Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1990.
A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air is the second book in that series. This is the first time I’ve reviewed two books in the same series but I guess that it was bound to happen eventually. 🙂
So, I loved reading Castle in the Air. Diana Wynne Jones herself said that she was really inspired by Arabian Nights when she came to write these books. If you don’t know, Arabian Nights is the common name for the English translation of the One Thousand and One Nights which is an old collection of Middle Eastern folktales. My parents have their own copy of Tales of the Arabian Nights edited by Andrew Lang which I’ve read many times. I love it. The stories included in the collection are full of creative adventures and they are richly detailed. Diana Wynne Jones does a beautiful job at capturing these attractive qualities in Castle in the Air.
The story of Castle in the Air begins in the exotic city Zanzib where a poor carpet merchant named Abdullah daydreams about being a lost prince. Abdullah is accused more than once of being a romantic which seems to be a common quality in folklore heroes but his romantic nature serves him well as his fantasies lead him on a great adventure and introduces him to a beautiful princess named Flower-in-the-Night. There’s a great moment of self-awareness when Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night meet and it really made me smile (page 28), “It’s a rather silly name,” she said nervously. “I’m called Flower-in-the-Night.”
In Howl’s Moving Castle there are witches and wizards and apprentices who are being trained to use magic to affect the world around themselves. Abdullah doesn’t possess the ability to make magic by himself but, thanks to a magic carpet, a genie and a djinn (a djinn is an intelligent spirit who can appear in many forms) magic is a common theme throughout the book and Abdullah uses magic items and wishes throughout his journey to help him. I always admire an author who can govern the rules of magic in a story because it’s tough not to contradict story world rules (something I learned at university) and Diana Wynne Jones is wonderful at being consistent.
After Flower-in-the-Night is stolen away by a djinn near the beginning of the story Abdullah travels very far to find her (like most heroes do). Eventually the story is more closely connected to Howl’s Moving Castle when Abdullah’s journey leads him to the land of Ingary where the first book is set. Abdullah meets many of the characters who appear in the first novel and I must admit that I loved meeting those characters again, especially Sophie, Howl and their family. Before reading the book I could not have guessed how Sophie would appear (although I hoped she would) and I really enjoyed being surprised by the link.
Diana Wynne Jones has a wonderful talent for giving a book a complete narrative and if a couple of familiar characters appear in a different story it feels like you’re meeting old friends again.
I loved the ending of Castle in the Air. Lose ends were tied up and it had a ‘happily ever after…’ vibe for all of the characters. An ending like this might not always be satisfying but I felt that it was so perfect for Castle in the Air. I was in the mood to read a really good, enjoyable story that would leave me smiling and that was exactly what I got.