptance.  Eleven years before J. K. Rowling enchanted the world with a boy wizard, Jones gave readers another character who felt exploited and unhappy with their place in the world.  A person who longed for adventure and always knew that there was a world far beyond their little nook.  An unassuming hero defined and confined by societal views, but capable of so much more than meets the eye.  Characters like Harry Potter and Sophie Hatter are the very reason why we cheer for the underdog, mourn their failures, and celebrate their successes as if they were our own.  They reaffirm our hope that nice guys don’t finish last and our faith that love does conquer all.

Author C. S. Lewis once wrote, “We are who we believe we are.”  For a long time, Sophie believed herself to be unattractive, undeserving, and unimportant.  Like so many beloved characters in literature, it took a twist a fate to show Sophie that the beauty, strength, and courage she thought she lacked was inside her all along and proved once again that a curse can sometimes be a true blessing in disguise.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

William Golding (Adult Fiction)

Tragedy strikes when a plane carrying English schoolboys crashes onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean.  Lacking adult supervision, they eagerly welcome the adventure that awaits them.

“This is our island.  It’s a good island.  Until the grownups come to fetch us we’ll have fun.”

Their elation soon turns to discontent as rules are quickly established to maintain a semblance of order.  Soon, their tight-knit group breaks into factions and their once carefree lifestyle is threatened while they wait and hope for rescue.

This book will leave you unnerved and emotionally raw as you watch this group’s slow descent into moral depravity and eventual savagery.  Absent the presence of an actual authoritative figure, these boys suffer no negative consequences and slip into traits which come naturally to them: frivolity, disobedience, and indifference.  Desperate for structure and stability, they will follow any strong and decisive leader—regardless of how corrupt or destructive this person may be.

Golding masterfully lures us deep into a place full of wonder, mystery, and danger, and his attention to detail is as lush as the forest he describes.  He slowly builds tension and suspense, which ultimately culminates in a heart-stopping, gut-wrenching, and unforgettable climax.  Perhaps the most disturbing and frightening aspect of this book, published in 1954, is not its plausibility, but its lurking inevitability.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.bookdepository.com

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