Once I finished reading Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones I knew I had to read the other two companion pieces. The first one I picked up is Castle in the Air, which takes place in the same world and country, but isn't a sequel by any means.
Castle in the Air is about a humble carpet merchant called Abdullah who after purchasing a magic carpet off a stranger meets the love of his dreams, only to see her carried away right in front of his eyes. He enlists the aide of said carpet, a genie, a wandering soldier and a few furry friends in his quest for his love, who has been taken up to a palace in the clouds by a djinn.
If anything, the story of Castle in the Air resembles that of Aladdin more than anything else. Abdullah falls in love with an incredibly book-smart but naive princess who has never left the palace walls, though she is five minutes away from the bazaar and the common people. When she is taken away to the castle up high, he is imprisoned by the sultan on the grounds of stealing the princess but escapes with the help of his friend's dog and the magic carpet. He flees to the desert where he acquires the genie, and it all goes on from there, right up to where he sneaks in to the cloud palace and outsmarts the evil djinn responsible for the stealing of not just Flower-in-the-Night, but over 30 other princesses from around the world.
Sound familiar? Great. But, don't be fooled. There's a lot more magic and humor involved that makes this story completely different from that of Aladdin's. I just can't talk about it without risking, you know, spoiling the surprise! As I mentioned earlier, Castle in the Air is a definite companion to the original work Howl's Moving Castle. In the book, you'll get a glimpse of the "happily ever after" of Sophie and Howl, who play a major hand in the story as side characters, and even Sophie's sister Lettie who went on to marry the royal wizard Ben Sullivan.
This book is a great example of taking a world that's already been worked and molded in one story and then used for something totally fresh without relying on the original characters. Yes, while Sophie and Howl do make an appearance in Castle in the Air, they aren't the main force behind anything that happens. Actually, they're rather helpless in their situation without the determination of Abdullah, who goes to great lengths for both his survival and the rescue of the princess.
Nonetheless, once I got to the end of the book, you know, that second-to-last chapter where everything gets resolved and all your questions are answered, I was legitimately delighted with the result. Just when I thought the book wouldn't be able to surprise me, it did. Maybe I just suck at catching the little clues here and there sometimes, but seeing as how this book is lovingly written for young adults, I think it's perfect.