by Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, 2008, 1986.
Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, and as everyone knows, that is not the birth order one wants to have in a fantasy story, especially if this particular sister is the stepsister of the youngest. But this is not your typical fantasy story and Sophie is not your typical heroine. When the Witch of the Waste grows jealous of Sophie's magical ability and turns her into an old woman who can't tell anyone she's under a spell, Sophie leaves the hat shop to seek her fortune. She comes across the Moving Castle owned by the Wizard Howl, who - as everyone in Ingary knows - eats girls' hearts, and bullies her way on board. Calcifer, a fire demon, let her in and seems to like her alright, offering to break her spell if she will break his contract with Howl, though he can't tell her what it is either.
I usually try to keep my summaries short, but there's a lot going on in this story. Believe it or not, I only scratched the surface and didn't go beyond page 60. Part of the reason I love and reread this story is because of its complexity and having the opportunity to perhaps pick up on small clues to the plot that I overlooked the first time. The other reason is that Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, Michael (Howl's apprentice), and all the rest are fabulous characters. I love Sophie's sort of bullying magic, Howl's ridiculously vain behavior, and Michael's longsuffering. Their interactions are entertaining whether it's the first or the third time I've read the book, and even when I know exactly what's going to happen and how, I enjoy spending time with them. Howl's Moving Castle has a permanent place on my bookshelves.