Levine, Gail Carson. A Tale of Two Castles (2011).336 Pages. Harper Collins. $16.99*
This review is pre-release: It comes out May 10, 2011
Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite childhood books. My mom gave it to me for Christmas in 1998– she’s big on writing dates in books which are gifts– and I’ve read it so many times that a few pages are loose, the spine is falling to pieces, and it’s stained all over. I’ve got an abiding love for Gail Carson Levine, in part because of Ella Enchanted, and in part because she’s got a knack for writing magical stories which children are guaranteed to love.
Twelve year-old Elodie has just set out on her first adventure, and her first step toward adulthood. It is time for her to head to Two Castles and become an apprentice, though she cannot afford a short apprenticeship, so she must commit to the 10-year “free” term. Despite her parent’s wishes– that she apprentice to a weaver, Elodie seeks out an apprenticeship with the Two Castles mansioners.
Things don’t go according to plan, and Elodie soon finds herself working for the dragon Meenore and brushing up on her skills of “deduction, induction, and common sense.” But something is wrong in Two Castles, and Elodie’s job will not be as easy as it first seemed.
Mother wiped her eyes on her sleeve and held me tight. I wept onto her shoulder. She released me while I went on weeping. A tear slipped into the strait through a crack in the wooden dock. Salt water to salt water, a drop of me in the brine that would separate me from home.
Father’s eyes were red. He pulled me into a hug, too. Albin stood to the side a few feet and blew his nose with a honk. He could blow his nose a dozen ways. A hong was the saddest.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of; Elodie meets a new person every few pages, there are townsfolk, royals, people from home, and people from the ship. Add to that a dragon and an ogre, and you find yourself with an incredibly large cast. Somehow, I managed to keep track of all the characters, though at times it was surprisingly difficult.
The use of the word “mansioner” threw me off from the very beginning. It is explained that they are actors, and they are called mansioners because they act from inside “mansions”… except that they’re totally just a gypsy-style wagon-caravan. This was a bit of a sticking point for me, and it was said so frequently that it really began to grate. But most people will not be so bothered by this as I was.
Once I got past all that, I really and truly enjoyed this book. It was cute, funny, charming, endearing, and interesting. It felt like a book meant for children, but it was not one of those books which only children can enjoy. I started reading it, and tore through it in one sitting, which is a good sign, because it means that I cannot help myself, and I do not want to put it down.
I wanted to know why there were two castles in the town of Two Castles, and why an Ogre was a count, and why cats could turn ogres into mice**, and what would ultimately happen with Elodie, and Mastress Meenore. Some of this served to draw me into the story, but some of it was drawn out, seemingly leading to a sequel.
I’ve re-read it since, and found that I enjoyed it a bit more the second time, because I knew what was coming, and could look for subtle hints and foreshadowing. It made me feel far more skillful at deducing these things, and made it even more fun to read. (I’m not the sort of person who typically knows who the bad guy is before the climax or revelation unless a book is especially predictable, so it’s fun to know at times.)
A Tale of Two Castles gets a 4.5/5; it wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t appreciate vocabulary (mansioners and whited sepulchers) at times, but on the whole it was an interesting introduction to a new world, and I really did like it.
* Disclosure: I got a free copy pre-release via NetGalley. It did not effect my review; I adore Gail Carson Levine whether I pay for her books or not.
** This is apparently a reference to Puss in Boots. I did not realize that on my own, the internet told me.
If you do buy this book, please consider using this link; it gets me referral credit with amazon.