Sophie is the eldest child, a fact that means she is destined to live a life of drudgery and boredom. The youngest child always has adventures, usually involving magic, and always involving romance, and the middle child quite often does too. But the eldest: nothing but boring responsibility. Already Sophie’s younger sisters have set off into the world to make their fortune, while Sophie is stuck at home running the family hat business, and looking forward to nothing but sameness for the rest of her life. So it is a total surprise to Sophie when the wicked Witch of the Waste places a curse on her, making her old.
Figuring that she has nothing to lose, Sophie sets off to find her own adventure. Her travels eventually land her with the mysterious and feared Wizard Howl, who lives in a traveling castle powered by a blue fire-demon. Suddenly Sophie -even as an old woman – is plunged into the adventurous, tumultuous life she had always envied.
Diana Wynne Jones is a renowned fantasy writer, and it is not hard to see why. This novel shines with her characteristically tight plotting: everything is related to the plot, and even the most apparently random encounter is eventually shown to be significant. The interconnections and careful weaving of characters and events is incredibly impressive. Everything hangs together, with subplots galore. This book is highly recommended. There is also a sequel, Castle in the Air.
This book was made into an anime movie not long ago. The movie is great, but not an accurate reflection of the book. Many sweeping plot changes were made, and the glorious complexity of the book was sharply simplified.
EDIT: I posted this on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, I woke up to the news that a new book in this series is going to be published soon! I will be on the lookout for House of Many Ways, as should all fans of this author and series.