Castle in the Air is the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. It begins with Abdullah, a young, orphaned carpet merchant in the first booth of the bazaar in the capital city of Zanzib. In the times when he was not slowly but shrewdly working his way to becoming a high end merchant, he daydreamed that he was a long-lost prince was kidnapped by the desert prince Kabul Aqba at an early age, and who had escaped into the desert where he was found by the man who was his father. One day a man came in claiming to be selling a magic carpet. After due diligence and thorough inspections, Abdullah bought it. To prevent it from running away (if the seller were that kind of cheat), he slept on it. He ended up in a palace garden, and met the princess of his dreams, Flower-in-the-Night. Her father had prevented her from seeing any men besides himself, so she thought he must be a woman, since he did not look at all like her father. So the next day Abdullah purchased several hundred drawings of men to show her that night. She confessed that she like him best. Just as they were going to elope, a djinn appeared and carried her off.
Abdullah’s father had received a prophecy about him, that he would be raised above all others in the land. Similarly, the Sultan had received a prophecy about his daughter that she would marry the first man that she met. But the Sultan wanted her to marry the Prince of Ochnistan, who had magical weapons. That would only be possible if she married Abdullah first, then became a widow. So the next day, the Sultan imprisoned Abdullah for consorting with his daughter. Abdullah had fed the dog of the cook in the stand next to him the day previous, and the dog had fallen asleep on the carpet, and thought of him. The carpet could apparently fly through walls, and it came (with the dog on it) to him in the prison; in the same way, he left.
Abdullah was forced to hastily leave Zanzib on the carpet to escape the Sultan’s men who rapidly arrived at his stand. The carpet seemed to want to be treated better; it almost let him be captured by a man on camelback in the desert, but Abdullah spoke very flatteringly to him and it took him uneventfully to Kabul Aqba. Kabul Aqba was definitely a harsh man. One of his henchmen had found a genie bottle, and the genie turned the two men who pried out the cork into toads (to fulfill a vow he had made). It then stated that he was bound to grant one wish per day to the owner of the bottle. Kabul Aqba asked Abdullah what to wish for, but turned down the suggestion to return his men to human form as a waste of a wish, settling on a banquet instead. The genie stole the banquet from the Sultan, which was excellent. Kabul Aqba fell asleep on the carpet, started to snore (which was the activation sound of the carpet) and started to float away, although it seemed as if the carpet tilted the genie bottle off. At dawn, he wished for his chains to be gone, and then gathered food and left across the desert.
The next day Abdullah wished to be taken to Flower-in-the-Night, but the genie informed him that he could not find her, so she must be in the spirit realm, but that genies in bottles were forbidden access to the spirit realm. The Sultan’s men could be seen in the distance chasing them; the genie informed him that he intended to make the wishes be more harmful than good. The genie also refused to grant any more wishes that day, but did let Abdullah borrow a wish from tomorrow, and took him to the man who could most help him find the princess.
The man was a soldier of Strangia, which had been recently conquered by Ingary (where they now were). Abdullah found him quite boring, but the other people that arrived at the inn were most interested in his account of the battle. He used everything on the table to line up the battlefield, then started using gold and silver coins for Ingary’s wizards. He left with most of the farmers, and afterwards four thieves plotted to kill him for his gold. Abdullah overheard, and went to rescue him, arriving in time to discover that the soldier was well up to the task of fighting four thieves. He told Abdullah afterwards that he had not received a bounty from the army as he had said, but in fact made his living by flaunting his money, then beating up the thieves who tried to steal it from him and taking their money instead.
As the soldier was the one who was apparently supposed to help him get to the princess, Abdullah journeyed with him. In the morning a huge panther and her kitten found them. The soldier, who the panther seemed to trust, took an immediate liking to the kitten, and adopted them as pets. The panther settled down to regular cat size, although it became larger when it’s kitten seemed threatened. He maneuvered Abdullah into wishing for a salmon and crock of milk. As they continued, the soldier insisted on only the (costly) best for the kitten and generally overruled Abdullah about the use of Abdullah’s money and wishes. Eventually Abdullah decided that he was getting nowhere, so he started challenging fate by wasting his wishes. Still, nothing seemed to be getting them closer to Kingsbury, where they were planning on finding a wizard to lead them further.
Despite the fact that the genie’s granted wishes seemed to do more harm than good, the soldier figured that the usefulness in having the carpet back would outweigh the genie’s malevolence. So Abdullah wishes for the carpet, and it arrives with the djinn on it in the form of Kabul Aqba. After a struggle, Abdullah conjures the djinn to explain himself. The djinn, Hasrual, had a brother who was half-evil, and was so deformed that no female djinn would marry him. The djinn loved his brother, and made the mistake of telling his brother where his life was hidden. His brother then held Hasruel, who was chief of the good djinns, hostage and forced him to capture all the princesses of the world, which he was then engaged in doing. However, as he captured them, he arranged that there would be a jilted lover who would pursue his beloved. Unfortunately, none of the real princes showed any sign of being interested in doing that, only Abdullah who the djinn had brought his dreams to life in a sort of just-in-case kind of bet. Furthermore, he was going to use them to capture the princess of Ingary, although at the same time he invited them to find the castle, locate his life, and deliver him from his brother.
The carpet, requested in most flowery flattery, carefully guides them to the rooftop of an inn in Ingary, where they overhear that a Strangian soldier who had robbed people up north was headed towards Kingsbury. Abdullah parts with some money in exchange for excellent service and directions to the second Royal Wizard, the first being unavailable. The cat followed, and when Abdullah entered, it assumed panther size and jumped on the wizard’s wife, who recognized it as Sophie, her sister. After quite a bit of adjusting magical instruments, the wizard said a word and Sophie returned to human form. Something in the procedure had apparently opened something in the wizard’s defenses of the princess of Ingary, and winged djinns could be seen about the castle, and the princess was gone.
They returned to the inn to get her baby (formerly the kitten), only to discover that the soldier, the baby, and the genie were not there, and they could here the landlord saying to soldiers as he came up the stairs that their guests seemed to match the description. They made a hasty exit on the magic carpet, which they directed to go to the place where the baby was. The carpet slowly spiraled up into the clouds and arrived at a castle, decorated exactly like Abdullah’s daydream castle.
After carefully passing by rows of the djinn’s subordinate angels, they entered the castle, arriving at the throne room as Princess Valeria of Ingary, who was four years old was yelling her head off in a tantrum and causing the two djinns to be quite unable to cope. Just as the Hasruel was putting Valeria to sleep for a hundred years, thirty princesses arrived, one of whom spanked Valeria and got her quiet in a no-nonsense way. They were equally no-nonsense to Hasruel’s brother, saying that they were not now, nor ever would be, his wives.
In the confusion Abdullah and Sophie slipped in to the princesses’ room along with them. The soldier was there with Sophie’s son. They made plans to find Hasruel’s life and escape. This was made more complicated because all the males in the room demanded something. The soldier wanted a princess to marry, and picked one who turned out to be pretty happy to marry him. Abdullah wanted a few minutes with Flower-in-the-Night, who had been acting strangely cool towards him, apparently because one of the princesses had suggested that if Abdullah hadn’t kissed her, he wasn’t serious about her, but they resolved that difficulty. The genie wanted to something too. But they got it sorted out.
The princesses brought Abdullah out mostly naked and covered in a petticoat, claiming that he had been a dog and transformed back into a man in their room, quite to their shock and horror. Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night (whom Hasruel’s brother rather disliked) pleaded for his life, and Abdullah asked for three tries to guess where Hasruel’s life was, freedom if he was right and death if he was wrong. The djinn accepted. Abdullah intentionally guess wrong for three tries, then in the pandemonium that resulted from the princesses pleading for Abdullah’s life, Valeria screaming that she wanted her dog back and not Abdullah, and one of the princesses pinching Sophie’s sleeping baby, which woke up and started screaming, the djinns were quite at a loss as to what to do. Abdullah had guessed where the life was, and the genie confirmed that it was the ring on Hasruel’s nose, but before they could reach for it, the real dog that Abdullah had been hiding under the petticoat jumped at Hasruel and bit the ring off his nose.
At Abdullah’s request, Hasruel exiled his brother, but procured for him two of Abdullah’s fat and desperate nieces who had recently tried to force themselves on Abdullah not long before. Flower-in-the-night wished the genie to be set free (the genie could not request it, being forbidden by the enchantment), who turned out to be Howl. The djinn discovered that being evil was actually more fun, and felt he needed self-imposed exile lest he wreck havoc in the community of good djinns, but Howl suggested he go to a different world, which he gladly did. The carpet was unenchanted back into Calcifer.
The djinn had tried to give everyone what they deserved. Because Howl had helped the king of Ingary conquer the neighboring kingdom of Strangia, he made him a genie in a bottle. The soldier turned out to be the king of Ingary’s brother, and since he had conquered Strangia by unfair use of magic, the genie made him a soldier of the opposite side in enemy territory to see how he liked it. (He had also made Abdullah’s dreams come true, all of them, not just the good ones.)
Everyone lived happily ever after, and Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night were made Ambassadors Extraordinary where they lived in a modest house (with extraordinary gardens), owing to the Sultan promising to have Abdullah impaled on a fifty-foot spike if he ever set foot in Zanzib again.There is an interesting subtheme that being mischievous is more fun than being good, as both Hasruel and the soldier discovered. This seems to contrast with the idea that everyone gets what they deserve. Hasruel gets exile, but in a different world, where he is not necessarily constrained to be lawful good.
Like its predecessor, this is a fun read. The first half is a mixture of every Arabian Nights tale you’ve heard of, with highly witty characters. The second half is much more plot based, and towards the end, somewhat romance-novel-y. Again, all the ends are nicely tied up together, with everyone getting what they seem to deserve.
|Abdullah||A savvy an on-his-way-to-being-successful carpet merchant. His primary virtue is persistence is pursing the princess, which he does with courage and intelligence.|
|Strangian Soldier||The enchanted Prince of Justin of Ingary. He wanders Ingary enchanted as a defeated Strangian soldier, taking advantage of his fighting skill to lure thieves and rob the robbers.|
|Flower-in-the-Night||Knows nothing unless she read it in a book, due to the sheltered life her father imposed on her to try to avoid the prophesy that she would marry the first man she met (besides her father). Is highly analytical, like her father, and very intelligent. Also very beautiful and sweet, everything that the girl of your dreams should be.|
|Hasruel||One of the chief good djinns, but held hostage by his evil brother. Lays his own plans while carrying out his brothers, but does so in a way that appears to be just. Gives people everything they wish for, not just the good.|
|Kabul Aqba||Hasruel in the embodiment of a fierce desert bandit.|
|Sultan||Flower-in-the-Night’s father. Wants an alliance with a northern kingdom (possibly Ingary) which has strong magic, and wants to use the marriage of his daughter to further that end. Completely despises Abdullah.|
|Fate||Not a character, per se, but when Fate decrees something, like a prophecy, it must come to pass. Should characters attempt, knowingly or unknowingly to thwart it, events will conspire to drive the character to that end.|
|Magic carpet||This is Calcifer (a fire-demon) transformed, and has quite a bit of personality, most notably only responding well to flattery. Like many magic carpets, it is activated by a sound, in this case snoring. The snoring is not limited to a person; snoring dogs also work. After activation, it can be commanded by voice until it sets down again. If activated during sleep, it can read the mind of the sleeper and go to where the sleeper is wishing to be in the dream.|
|Genie in a bottle||Classic genie in a bottle, except that this genie is mad at being transformed into a genie and trapped in a bottle, so he makes every wish go as badly as possible in an attempt to express his anger. Grants one wish per day. However, he does not seem to be rigidly bound, as he refuses to be bound be the actual letter of the contract: he is supposed to grant one wish per day, but when Abdullah wishes for something the genie is unable to grant, he refuses to give another wish. Also, the genie can grant borrowed wishes.|
|Magical mirrors||Part of Royal Wizard Suliman’s magical equipment. They can be used to send messages, and during magical spells they sometimes reveal the wizard is doing different things with his body in different dimensions or spaces.|