Living in a stall, selling carpets, is not really what one dreams of at night, no matter how successful. In Abdullah’s dreams, he is a prince, destined to marry a beautiful Arabian princess. But they’re just dreams, until one day, a merchant walks by Abdullah’s stall bearing a magic carpet. Abdullah can hardly believe his luck, even as he doubts the merchant, but he buys the carpet regardless and sleeps on it to ensure no one steals it. To his surprise, he wakes up in the garden of a castle, with a beautiful princess, Flower-in-the-Night, by his side. Abdullah quickly falls in love, but his dreams shatter when Flower-in-the-Night is stolen by a djinn. He must travel far and wide, to another castle in a foreign land, to save his princess before she is wed to another.
How I didn’t read Diana Wynne Jones until last year is a complete mystery to me. She writes the type of books that I would have completely fallen in love with as a young adult – not that this means I love them any less now, but my younger self could have spent days wading through her books, off in various dream worlds inspired by these books. I loved Howl’s Moving Castle, which I read last year, and so it’s no surprise that I also enjoyed Castle in the Air – though not quite as much.
This book felt very much like a fairy tale to me, though also distinctly reminiscent of the Arabian Nights series of stories, especially in the beginning. As Abdullah’s quest takes him off north, he meets a number of curious individuals who scramble this somewhat, including a renegade soldier, a cat who seems to turn into a massive feline when she or her kitten is threatened, and a genie in a bottle.
As his journey begins to come to an end, he starts to realize that everyone has put up an illusion of some kind, and nothing is quite what it seems – but none of this is at all bad for him or for those concerned. Diana Wynne Jones seems to take some pleasure in turning stereotypes on their heads while emphasizing core strong ideals with honorable characters, which makes these perfect reads for young adults.
Though the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, it takes a good long while for any connections to become obvious. They’re clear by the end, but this is very much its own book, and can be read on its own. (Although why you’d want to, I’m not sure.) It’s still a very good read, and I’m looking forward to continuing with the third of this series.
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