Monday, August 1, 2011
A Tale of Two Castles - Gail Carson Levine
Title: A Tale Of Two Castles
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 328 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Started: July 28, 2011
Finished: July 31, 2011
From the inside cover:
Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner-an actress-but the master of the troupe turns her away. Brilliant dragon Meenore takes her in, then sends her on a dangerous mission within an ogre's castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid, she plays the role of a lifetime, pitted against a foe intent on murder.
Black and white cats, a handsome cat trainer, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon...Elodie must discover which of them is kind, which is cruel, and, most of all, which is the one who deserves her trust.
Newbery Honour 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.
I hadn't read a Gail Carson Levine book since Ella Enchanted ages ago, but I remember liking the author's style, so I decided to give her newest book, A Tale of Two Castles, a try.
Elodie is a 12-year-old farmer's daughter, and leaves her home for Two Castles to apprentice herself to a mansioner (actor). Unfortunately, free apprenticeships have recently been abolished and Elodie cannot afford to pay the troupe leader to take her in. Thankfully, the dragon Meenore takes Elodie in as ITs apprentice (only dragons know their own gender, so they are referred to as IT by everyone else), and sends Elodie to the castle of the ogre Count Jonty Um to help uncover who is stealing from him. Eventually they both discover that the Count's life is at stake, and Meenore and Elodie must work through the mystery of who is at fault before the ogre meets a gruesome fate.
I loved this book, mainly because it is so incredibly charming and engaging. The author draws you in to the world-building quite quickly and then gets on with the plot at hand, all the while building up the character development until you fall in love with the main players. Elodie is typically pure of heart and spunky, but it's hard not to like her because she's just so endearing. Meenore stole the show for me, the author portrays IT as kind yet not obviously so, like an old master grooming an heir to take over their trade, and the interactions between IT and Elodie were funny and cute at the same time. Jonty Um is the ogre who everyone in town hates but is so incredibly sweet you forget that he's an ogre. He can shape-shift at will, but surrounds himself with dogs to ward off the town's cats, the only thing that can force him to shape-shift against his will (usually into a mouse so he could be eaten). The shape-shifting element is what makes the murder plot so creative; nobody's sure if the Count is still alive or not (since he could have shifted into another animal since then), or who was responsible for setting the cats on the Count in the first place. I liked the mystery focus of the book; Meenore teaches Elodie to think like a detective and not be duped by people who appear to be sweet and innocent, which leaves Elodie questioning everyone, including Meenore ITself.
Excellent plot and premise, great world-building, and incredibly charming characters. A Tale of Two Castles is a wonderful read that I thoroughly enjoyed, so read this!
Thoughts on the cover:
I like how Elodie is portrayed, and how you get to see the detail in Meenore's wings. I really like the way the title font is symmetrically displayed on the bottom of the cover, it's very eye-catching.