Listed as a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, House of Many Ways seems to be more of a companion novel (like Castle in the Air) since it features an all-new heroine who, like Abdullah in Castle in the Air, was pulled into a plot that centered around Howl, Sophie and theirs. While they do play a significantly large part in the story, in the end everything is in Charmain's perspective and some of the antics are left to dramatic irony.
Charmain Baker leads an extraordinarily ordinary and "respectable" life, being all prim and proper and never really learning to do anything for herself. One day, her great aunt blows in saying her great uncle William, a powerful wizard, has become ill and his house needs sitting. Charmaine is sent over and she simultaneously gains the freedom to finally do things for herself, as well as knowledge of her own magical powers that've always been suppressed at home. She meets a few friends on the way, like hapless wizard apprentice Peter and a magical dog called Waif, then eventually the main heroes who started these stories at all.
Charmain's adventures take place mostly at the small cottage she's been charged with and the royal palace, which is a nice change of pace after all the traveling in the other books in this collection. More than anything else, she loves reading peacefully and gains entry into the palace as an assistant in the library. Her job? Help the king find his lost or stolen treasure, which is the very same task that Sophie had been summoned to the palace for.
I like Charmain as a main character because she is as hard-headed as Sophie is. Her magic works much the same way as Sophie's does, too. She started out something of a brat, but went on to be a somewhat capable, responsible person when she needed to be. By the end of the book, she still retains much of her childishness, but with an understanding and appreciation for everything that occurred in the course of her story and what is going to be expected of her in the future. If you read the other two books in Howl's universe, I think you might have an idea of the kind of great things Charmain is destined for.
House of Many Ways is charged with magic in every page and Diana Wynne Jones paints the world vividly for the reader. It managed to be surprising even though I've read the other two books and plenty more which feature that funny sort of logic that comes with books that have magic in them. The pacing is nearly perfect and, upon further inspection, there aren't any "wasted" instances to be found. Almost every event which occurs in the course of the story is deliberate and with reason and foreshadowing.
I suppose the only real complaint I would have is that, unfortunately, these books all fall under this formula where things just get more and more tangled up and crazy until the last few pages when everything is swiftly resolved.
House of Many Ways was so loaded with problems that I figured it should have a sequel. It could definitely do with one, though things were rounded off nicely and predictably either way.
I recommend this book to lovers of magic and fantasy, and especially those who loved Howl's Moving Castle. It's technically for young adults, but provides a pleasing interlude to anyone's reading backlog. Compared with Castle in the Air, Charmain's story will have a much more familiar air to it and truly feel like it belongs in Howl's world.
Or buy it at Books-A-Million:
House of Many Ways
Diana Wynne Jones - Paperback