Friday, October 2, 2009

Winging it

I read out of order!! Ack! The world is coming to an end!! Castle in the Air is the second (not the third) of Diana Wynne Jones' Wizard Howl (which should really be called Sophie Hatter) series. I listened to House of Many Ways first. Drat! So, tantrum finished, it really wasn't that big a deal. Sophie and Howl are late comers to this story and all you really learn that's relevant to the third installment is how their bratty child Morgan was born (and why he's such a brat). Otherwise, Castle in the Air can -- if you want -- "stand alone."

Abdullah is the hero of this adventure. He lives in Zanzib, a city in a desert land considerably south of Ingary. A poor carpetseller, he dreams of love and adventure. Which plops in his lap when he purchases a magic carpet. Activated by snoring (which takes Abdullah a few tries before he figures it out), the carpet takes him to the garden of the beautiful, innocent Flower-in-the-Night with whom he falls in love instantly. The father of Flower-of-the-Night has never let her see another man, since it was prophesied at her birth that she would marry the first one she saw. And it's true ... she and Abdullah vow to marry. But! A huge djinn appears in the sky above the garden and whisks Flower-in-the-Night away! Abdullah will rescue her.

It's a lengthy, but highly entertaining journey. Along the way, Abdullah picks up a bottled genie -- who grumpily fulfills one wish per day, but always manages to twist that request into something not quite right, a discharged soldier, and a black cat and her newborn kitten. The carpet transports them to Howl's castle -- which has been appropriated by another djinn as a place to hold all the princesses (totaling 60) that his brother has kidnapped for him -- now floating high in the sky. An ingenious rescue is attempted and all is right in the end. It is a thoroughly satisfying adventure.

Like the other two Howl books, this is narrated by Jenny Sterlin. She brings her British sang-froid to the proceedings -- narrating the outlandish tale with seriousness and energy. I particularly enjoyed her characterization of young Abdullah, who never uses three words when thirteen will do. His naïve determination is palpable in Sterlin's voicing. She brings her expertise to a number of vocal characters -- the two djinn brothers (one whose voice "sounds like a trumpet," and the other gravelly and menacing), the pouty genie, some rascally relatives of Abdullah, and an astonishing number of princesses. Even the cat puts in an appearance, as well as the temperamental Morgan (Sophie and Howl's son). It's quite a performance.

Sterlin reads at a cracking pace -- the story just keeps moving along. So, my (minor) quibbles are that occasionally a syllable or word just vanishes, she's reading so quickly that -- here and there -- stuff is just swallowed and not pronounced. I also find that her slightly husky voice begins to wear on me a little -- it sounds just a wee bit strained, which -- oddly -- makes my throat begin to hurt. Jenny ... my throat is dry, take a drink of water!

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