Spotlight: Zoids – The Helcat

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Welcome back to the deserts of Zi, readers! Now you know that I have returned in truth, for only the Mithril Guardian could afflict her long-suffering followers with another post about an obscure mecha anime. Rejoice, for you are not following a hacked blog..!

Okay, enough with the hyperbolic preamble. I have seen a lot more Zoids posts here at WordPress, which tells me that the franchise has returned to public knowledge. So, although I am not a fan, it appears thanks are owed by this blogger to the writers who came up with the latest Zoids series. Kudos, Zoids: Wild. You brought interest back to our favorite planet in the far reaches of the Milky Way. The story is not what this author would consider entertaining, but at least it succeeded in renewing curiosity about the larger world of this mecha anime. I can be happy about that. 🙂

Today’s zoid is from the Guylos Empire. Known as the Helcat, this panther-style mechanical combat unit is “the ultimate stealth zoid.” The cockpit, naturally, is situated in the zoid’s head. The green band that wraps around its “face,” where its mouth should be, is the visible part of the canopy. Once inside, the electrical imaging device in the cockpit will activate, giving the pilot a green tinged one-hundred-eighty degree view of the field.

A typical Helcat’s armaments belie its deadly potential. Normally, the Helcat’s only weapons are a small, double-barreled cannon on its back and a mini gun of some kind between its forelegs. There are is another, lighter type of gun attached to each of its shoulders and hips occasionally, but too many more weapons would weigh the zoid down and increase its noise output. With light armor, weapons, and speed, the Helcat is a combat unit that can fire quickly before ducking back into the shadows to escape larger zoids.

The zoid has other assets, though, and they are like no other. Equipped with a cloaking device known as an optical stealth unit, the Helcat can easily blend in with its surroundings. The zoid can also erase most of its own footprints and reduce its heat signature significantly. It also has muffled joints which make it hard to track by sound.

Combined with its cloak of invisibility, these devices make the Helcat almost undetectable. The muzzle flashes from its cannon do not give away its position reliably, since the pilot can move across the battlefield with relative impunity due to being largely invisible to the naked eye. And since Hel Cats are always deployed in groups, there are often several muzzle flashes appearing across the combat zone. Choosing one and hitting it is nearly impossible for an opposing pilot, even when he chances to spot the Cat’s outline against the background scenery.

This is one zoid that can give the best of pilots a hard time. Unless the Helcat’s cloaking device shorts out, or the opposing pilot sees the zoid’s outline against the terrain and keeps it in sight long enough to attack, it is impossible to track and hit this mechanical panther. If the Empire or a particular pilot enjoys the elements of surprise and bewilderment, this is the zoid for them.

Of course, the Helcats do have their vulnerabilities. Aside from the potential malfunctions with the optical stealth unit, a pilot in Zoids: Chaotic Century developed a handy technique to deal with the Cat. By using a computer to track the acoustic signals – i.e. the sounds Helcats cannot help but make, even with their muffled joints – he was able to pinpoint the position of every Cat on the field.

Helcat | Zoids Wiki | Fandom powered by Wikia

Also, the Cat’s speed and agility do not protect it from larger, faster zoids’ head on charges or higher caliber weapons. The Helcat is designed to bewilder and surprise an enemy, not beat it in a competition of speed and skill. There is a reason they are often deployed in large numbers, after all; a battalion of cloaked Helcats stands a much better chance of taking down opponent(s) than a single or small group does. Unless their target is totally unprepared, has no military training, or a zoid with even lighter armor, the Helcat will not stand a chance against him in a direct confrontation.

Still, despite these restrictions, the Helcat is an extremely versatile zoid. For a pilot who fights by relying on deception by fooling his target’s eyes, this Imperial mechanical combat unit is his best choice, bar none. Though eclipsed by the Shadow Fox in New Century Zero and rendered unimpressive by the technology in Zoids: Fuzors, in Chaotic Century no other stealth unit on Zi can compete with the Helcat.

That’s not to say that the Helcat is indefatigable. While Chaotic Century gave the zoid one of its best showings, it didn’t provide viewers with a demonstration of what the Helcat could really do. Most Helcats arrived on the scene only to be dispatched relatively quickly, which is a shame. I would like to see what a Helcat was truly capable of in the right hands.

Zoids: Chaotic Century Episode 51 | Zoids Wiki | Fandom ...

Teevrol and his pilot, Niccolo

Usually, the Helcat is painted red and black, the preferred colors of the Imperial Army. There have been other color choices, however. One Helcat in Chaotic Century was a white/grey/powder blue named Teevrol, who could move about on his own, though he was too attached to his young pilot to leave him. In Zoids: Fuzors, a black Helcat appeared, but it was defeated quickly in both episodes where it showed up.

All in all, the Helcat is not a zoid to shun. With its optical stealth unit, muffled joints, and ease at avoiding detection, it really is the cream of the stealth zoid crop. And while it never got to show its true colors on screen, it is still a mechanical combat unit I would sincerely like to pilot.

Besides, who can say no to such a cool Cat? 😀

See you on the battlefield, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

ZOIDS 023 Hellcat (japan import): Amazon.co.uk: Toys & Games

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The Singing Girl by Joyce Kilmer

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The Singing Girl

by Joyce Kilmer

(For the Rev. Edward F. Garesche, S. J.)

There was a little maiden
In blue and silver drest,
She sang to God in Heaven
And God within her breast.

It flooded me with pleasure,
It pierced me like a sword,
When this young maiden sang: “My soul
Doth magnify the Lord.”

The stars sing all together
And hear the angels sing,
But they said they had never heard
So beautiful a thing.

Saint Mary and Saint Joseph,
And Saint Elizabeth,
Pray for us poets now
And at the hour of death.

Season Four Wrap-Up of Avengers Assemble

Okay, first things first. Life and lassitude hit at the same time, and I ended up leaving you in limbo for quite a while, readers. Thankfully, life has stabilized and the lethargy has been overcome, so this blogger now has time and energy to devote to you once again. Hopefully it will stay this way going forward. 🙂

Second, I would like to apologize for taking so long to write about the last five episodes of Avengers Assemble: Secret Wars season. I didn’t write this post earlier primarily because I wanted to see where season five of Assemble – titled Black Panther’s Quest – would go before I said anything about season four. So this writer waited until the fifth season had played out before speaking her peace.

Black Panther’s Quest was pretty much what I expected. The Avengers hardly showed up, and when they did, they had undergone a radical redesign to make them match their film depiction more closely. Plus, Wakanda was changed to appear more the movie version, which should not have happened. That Wakanda is nothing like the one in the comics, and outside of his appearances in the Avengers films, the T’Challa/Black Panther in the film bearing the same name is not the one Stan Lee and company created.

Because of these alterations, this blogger saw no more than one or two episodes of Assemble’s season five. Based on those viewings, there will be no more reviews of Avengers Assemble here at Thoughts. This is the final word the Mithril Guardian has for the most recent American series focusing on the Avengers. (The new travesty with an almost exclusively female team does not bear or deserve the title of Avengers.) I may write about Avengers: DISK Wars and Marvel’s Future Avengers at some point, but that is it. Marvel’s new Western offerings hold no more interest for me.

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The last five episodes of Assemble were problematic and therefore difficult to watch. “Weirdworld,” the installment following “The Vibranium Coast,” was for the most part entertaining. This was due almost entirely to the fact that Black Widow completely ignored Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers. (Honestly, that woman does not know when to stop talking..!) Rather than try to force a friendship between the two based on the trite “we’re-two-women-in-a-man’s-world” trope, the writers made it clear that Natasha barely does more than tolerate the braggart Danvers. It was a refreshing change from the enforced norm in other series and this author appreciated that.

The rest of the show focused on the dichotomy between the Hulk and Bruce Banner. Separated by the Beyonder in “Underworld,” Bruce has been hunting his green, wild half ever since. He’s so desperate to end the Hulk that he has struck a deal with Morgan le Fay to destroy Big Green once and for all. Her patch of Battleworld – dubbed Weirdworld by Bruce – is uniquely adapted to this conflict. Using a variety of strange plant life, he tries again and again to capture the Hulk.

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Morgan le Fay

Due to his single-minded pursuit, he misses Morgan le Fay reveal to the heroines that she plans to use the Hulk’s power for herself. Her slip-up is actually believable, since she realizes that Natasha has feelings for both the Hulk and Bruce. Morgan’s miscalculation isn’t made simply to show how evil she is; she’s genuinely trying to hurt someone when she reveals her evil plan. So that part of the episode was well-executed and, added to Black Widow’s clearly non-existent rapport with Captain Marvel, makes “Weirdworld” fairly enjoyable.

As for the rest, I have to say that it is getting tiresome to watch Bruce always trying to kill the Hulk. I understand the history behind it, and done well, it is a good story line. In “Weirdworld,” however, it is not done well at all. I would have been more interested if they had introduced Bruce and the Hulk trying to reconnect with one another, only to be thwarted at every turn by Weirdworld so Morgan le Fay could capture and drain the Hulk of his power. Given the rapport developed between the two halves of the character in earlier seasons, I was actually expecting that turn of events. But the writers went for a cheap retread of an old story rather than an imaginative, new take on the familiar plot.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that repeats itself in the following episodes. “Westland” had some promising themes and moments, but on the whole it rated a “meh” on the scale of entertainment. In search of Doctor Strange, whose magic can help repair and control the Bifrost, Hawkeye, Vision, Wasp, and Loki arrive in an old West town. Only, in this town, they don’t ride horses. They ride dinosaurs.

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While an inventive take on the idea, I have to say that the dinosaurs threw me for a loop. It was too jarring a change from the norm that seemed to have little to do with both the characters and the setting. Plus, in Marvel’s original comics, the Avengers did travel to the Old West a couple of times. Hawkeye was particularly comfortable there, finding a great friend in the Wild West vigilante called Two-Gun.

Throughout its run, “Westland” carries overtones of being an homage to this past story arc, with the World’s Greatest Marksman showing enormous interest in and relative familiarity with the time period. The problem is that the installment is less of a pastiche and more of a joke. We get a token bar fight at the beginning following Hawkeye’s very poor attempt to “speak the lingo” to the bar tender. The denizens’ of Westland ignore him and attack the team, considering Vision a threat because he looks like a robot (technically, he’s a synthetic man). The disrespect or disinterest on the writers’ part to Hawkeye’s history with this story line only continues in several later scenes, though it is somewhat mitigated by Clint’s being temporarily blinded.

Blinding him was definitely a good choice on the writers’ part, as it is a fairly rare story line that nevertheless carries a punch whenever it is utilized. Depriving him of his capacity to continue fighting with his sight is a surefire way to bring drama and tension to an Avengers or Hawkeye installment. “Westland,” when it gives attention to this aspect of the tale, all but sings in this area.

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The rest of the story, however, is a bit of a mess. Vision ends up in the clutches of Rocket and Groot, who plan to use him as spare parts to fix their ship. Vision breaks out of the sack before they can do this and learns to converse with Groot. We are then treated to meaning several conversations that consist of “I am Vision” and “I am Groot,” which is actually a nice touch. Then Jane Foster arrives and reveals that she is the sheriff of the town, totally undermining the callback to Two-Gun and Hawkeye’s ties with the Old West. Add to this the chip on Wasp’s shoulder and Loki’s grandstanding, and the episode left me feeling unfulfilled and unhappy.

Admittedly, they did try to make Hope a little nicer in this episode. She does her best to support and comfort Hawkeye after his blinding, showing genuine sympathy and concern for him. Her pep talk to get him fighting again was almost good – except for the part where they took Clint’s speech to Wanda in Age of Ultron and had Hope repeat it back to him verbatim. That was unnecessary, out of step with her character, and it showed a complete lack of imagination on the part of the writers.

Jane Foster’s promise to “bring her wrath” down on Loki if he betrayed the Avengers also struck the wrong note with me. She’s a scientist, not a sheriff or a warrior. Instead of coming across as a tough, no nonsense, genuinely feminine character she acted like a woman trying to be a man. It didn’t work. (This will become more relevant the further in we go.)

Next is “The Citadel,” the show which leads up to the season’s two-part finale. The episode begins with a conversation between Cap and Tony about defeating the Beyonder, which is interrupted when Tower is attacked. Both heroes are captured by the Beyonder’s forces and taken to his citadel.

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Steve wakes to find himself in a prison cell. While he breaks out of this confinement, the Beyonder tries to tempt Tony into accepting his technology and leaving the path of the hero. Cap arrives in time to snap him out of it, only to be tempted himself. The two begin fighting one another, ostensibly over the Beyonder’s offer of immortality and power.

Eventually, though, it is revealed to be a ruse. Having distracted the alien mastermind long enough to learn his goals, Tony and Steve leave the villains in Beyonder’s service tussling over the forbidden fruit while they make their escape.

Polite words fail me when I even think about this episode, for one simple reason: the presentation of Captain America in this installment borders on the putrid. Rather than show him as the American Galahad, the writers make him appear morally weaker than Tony Stark. While Cap can be tempted, he cannot be enticed in the same manner as others are. He also has a much higher threshold of resistance to sinful offers than practically everyone else in the Marvel Universe(s) does. “The Citadel” not only failed to show this character trait, it reversed his character completely. Cap specifically asks Tony at the end of the episode if he was tempted by the Beyonder’s offer, implying that he wants to know if he was not the only one weak enough to succumb to the alien’s offer.

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Additionally, Beyonder’s proposition was geared specifically to appeal to Tony; it should not have even registered on Cap’s psyche as a lure for that reason. The Beyonder appealed to Tony as a fellow scientist and technician. Cap is neither, and for the offer to entice him as in the manner it does Iron Man is absolutely absurd.

Like a number of other items in the final season of “Assemble,” the ruse could have been easily achieved in a way that better respected both characters. Having Cap fight Tony after the latter was momentarily bedazzled by Beyonder’s offer not only makes more sense, it fits Steve’s MO. He will fight for his friends’ lives and souls no matter the cost to himself, and the writers could have turned this into one such instance.

But the writers for Assemble just had to be different. They had to drag Steve down to the “normal” level to prove he is human. They completely ignored all the work that the MCU and Chris Evans put into demonstrating this fact to millions of movie-goers around the world, a move that is not only foolish but downright malicious. On top of everything else they have done to Steve throughout Assemble, this was just too much. It pulled this blogger out of the story and kept her out for the final two episodes. Those would have turned her off of the series, anyway, but the open disregard and malice in “The Citadel” brought the whole house of cards down much, much faster.

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So when “The Wastelands” and “All Things Must End” played, I was pretty upset. Knowing some of what was coming next from the tidbits dropped by the writers, this author waited for the final shoe to drop. It did drop – with a mighty splash. In this episode we were presented with an animated version the female Thor. Jane Foster calls Mjolnir to her and becomes goddess of thunder after Thor tried to use the hammer to rescue her.

I wish I was joking, readers, but that is what happened at the end of this episode. Then the team finally makes their play to put all the pieces back together, saving the worlds that the Beyonder ripped apart for his experiment. In the process, the alien mastermind is sent packing – but not before Dr. Strange is knocked out of commission. Unable to finish what he started, he gives Loki the Eye of Agamotto to fix the Bifrost and bring everyone home. It works like a charm, too.

Except then Loki won’t give the Eye back. What a shocker; the Sorcerer Supreme gives the trickster god the most powerful magical item in the universe, and he then expects it to be returned to him. Yeah, right.

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Why did no one see Loki’s betrayal in “All Things Must End” coming? Giving him the benefit of the doubt for the millionth time is one thing. Hope over experience is also a plausible reaction to his apparent reform. Necessity requiring that the Eye be transferred to the god of mischief is understandable and inevitable. But why – why!? – didn’t Strange put some kind of spell on the Eye that would cause Loki’s attempts to use it backfire on him and make him give it back?

More to the point, why would the team actually trust someone they hoped would reform, but whom they knew was probably using them? None of this should have been a revelation to the heroes. In fact, most of the Avengers looked thoroughly unsurprised by Loki’s treachery. Poor Thor wasn’t allowed to see through his adopted brother’s ruse until this point, which is a shame but par for the course for Assemble. The only time they ever treated the characters with even a modicum of respect was in season three.

Combine this “big reveal” with their forcing Jane Foster to play the role of Thor/Thunderstrike, plus the strong women grandstanding done by Wasp, Captain Marvel, and Kamala Khan, and you have an unappealing mess of an ending. The method of stopping Loki doesn’t even matter (or make much sense) because the above factors reduce the episode to a propaganda piece masquerading as a story. For all its faults, Assemble deserved a better ending than this, as did the characters.

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This is why I will not be watching any more Marvel fare from Western media outlets. Endgame is the finale to the MCU; everything that comes after cannot hope to match the quality of the first ten years, and most of the original actors/directors have jumped ship while the jumping is good. The nonsense that destroyed the comics has finally spread to the small and big screen, as I knew it would.

If you want to see Marvel’s comic book alterations make it to film, then go ahead and have fun. But as of now, I am done with Marvel Comics, Marvel films, and Marvel TV shows. If I want good, entertaining fare from the company, I know where to find it. It will not be in the latest releases but in the older comics, cartoons, and the first ten years of the MCU. So long, Marvel. It was nice while it lasted.

Rest in peace, Stan Lee. You and your friends earned it. Nothing the new owners of your franchise can do will change that – not for me, and not for the other True Believers out there. ‘Til next time, readers:

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Just Can’t Get Enough of This Music!

Get your jam on, readers! Here are some more great pop tunes to bring a smile to your face and lighten your mood. Star-Lord would be pleased. Yeah, man!

Enjoy!

The Mithril Guardian

Come On, Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

 

Walk of Life – Dire Straits

 

9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

 

Life in a Northern Town – The Dream Academy

 

Listen to the Music – The Doobie Brothers

 

Already Gone – The Eagles

 

Strange Magic – ELO

 

Tiger – Fabian

 

Praise You – FatboySlim

 

Crimson and Clover – Tommy Jones and The Shondells

 

Why Do Fools Fall In Love? – Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers

 

Chase – Giorgio Moroder

 

She’s Gone – Hall & Oates

 

Life in One Day – Howard Jones

Book Review: Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey - Reviews ...

Black Horses for the King is the first Anne McCaffrey book that I have ever read. No, I am not joking; prior to this, yours truly had never done more than peek at a page of Miss McCaffrey’s books. The Dragon Riders of Pern series is on my “to read” list, but so far this blogger has not actually read those books.

Knowing her reputation with those novels, however, Black Horses for the King looked like a good place for this writer to begin getting to know Miss McCaffrey and her work. While it doesn’t strike me as an excellent piece, it is enjoyable and well written. I really have no complaints about it, beyond a few minor nitpicks.

The story begins with Galwyn Varianus, who has been apprenticed to his uncle, a rough sailor and pagan who despises him. Following his lead, the crew picks on the boy mercilessly. The fact that Galwyn is currently cleaning up after six seasick passengers below decks isn’t helping much, since their discomfort is making him ill, too. Despite that, he is doing his best to avoid telling off the sailors; doing that only makes them increase their cruel teasing. But when one of the sailors insults the lad’s mother, Galwyn whirls around, ready for a fight…

…Only to be stopped by Comes Artos, the Dux Bellorum. Artos is Latin for Arthur, making this novel an Arthurian tale. Miss McCaffrey, however, is leaving off the magic and other familiar trappings in order to remain as true to history as she can. She is also focusing on an almost mundane aspect of the legend – the large horses Arthur had to buy to repulse the recurrent Saxon invasions.

Artos is sailing to the continent to buy big horses he can breed with the larger ponies in England so that his men can face the Saxons on better terms. On their ponies the Britons cannot face the pagan invaders, since the animals are incapable of carrying the large Englishmen for great distances or long amounts of time. In order to out-maneuver and overcome the invaders, Artos and his Companions need bigger horses. So they are sailing to Septimania to buy them.

When apprised of the Comes’ plan, Galwyn finds he approves of it. Having grown up in a Roman villa prior to his apprenticeship with his uncle, the boy has a fondness for and skill with horses. He would much rather tend the animals than sail, but due to his father’s death, working at sea appeared to be the best way he to support his mother and sisters until he can find a different profession. And better companions.

Black Horses For The King ISBN 9780552529730 PDF epub ...

But when his uncle’s crew goes too far, Galwyn seizes his chance and escapes his hateful relative’s ship. He then buys a pony and follows Lord Artos to the fair in Septimania. There his knowledge of horses, his ability to bargain, and his skill with languages prove invaluable in the purchase of a large group of black Libyans – stallions, mares, and foals. Following their purchase he, Artos, and the rest of the Companions lead the animals to port in order to bring them back to England.

Shipping the creatures across the ocean is difficult work, since they are as unused to the water as the Companions, who are too busy taking care of them to get sick this time. On their first arrival in England, Galwyn makes a final end to his apprenticeship under his uncle. Staying with Artos and his Companions, he helps bring the other two sets of horses to Britain.

From there, he travels to a farm where the animals will be tended and allowed to breed with each other and the biggest Briton ponies. On the way he becomes apprentice to the horse expert friend of Artos, a man named Canyd. Canyd and his fellow horse masters are trying to make the first horse shoe in order to protect the animals’ feet. As Canyd likes to remind everyone around him, whether they want to hear him or not: “No hoof, no horse!”

Black Horses for the King does not strike me as the best of Miss McCaffrey’s work. Still, it is an enjoyable story that presents a good picture of the times in which it is set. Horse and history lovers will find it a great read, and it is hard to stop once you get going with it. In the final analysis, it is a worthy book from a good author.

‘Til next time, readers!

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey (Paperback ...

The Law of the Jungle by Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle Book has a strong message for teamwork ...

The Law of the Jungle

by Rudyard Kipling

NOW this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.


Wash daily from nose-tip to tail-tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting, and forget not the day is for sleep.

The Jackal may follow the Tiger, but, Cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the Wolf is a Hunter — go forth and get food of thine own.

Keep peace withe Lords of the Jungle — the Tiger, the Panther, and Bear.
And trouble not Hathi the Silent, and mock not the Boar in his lair.

When Pack meets with Pack in the Jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken — it may be fair words shall prevail.

When ye fight with a Wolf of the Pack, ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the Pack be diminished by war.

The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,
Not even the Head Wolf may enter, not even the Council may come.

The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, but where he has digged it too plain,
The Council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again.

If ye kill before midnight, be silent, and wake not the woods with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the deer from the crop, and your brothers go empty away.

Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need, and ye can;
But kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill Man!

If ye plunder his Kill from a weaker, devour not all in thy pride;
Pack-Right is the right of the meanest; so leave him the head and the hide.

The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack. Ye must eat where it lies;
And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair, or he dies.

The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf. He may do what he will;
But, till he has given permission, the Pack may not eat of that Kill.

Cub-Right is the right of the Yearling. From all of his Pack he may claim
Full-gorge when the killer has eaten; and none may refuse him the same.

Lair-Right is the right of the Mother. From all of her year she may claim
One haunch of each kill for her litter, and none may deny her the same.

Cave-Right is the right of the Father — to hunt by himself for his own:
He is freed of all calls to the Pack; he is judged by the Council alone.

Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,
In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of your Head Wolf is Law.

Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is — Obey!

Book Review: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Retro Friday Review: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne ...

Previously, Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle was reviewed here at Thoughts. It was so good that I thought an analysis of the sequel was in order. Castle in the Air has the great distinction of improving upon the framework in the original story, something that doesn’t always happen in modern fiction.

It begins in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a country far to the south of Ingary, the nation where Howl’s Moving Castle takes place. A young carpet merchant named Abdullah is standing in his booth at the Bazaar, daydreaming about being a prince. Though Abdullah’s father was a rich carpet merchant, everything but his booth went to his first wife’s in-laws because he was disappointed in his son.

Just why he was upset with his son Abdullah doesn’t know. And at this point, it doesn’t matter to him, either. Despite his daydreams, Abdullah is a very happy carpet merchant. He sells enough goods to make a comfortable living, and he is content to never be wealthy or leave the Bazaar. In truth, he really does not have a reason to want to leave; his reveries just add a touch of romance to his otherwise ordinary life.

In the middle of his latest fantasy (which, for the first time, features a beautiful princess), a customer appears and asks to sell him a carpet. He wants five hundred gold pieces for the rug, but Abdullah is skeptical. The mat is in bad shape, and even if he wanted it, he certainly wouldn’t pay five hundred gold coins for it.

So when the man says it is a magic carpet, Abdullah is intrigued but disbelieving. He allows the stranger to enter the booth proper in order to have him prove that the carpet can fly. Even when a commotion occurs in the next stall, the carpet merchant keeps an eye on his customer as the man orders the rug two feet into the air.

The carpet does as it is told and, after checking to make sure none of the usual tricks could have been pulled to fake its flight, Abdullah agrees to buy the carpet. Several hours are spent haggling over the price, and he finally pays two hundred fifty gold pieces for the mat before going out to lunch. Worried the rug will fly away when he leaves, Abdullah ties it the center pole of the booth to make sure it stays put.

Castle in the Air (First Edition)

It does. But in order to keep an even better eye on it, Abdullah puts the carpet on top of his bed (which is made up of other carpets piled one atop the other). During the night, Abdullah wakes to find himself in a luscious garden. There he meets a girl – a princess – who mistakes him for a girl.

How can she make that obvious error? Simple – the only man she has ever seen is her father, the Sultan. Confused, but convinced this is all a dream, Abdullah tells the princess about his daydreams. And because he thinks he is still asleep, he makes it sound like his daylight fantasies are the truth.

The delighted princess, who identifies herself as Flower-in-the-Night, absorbs his tale with avid interest. But when the two try to experiment with the carpet, they accidentally give it the wrong command, sending Abdullah back to his booth post-haste. He wakes up again the next morning feeling blue, until he realizes that he was not actually dreaming. The carpet transported him to a real palace where he met a real princess named Flower-in-the-Night.

Abdullah spends the rest of the day buying paintings of different men so he can bring them to Flower-in-the-Night (who is still convinced he is a woman). Once he has done this, he tries ordering the carpet back to the palace at once. But it doesn’t budge, throwing Abdullah into despair. There appears to be a secret code word that will “activate” the magic carpet, but since he does not know it, he is stuck.

Once he calms down a little, though, Abdullah reminds himself that the carpet definitely took him to the palace the previous night. Deciding that he must have mumbled the code word in his sleep, he asks the rug to transport him to Flower-in-the-Night as soon as he speaks the word in his sleep. Meanwhile, he waits anxiously for nightfall so he can go to bed and return to his princess.

The plan works, and Abdullah shows Flower-in-the-Night the pictures. She studies them all, especially the ones showing the most handsome specimens, then declares that none of them are as handsome as her midnight visitor. Confirming that she is now sure he is, in fact, a man, Abdullah falls to discussing marriage with her. As it turns out, Flower-in-the-Night is to be betrothed to the Prince of Ochinstan (the Rashpuht name for Ingary). Upset upon learning that it is common for men in Rashpuht to have more than one wife, Flower-in-the-Night declares that to be an unfair arrangement, especially when Abdullah says he thinks even the Prince of Ochinstan already has several wives.

Castle in the Air Audiobook | Diana Wynne Jones | Audible.com

The discussion of marriage eventually brings the two to talk about their relationship. It isn’t long before they both decide to elope, and Abdullah begins to set the plan in motion. He narrowly escapes being married to his two fat cousins before the following nightfall. After selling off his stock and sewing the money into his clothes, he goes to sleep on the carpet.

Sometime later, he awakes in the garden. Flower-in-the-Night rushes out to meet him, and it looks like their fairy tale life together is about to begin…

…Until an enormous, dark djinn arrives and snatches up Flower-in-the-Night.

Things begin to pick up from here, but I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, readers. Suffice it to say this novel is as good – if not better – than its predecessor. The humor is top notch, the characters are well drawn, and the story is executed beautifully. It is a great read.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. Pick up Castle in the Air and Howl’s Moving Castle at your earliest opportunity and read them for yourselves. You won’t regret it!

Until next time!

Castle in the Air (Howl's Moving Castle, #2) by Diana ...