Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones (1990) 285 p.
This is the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, though I read it sometime in primary school – about fifteen years ago, now – before I’d ever read the first book. Which is mostly fine, since it begins in a totally new location with a new set of characters. Abdullah is a humble young carpet merchant living and working from his stall in the grand bazaar of a generic Arabic fantasy country, whose life is turned upside down when a mysterious stranger sells him a flying carpet. That night Abdullah falls asleep on it and finds himself transported to the gardens of the Sultan’s palace, where he meets the princess Flower-in-the-Night. The two of them fall in love over the course of several nocturnal visits, but before they can elope she is kidnapped by a djinn, and so Abdullah sets out on a quest to rescue her.
Castle in the Air holds up as strongly as I remember. It flows well and has a good sense of adventure: Abdullah is captured and recaptured, gives chase and is chased in turn, and encounters desert bandits and djinns and a classic wish-granting genie. I’d be interested to know how much the film Aladdin (which came out two years later) was influenced by this book, and how much of it was just generic Arabic fairytale stuff already sloshing around in pop culture. I mean, the genie is even blue. Were genies traditionally blue?
The novel switches gears suddenly about halfway through, however, as Abdullah is transported from his Arabian Nights-style desert kingdom to the northern, Europeanish country of Ingary. I barely remembered this half of the book, and I can see why – it’s where all the characters from Howl’s Moving Castle start showing up, and my twelve-year-old must have become quite confused. Despite appearing to be a totally new story, Castle in the Air ends up being heavily dependent on the reader’s familiarity with the first book. Which is fine, just a little odd after the first half.
In any case, Castle in the Air is a charming and fun YA adventure which lives up to Howl’s Moving Castle. I look forward to reading the final volume, House of Many Ways, which will be the first one where I don’t have any idea about the plot.