Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Tale of Two Castles

by Gail Carson Levine
Start Date: 28 May 2011
End Date: 28 May 2011
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 10th 2011

Summary (from Goodreads):
Mysteries abound, especially in Two Castles.

A handsome cat trainer, black-and-white cats, thieves on four legs and two, suspicious townsfolk, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon. Which is the villainous whited sepulcher?

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but luck is against her. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sends her on a dangerous mission inside the ogre's castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid at an ogre's feast, she finds herself cast in the role of a lifetime and pitted against a foe intent on murder.

Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine weaves an entrancing tale of a fearsome ogre, a dragon detective, and a remarkable heroine, who finds friendship where she least expects it, learns that there are many ways to mansion, and discovers that goodness and evil come in all shapes and sizes.

My Review:
I really enjoyed reading A Tale of Two Castles. Fun and lighthearted while staying engaging, it stayed glued to my hand for most of Saturday, and I finished it before the day was over. I was a little worried when it arrived because the inside cover recommends the book to ages 8-12, but I was delighted and refreshed at the story. I tried to explain to a friend just why I liked it, and I didn't quite manage it, but I ended up with that it has the innocence and lightheartedness of a middle grade book while keeping the complexity of plot and the lyricality of writing to keep me engaged.

The revelation of the villain was pleasantly surprising, and although I read a review that said it would be obvious to anyone over 10 years old, I actually had no clue who it was until Elodie figured it out. (I must not have been looking very hard.) Also, I felt totally comfortable in the world of Two Castles, which is a little bit unusual - in most other books I find I either have to ease my way in or be totally immersed; in this one I felt so comfortable with it that I could easily slip in and out as I picked up the book. I loved all the characters as well - Elodie was a wonderful heroine, just naive enough that we could be at the same place, but not so slow that the reader got bored; Meenore was great and I found IT very funny; even the king was a great character. The cast was small enough that no one was flat at all - I thought that every one of them could have a book of their own.

There were a couple of things I thought for sure would be wrapped up nicely at the end that weren't addressed (for example, whether Meenore was a Master or a Mistress) but by the end of the book, I felt so satisfied with what was wrapped up that I didn't need it anymore (in fact, by the end of the book I was wondering how I ever found the word Mastress strange). Also, I never felt totally satisfied with the way Celeste was forgotten about - there seemed to be more story there. (Spoiler, highlight to view)

Of all Gail Carson Levine's books, this one reminded me the most of Ella Enchanted, which I regard as her best book by far. While I enjoyed Fairest and liked Ever well enough, Ella Enchanted is always the one that stuck by me, and I'm glad that Two Castles has the same feel. 

By the way, I just found out that HarperCollins is releasing two of Gail Carson Levine's older books, Ella Enchanted and Ever with new covers that match the cover of Two Castles. What do you think? I like the old cover of Ella Enchanted, but all three of these are beautiful. I think Ever is especially improved, and I just love the cover for Two Castles.

cover pictures courtesy of A Backwards Story

Also, the blog linked above has a wonderful review of A Tale of Two Castles as well, which you can read here.

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