A Charming, Uplifting Feel-Good-Book: Diana Wynne Jones – Castle in the Air

In case you missed the news, my city (Vienna, Austria) suffered a terrorist attack on November 2nd. My family and friends are all safe but as you can imagine, everyone is still working through what happened. Add to that the stress of the US election ( we all followed that closely here as well) and you have the perfect recipe for a reading slump, or at the very least a reviewing slump. So reviews won’t be coming as regularly as normally for a while but things are slowly getting back to normal.
My book choice was all the better because Diana Wynne Jones’ utterly charming story managed to take me away from all the darkness and despair and transported me to a world that made things seem okay again.

CASTLE IN THE AIR
by Diana Wynne Jones

Published: Harper Collins, 1990
Paperback: 285 pages
Series: The Lands of Ingary #2/Howl’s Moving Castle #2
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a young carpet merchant called Abdullah lived in the city of Zanzib.

“I never said my wishers were supposed to do any good,” said the genie. “In fact, I swore that they would always do as much harm as possible.”
By day Adbullah is a humble carpet merchant, yet in his dreams he is a prince. But his dreams start to come true when he meets the lovely Flower-in-the-Night.
When a hideous djinn carries Flower off into the sky, Adbullah is determined to rescue her – if he can find her, and if he can avoid all the ferocious villains who seem to be after him. But how can he possibly succeed, with only a bad-tempered genie and an unreliable magic carpet to help him?

Abdullah is a humble carpet merchant from Zanzib who has never been looking to get rich. Instead, he loses himself in his daydreams, a thought-out story of daring do, exciting adventures, and of course, him marrying a princess. When one day, a very rude man sells him a magic carpet, Abdullah’s life changes dramatically. The carpet takes the sleeping Abdullah to a beautiful night garden where he meets Flower-in-the-Night, an actual princess with whom Abdullah promptly falls in love. After some hilarious shenanigans, the two decide to elope and live happily together. Except of course just at that moment, an evil djinn captures Flower-in-the-Night and takes her away.

This was such a delightful feelgood book! Abdullah is a lovable protagonist, although the way he speaks gets annoying soon – he is overly polite, as the customs of Zanzib demand, and his flowery descriptions of whoever he speaks to get a little out of hands sometimes. But although, after Flower-in-the-Night’s kidnapping, he finds himself in the sultan’s dungeons, he immediately makes plans on how to save the woman he loves. This quest takes him on a long and fun adventure, where he (1) loses his carpet but (2) gains a genie in a bottle, (3) meets strangers who become dubious and maybe not quite trustworthy friends, as well as (4) several cats, (5) witches, (6) wizards, and (7) very many princesses. 🙂
His travels take him from the Zanzib desert to the green lands further north and the further he gets, the better he understands what has to be done in order to save the woman he loves.

I won’t go into specifics about the plot because it was so much fun to just follow along and see where the journey takes Abdullah. As he starts picking up companions along the way, situations both dangerous and funny happen more and more often, and I just had a blast finding out what happened next. It’s the kind of book you could read in one sitting and also the kind of book that leaves you with a big fat smile plastered over your face.
The characters we start out with may appear somewhat one-dimensional but as the story progresses, we get to see more depth. I especially liked the soldier, the cats, and the princesses because they each had a distinct personality and while this is a children’s book and neither of the characters faces huge moral dilemmas, they felt real.

If, like me, you were a fan of Howl’s Moving Castle and, like me, saw that this was supposed to be a sequel, I can assure you that it is! The story focuses strictly on Abdullah and his quest to find Flower-in-the-Night but Sophie and Howl definitely make an appearance. It wasn’t at all what I had expected and they are not the most important characters in this book by a long shot but they do appear and we do get a glimpse of where their lives have led them in between the first and second book.

Another thing I love is Diana Wynne Jones’ language. It is just the way a YA/MG book should be written. She never talks down to her readers but she doesn’t show off with too fancy prose either. The story flows along beautifully (like I said, you coult totally start reading this book and not stop until you’re done) but she takes enough time to describe Abdullah’s surroundings, the people he meets, the situations he gets himself into – I can’t explain to you how exactly it works, but there’s a level of immersion that I wish every book could achieve. While reading it, I felt like I was in the story, I was walking alongside Abdullah, thinking how to outsmart that genie who is set out on doing the most mischief possible with every wish he grants.

This is the perfect book to get you out of a reading slump and while I didn’t love it as much as I did Howl’s Moving Castle, it was exactly the breath of air I needed this last week. Needless to say, I will of course read the third book in this trilogy and I don’t even care if it has Howl or Sophie in it.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very good

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