Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Or you could go both ways

Diana Wynne Jones brings back Sophie Hatter Pendragon, her husband the vain Wizard Howl, and Calcifer the fire demon in House of Many Ways, which is -- in many ways -- a more satisfying novel than Howl's Moving Castle. At least, it made more sense to me. Charmain Baker, who is mistakenly called Charming by several characters in the novel, is a teenager raised by a protective mother who allows her to do nothing but read. This is fine with Charmain, but proves to be a bit of a burden when she is bundled off to her uncle's -- Wizard Norland -- house to look after it while he is away being treated for a mysterious illness by the elves. Charmain is looking forward to the independence, but since she can't cook, wash dishes, or do laundry, life at the house gets a bit stinky and messy.

Fortunately, a young wizard apprentice named Peter (whose name sounds like Peeta when read by narrator Jenny Sterlin, but that could be because I just finished reading Catching Fire) shows up, and he's got a bit more of a handle on the household chores. And, Charmain also finds herself a job more to her liking, working in the King's library cataloging his papers. Charmain had been hoping that her library job would involve reading, but -- well, she finds out what we all do in this business: There's not much time for reading. At the castle, she meets the Pendragons, who now have a slightly spoiled toddler named Morgan. The Pendragons have been called in to solve a mystery and -- with Charmain's assistance (because, of course, she's got untapped magic skills) -- end up solving a few others along the way. Like many a Wynne Jones, the plot gets extremely convoluted and I would only get bogged down in the way elementary school students do when they try to sum up a story. I think you'll have to read or listen yourself.

I'd recommend listening. Jenny Sterlin narrates this one, as it appears that she's been hired for the whole "series" of Wizard Howl novels. She's an excellent reader, investing the characters with vivid characterizations and moving the story along at an entertaining pace. She's got a slightly husky quality to her voice that I find quite engaging to listen to. In addition to the usual suspects of royalty, wizards, teenaged protagonists and some very bad purple people called Lubbockins, Sterlin portrays some gnomish creatures called Kobolds as well as not one, but two, loudly demanding toddlers.

Oh, and don't forget Calcifer. He sounded different to me in this novel (than she voice him in Howl's Moving Castle), but I liked it. It was like he had come into his own and was more crackly and even a bit malevolent.

Next year, when I've finished up with the intensive power listening, I think I might go back and listen to some other of her books. For me, they might listen better than they read. Here's an interview with her that I found interesting.

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