Yes I’ve only just discovered Diana Wynne Jones. Yes that’s very sad. Yes I understand you read them as a child. No, I’ve not yet seen the movie.
The book is a delight. I myself am the eldest of three (although there’s a brother in the middle – unlike Sophie I’m not burdened with two sisters) so I totally felt for Sophie and her lack of expectations, as the eldest of the family, as well as the burden of expectations. I also loved that Jones upsets fairytale expectations with the half-sister not being evil. And then I REALLY liked that after she is cursed and becomes old, Sophie takes complete advantage of the perks that age provides – being a crone provides lots of leeway, as Ursula Le Guin, amongst others, has discussed. You get to honest and irritated and people have to put up with you!
Speaking of, I see similarities between Jones and Le Guin, in that both of them have a relatively sparse style. Jones doesn’t spend much time explaining the world, explaining what the magic system is and how it works and all the backstory of the characters etc etc. She just dumps you in the world that’s a bit familiar and a bit weird and expects that you’ll be fine. And you are, because the people – even when they’re a fire demon – are recognisable and sympathetic.
Meanwhile, there’s a castle trundling about the moors. That’s awesome.
This is a great fun book with a bit of adventure, a bit of amusing romance here and there that’s kind of gently skewered while also being treated gently, a few surprises, and a young woman mostly enjoying being a crotchety old woman. Plus, being in trade is completely natural and fine, dominating others is not ok, and pre-judging people can get you into trouble.
Don’t read this when you’re 36 unless you miss out when you’re 12. Read it when you’re 12 if you possibly can.