This book is billed as the second book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy, but if your kids (or you) are anything like me, they’ll spend the whole book waiting for Howl to show up and not really enjoy or appreciate this for what it is. Make sure that your readers know it has brand-new wonderful characters of its own, although your friends from Howl’s Moving Castle do eventually make an appearance. In fact, they really only start talking about Howl and friends about 225 pages in. I enjoyed it much more on my second reading because I wasn’t waiting around for Sophie and Howl any more and I could really enjoy Abdullah’s adventures with his flying carpet, genie, assorted cats and the curmudgeonly soldier he meets in his travels.
Again, we’re not lacking for characters here. The first few pages alone leave you reeling from Abdullah’s father’s first wife’s sisters and his father’s first wife’s brother’s son. I felt like I was in the middle of an advanced lesson on possessives! And like Howl’s Moving Castle before it, Castle in the Air features many characters that are not who (or what) they seem to be, don’t try too hard to guess, you’ll spoil the fun of the reveal. Also, you’ll probably be wrong – I was!
A few things that some may find off-putting: The Sultan is clearly trying to marry off his daughter for political gains and at one point says that women don’t count, so it’s not possible to be unfair to them. There are also two fat (non-princesses) in the story and when they are presented to a husband, it is clear that their weight is something he is not pleased with. This is somewhat balanced later in the book where they meet someone who proclaims them “wonderfully fat” and wonders why he hasn’t been after fat ladies all this time instead of princesses.
If you haven’t caught on already, this book is short on witchcraft and wizardry. Not entirely lacking mind you, but it’s certainly not the main focus. But I couldn’t very well leave it out after reviewing Howl’s Moving Castle.
Like its predecessor, this book is for strong readers. Abdullah does a lot of fantasizing in the beginning and it may be hard for some readers to distinguish between the actual story and his imaginings and it only gets hard when he thinks he’s dreaming and then tells his imaginings in the dream. The vocabulary is challenging as well: diadem, scrupulous, muclt, winge, cuirassier, pellucid, adjure. There is slightly more objectionable material in this, but still, I would recommend it for grades 4 and up in terms of content, but probably grades 6 and up for actual reading ability.
Great for: Fans of Aladdin will immediately take to this world of flying carpets, djinns and genies. I definitely think lovers of Howl’s Moving Castle should be encouraged to continue with the series, after given fair warning that the same characters will not dominate the book.
Sex, Nudity, Dating –Due to the setting characters speak of (and have) multiple wives. There is discussion about whether it is fair for a woman to have but one husband when a man can have many wives. Again due to the setting, there are some arranged marriages. There is much discussion of marriage throughout. Two people plan an elopement. There is a reference to a good djinn allowing herself to be ravished by an evil djinn and subsequently giving birth. Wizard Suliman kisses his wife on the forehead. After a magical procedure to restore someone to human form, said person is naked. Two people admit that they have never kissed anyone and say they should practice. They later hold hands. A man is dressed in a petticoat and princesses claim he arrived naked and had to be put in the petticoat for modesty (although none of that is true – it’s all a plot!). A djinn’s fangs are called sexy.
Profanity – “shut up” used several times, “hellish”
Death, Violence and Gore – Abdullah’s father dies prior to the start of the book. Throughout the book there are various threats – most on the melodramatic side: The Sultan ponders ways to kill his captive and at one point favors impaling the captive on a stake and letting the vultures eat the spare bits off him; djinns talk of tearing a man apart or making his soul part of the floor; there is a threat to slit someone’s throat. The various bandits, theives and soldiers in this book are well armed with pistols and knives. There are also shots fired. There are assorted dog bites, includin the dog biting a djinn’s nose. A soldier is attacked by a wild animal and has some scratches. Two angels are hanged when in human form. A child is spanked for crying.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A bandit sometimes sends a jug of wine to Abdullah. Abdullah walks through the desert swigging from a wine flask, but he wished he had poured out the wine and found water instead. At a restaurant he asks for fruit juice, but all they have is beer. Abdullah is asked if his container contains a stronger liquid than water. They drink more beer at another inn. There is a cloud of tobacco smoke in a room where the soldier has just been as though he’d been recently smoking.
Frightening or Intense Things – Many princesses are captured by djinns. Once we know what has befallen them, there is really nothing to worry about. The adventure in this story is exciting, but not really scary, despite the weapons and vile threats.