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"A wonderful blend of humor, magic, and romance." - Publishers Weekly
As I told you last week, I took a week off from reading review books to enjoy myself. :) After a great sleepover with Ash, during which she introduced me to this story, I knew I simply had to read this book. So I bought it from Gottwal's and put everything else aside to finish it.
I also told you that I wasn't going to review it. But then, I think I'm a little addicted to reviewing books. I just have to review what I've read. Maybe it's the writer in me, calling out to critique what's great and what's just awful in every story.
This book is a delight to read. It seems to be written more for middle schoolers, which shouldn't have surprised me since the movie is animated. I love that the romance isn't the whole theme of the book; I believe a good fantasy should focus more on unraveling the secrets and learning about the magic than the emotions of the characters. However, a down-played romance can often become a neglected part of the story, which is disappointing; this was not the case for Diana Wynne Jones. The hero and heroine had time to get to know each other, and fell in love slowly. (There's nothing I hate more than 'Cinderella' romances where the two and instantly in 'love' after one meeting.)
None of the characters were perfect; in fact, Diana tends to focus on making them over-flawed. In the interview included in this printing, she herself comments on how strange it is that, despite her creating such flawed characters, she still has a whole list of girls waiting to marry Howl. I think this isn't really as surprising as it seems. A character must be flawed to be realistic; no matter how much a girl loves that 'perfect' guy, if she can't find any flaws, he'll eventually become too perfect (read: boring) to live with. With Howl, on the other hand, Sophie will never have a dull moment.
Most fantasies have either a generally serious tone or so much humor the story is ruined. This is the first fantasy I've read that perfectly balances the seriousness of the magic with the humor of the characters. This, I think, is where the movie disappointed previous readers of this book. The movie has that characteristic serious tone. While the company definitely did right casting Billy Crystal as Calcifer, there just wasn't enough time to truly capture the author's humorous spirit.
That said, I really have to give this book two different ratings. As the middle-school fantasy novel it was written as, it deserves all five stars. For teens looking for a fantasy romance, though, I'd give it a three and a half or a four.