I believe I already reviewed the first book in this series, but since I've now read the rest of the series - yes. :) It's series reviewing time!
The Howl's Moving Castle series (also sometimes referred to as "the World of Howl series" or "the Castle series") consists of three books:
- Howl's Moving Castle
- The Castle in the Air
- The House of Many Ways
I'm going to assume that most of you are at least marginally familiar with the plot of the first book - that is, girl is cursed to be old, finds a wizard to break the spell, falls in love. That's the gist of it, though there's a lot more to it of course and both the book and the Studio Ghibli movie by the same name do a wonderful job of worldbuilding in the background.
The takeaway from this is that Sophie, the main character of the first book, and the wizard named Howl are in all three books. The second two aren't about them, but they're in the story, which gives returning readers a fun connection with the characters and gives new readers a way to slide into the series and know there's more to it without feeling completely lost.
I was concerned that the second and third books would suffer from information implication sickness, or that feeling you get when you read the second book in a series before the first one and half the story doesn't make any sense at all because the author is depending on your knowledge from the previous book to fill in the blanks.
This isn't a BAD thing - it's a tool in an author's belt that can expedite the narrative process. It's a shortcut, and in a lot of cases, readers don't even recognize that there was a shortcut at all, because they automatically fill in the missing information from the previous book. After all, what kind of a looney picks up the second book in a series before reading the first one? Pfft. Silly.
Um... me. Actually, I did that. Not with this series, but with another one that I will review at a later date when I remember who it was by or what the title was.
The majority of the first book in any series is dedicated to establishing new information. Once that information has been established, the author will not usually spend the time to re-establish that information in the second book, but rather give a brief recap and trust the reader to remember the details. This means that in the first book in a series, particularly if it's a long series, there tends to be a spare or slow-moving plot, so as to accommodate the space taken up by the worldbuilding, while faster-paced or more intricate plots will be introduced later on when the world has already been established.
Now, why did I just spend four paragraphs talking about writing in general? Because here's something that the Howl's Moving Castle series did differently. An equal portion of each book is spent in establishing the world and the character's place therein, because each book takes place in a different land, and has a different main character. Sophie from Book 1 lives in Ingary, Abdullah from Book 2 lives in Zanzib, and Charmain from Book 3 lives in High Norland. This means that, in effect, you could pick up any of the three books and read it without feeling completely lost - though it's worthwhile to note that the books are chronological, and some things will make more sense to the reader if the books are read in order.
The trick here is, I think, that the main character (who you're meant to empathize with) is just as confused by these people as any stranger would be. You can accept that and move on with the story, or enjoy a secret "I know more than they do" moment because you've read the previous books. It's very well done.
Thanks to all that, I'm giving the whole series a very well-earned 5 out of 5. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more books by this author. :)