My second stop on the Believathon quest was The Yellow Brick Road, with a prompt to read A Book You Should Have Read Years Ago. I chose Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne-Jones, which I listened to as an audiobook read by Kristin Atherton. I can’t believe I’ve not read this sooner. Funny, clever, warm and witty, it’s a brilliant magical adventure challenging our very human inclinations to judge books by their covers, gossip and keep secrets. After their father dies, Sophie and her two step-sisters are found apprenticeships by their mother/step-mother, with Sophie staying at the family hat shop diligently making and mending until she’s paid a visit from a rather put-out Witch of the Waste which sets her on a very different course… With themes of family, friendship and lotslty there is a wonderful cast of characters who quickly find their way into your heart despite no-one being quite what they seem! Sophie, our protagonist, is a particular favourite. With a touch of Esme Weatherwax about her, she’s both a character to be reckoned with and a clever way of celebrating old age as a bringer of freedom, self-assertion and confidence rather than a stereotypical fragility or ineptitude. I loved what ‘Old Sophie’ did for ‘Young Sophie’. Howl and Calcifer too are a brilliant pair. Howl is arrogant, selfish and Calcifer is a grumpy demon. They’re both evil of course…or so they’d have you believe. Their off-hand, dry and snippety ways bring a good deal of humour as well as allowing us a smidgen of doubt about their true nature. There are plenty of fairy and folktale references, nods and tropes used, with a humour and awareness that kept them fresh. Indeed Sophie introduces herself as the eldest of three so destined to “fall first and worst” should she set off to seek her fortune which I think sets the whole story up very well. Sophie’s journey and the idea of The Moving Castle itself were clever and well executed with lots of different fairytale must-haves, magic and metaphor, as well as a small family home in Wales to balance things out. I loved the way the idea of Sophie’s magic grew and how this worked as well, but I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. Overall, this is an absorbing and highly entertaining magical adventure in a unique and yet familiar world with a great cast of characters. Highly recommended!