And if that weren't enough, there are some subtle but interesting gender politics in the book. After Sophie, a somewhat meek young woman, is turned into an old lady by a witch, she realizes that
It was odd. As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said. She found that a great relief.And indeed, Sophie does gain quite a bit of confidence and assertiveness throughout her adventures, feeling that her (apparent) age and appearance allow her to get away with behavior that would not otherwise be tolerated. It reminded me of the Witch in Into the Woods, who gains back her youth and beauty at the end of the first act (spoiler!), but loses her magical powers in the process. Back in law school I was the costume designer for a production of the play, and the director and I (hi Emily!) briefly considered dressing the Witch in a dowdy suit and helmet of hair, calling to mind certain female politicians. Like the crone of the triple goddess, older women can sometimes command a great deal of authority and power, and can be intimidating or scary.*
Another way to look at it is the freedom that comes from being old and ugly in a society that values youth and beauty in women. If no one really pays attention to you because you are past your prime, you can do whatever you want, and will no longer feel constrained by the desire to be appealing.
What makes Jones's version of this interesting is that the male protagonist falls in love with Sophie while she is transformed. It's a longstanding fairy tale tradition, of course (and see "The Wife of Bath's Tale" for a proto-feminist take), but the fact that Sophie's transformation allows her personality to fully develop (which is what makes her desirable to her future husband) puts a modern spin on it.
Best of all? There are two sequels, which I am tracking down.
*Which isn't to say that there is no power in youth and beauty; there is, but it tends to be romantic or sexual in nature, and dependent on other people.