This review has been a long time coming because I re-read this book sometime last year but didn't get around to reviewing it at the time. Howl's Moving Castle is another one of those children's books that I didn't actually get to read as a child and only discovered as an adult. I'd seen the 2004 Studio Ghibli adaptation, had really enjoyed it and, after finding out that it had been loosely based on a book, thought it would be interesting to read the source material. Because I'd very much enjoyed the film I thought I'd be pre-disposed to prefer the changes that were made but in the end I was completely wrong and I ended up loving the book far more! The film's actually been ruined for me a little bit because the book is just so much funnier than the film and its characters are more flawed and are therefore more interesting.
Howl's Moving Castle is an absolutely delightful book. The prose is lovely and is full of literary references and humour. The plot is engaging, imaginative and fun. The romance is subtle but is still very sweet, quirky and funny; and although there's a very British feel to the land of Ingary it's still a wonderfully interesting and magical place. I also really love how Diana Wynne Jones subverts one of the major fairytale tropes in this book - that it's always the youngest child in the family who is the beautiful, pure-hearted one who is destined for wonderful things (Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, etc). As I'm an oldest child this was very much appreciated! :D And finally I just really love the characters in this book. At first Sophie's rather shy and insecure but once she gets turned into an old woman she uses it as an opportunity to break free from her unhappy life and becomes far more assertive and self-confident. As fond as I am of Sophie though it's Howl who's my favourite character. Okay so he's a vain, arrogant, shameless womaniser but he's absolutely hilarious and is incredibly endearing! :D And as for the other characters, Calcifer is grumpy but extremely funny, Michael is an adorable sweetheart, and the Witch of the Waste is a sinister and creepy villain.
This book has become a huge favourite of mine and I'd definitely recommend it. I think fans of J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman's children's books will especially love it since DWJ's writing reminds me of both of those authors :)
P.S. Howl's Moving Castle has two sequels which I recently read for the first time - Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways - but I'm not going to write any in-depth reviews for those because... I can't be bothered! Lol! I guess I just don't have very much to say about them. Howl, Sophie and Calcifer all appear in those books and get important roles in them but the books are mainly focused on new characters who simply aren't as compelling and likeable. The sequels are still decent and enjoyable enough but I can't really see myself reading them again. I think I'll just keep going back to the original.